Twilio says cloud-based MMS means companies deploying apps can now include MMS messaging more affordably and easily.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

September 19, 2014

4 Min Read

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EMP, Debunked: The Jolt That Could Fry The Cloud

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Twilio on Thursday launched a cloud-based Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) that allows developers to send and receive messages containing images and videos from their apps.

In a phone interview, CEO Jeff Lawson said Twilio was doing what it did for voice telephony in 2008 and SMS messaging in 2010 -- making things that have been expensive easier and more affordable for developers.

Before Twilio, said Lawson, voice services and SMS were hard to implement, requiring thousands of dollars of upfront investment and long waits for carrier approval. "Those barriers to innovation were substantial," he said. "We removed them."

That's the world of MMS messaging today, Lawson noted, adding that MMS is the most requested feature from Twilio customers, a group that includes companies like Box, Coca-Cola, eBay, and Uber.

[Microsoft apps aim to close the gap between sales and marketing. Read Microsoft CRM Releases Give Sales, Marketing Veto Power.]

MMS matters to companies because it's particularly engaging as a way to communicate with customers. It may even be appreciated, which isn't often true of email. Typical email open rates range from about 15% to 25%, depending upon the industry. Twilio puts the SMS and MMS open rates at 98%. But as a Mashable article noted last year, this oft-cited figure is based on a 2010 Frost & Sullivan report prepared for a private client, and that report isn't publicly available. A media contact from the firm was not immediately available to discuss the figures. Similar open rates for SMS and MMS have been cited by various marketing companies, dovetailing a bit too neatly with self-interest to be entirely credible.

MMS messages have 8 times the engagement rate of both SMS and email, Lawson insisted. It's safe to say that SMS and MMS get more attention than email. But as marketers adopt this miracle cure for customer inattention, MMS too could start looking like spam.

Retailer Nordstrom deployed Twilio's services in its texting app NEXT to provide its salespeople with a way to interact with customers. "Many customers have told us they prefer to connect with their salesperson by text messaging," said Scott Jones, VP of personalization at Nordstrom, in a statement. "Using the Nordstrom texting app NEXT, our salespeople are able to share recommendations, product images, and timely reminders of upcoming events in a safe, secure, and seamless manner, with our customer in control of the experience at all times."

Nordstrom personal shoppers are now using MMS to exchange fashion ideas with customers.

MMS can provide details via imagery that don't come across well in text messages. It's also useful for familiarizing customers with the faces of service people involved in a transaction and for delivering documents like receipts.

Safelite AutoGlass heard from its customers that they wanted to be kept informed about the status of orders via text message. So the company began a pilot program with Twilio to alert customers when technicians were en route. The test was well received, and the company is now planning to add MMS capabilities.

Twilio is accessible through a REST API, via libraries in a variety of programming languages; the Twilio Client API supports Android, iOS, and JavaScript.

Twilio's MMS service, available with standard phone numbers in the US and Canada, as well as with US short codes, starts at $0.01 per MMS received and $0.02 per MMS sent, with discounts for volume.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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