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What is OTT messaging and how does it compare to SMS?

Heard of OTT messaging? Not quite sure what it’s all about? While the acronym might not be all that familiar to you, the channels used for OTT (over-the-top, BTW) are sure to be.

In a nutshell, OTT messaging uses apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Business Messages or Instagram to connect and chat with your customers. With the meteoric rise of these apps in recent years, it’s a great way to meet your customers where they hang out. 

Here, we break down what OTT messaging is, how it works and when you’d use it instead of SMS. Let’s dive in.

A quick explainer on OTT messaging

Without getting too technical, OTT messaging uses a text-based communications platform ‘over the top’ of an existing internet service. More broadly, OTT also describes technologies that sit on top of other systems (think the Apple TV box that streams movies to your television). 

With literally billions of people around the world using apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to stay in touch with friends and family, OTT messaging is a great tool to add to your communications toolkit.

OTT messaging is great for your customers, too. Just like any other conversation, chats in these channels are personal, helpful and easy to track. Customers love the familiarity of their favorite channels and will appreciate the fact that you meet them there.

And, with the right OTT platform behind you, it becomes incredibly easy to manage all your chats across apps and channels.

What are the main OTT messaging apps?

According to Statista, the most popular instant messaging apps in the world right now are WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. Then there are platforms like Google Business Messages and Instagram, which offer other ways for potential customers to reach out to you.

Let’s take a quick look at the main instant messaging apps:

  • Facebook. With almost 3 billion users, Facebook is a great place to meet your customers for a chat. To make it easy for customers to chat to you, simply add a ‘Message’ button to your page, add chat to your ads, and use Messenger for live chat.
  • Instagram. To connect directly with customers on Instagram, use direct messages (DMs). DMs are great for asking questions, providing support and general chit-chat about your brand. 
  • Google’s Business Messages. With this form of chat, customers can message you straight from where they find you on Google. You’ll just need to enable chat in your Google Business account—once done, the chat button will start showing up on your Google Business and Maps listings.
  • WhatsApp. WhatsApp Business is an easy way to sort and manage your messages. And, with over 2 billion monthly active users, it’s clear customers love it, too. To get started, you’ll need to work with a WhatsApp Business Solution Provider like MessageMedia to set up your account. Then, you can add click-to-chat to your website, run click-to-WhatsApp ads on Facebook, create a WhatsApp QR code, or run a WhatsApp marketing campaign.

RECOMMENDED READING: Want some conversation starters? Here are some tips for initiating instant messaging chats.

Once you’re all set up, you can use these OTT messaging apps for everything from answering inquiries, to delivering personalized shopping advice and providing after-sale customer service. Your chats can be one-on-one and ultra-personalized, or bulk blasts out to all your customers. It’s really up to you.

So, what’s the difference between OTT and SMS?

Curious to know when or why you’d use OTT messaging platforms instead of SMS to chat with customers? You’re not alone – it’s a common question.

After all, both OTT and SMS are used to send and receive text messages, and are a great way for businesses to stay in touch with customers. Yet, while a text message sent via OTT looks pretty much the same as a message sent via an SMS service, there are some subtle differences between the two.

OTT messaging vs SMS

Uses the internet to get messages from A to BUses a mobile network to get messages from A to B
Messages are generally free, as long as you have a data plan You and your customers pay to send SMS
Requires your customer to have the messaging app installed on their phoneRequires your customer to have (and share) a mobile phone number
No limit to message length, and you can easily add photos, videos, links, and more160 character limit (unless you’re sending MMS)

Clearly, there are perks to both OTT and SMS. And, what we’re seeing is that many businesses are starting to use both. Particularly now that there are overarching messaging platforms that keep all your chats – across all your channels – in one handy place.

Essentially, it’s all about working out which messaging channels your customers prefer and then tailoring your communications strategy to suit.

RECOMMENDED READING: Learn about the differences between application-to-person (A2P) SMS and person-to-person (P2P) SMS.

Our multichannel inbox has you covered

Ready to tap into the powerful potential of OTT messaging in your business? Our multichannel inbox has you covered. In a single shared inbox, it’s super easy to keep an eye on all your OTT customer conversations, as well as SMS.

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