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The Communication Shift: Don’t Call Me…Text Me!

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Life in Mobile by Seth Kaplan

RISMEDIA, March 25, 2010—I can still remember my first cell phone. The Motorola StarTAC. Upon its release in 1996, it was the world’s smallest and lightest mobile phone, weighing in at 3.1 ounces, and it allowed you to make calls with a sense of class and style like never before. But that’s pretty much all it did—make phone calls. Since then, our cellular telephones have evolved into rich, mobile devices with a seemingly endless array of uses. And yes, they still allow us to make phone calls from wherever we are.

But the interesting thing is people are making fewer and fewer calls. Since 2008, U.S. subscribers are sending more text messages than they are making phone calls on a monthly basis. We are witnessing a shift in the way people communicate, right before our very eyes.

This communication shift was first seen in the dawn of the Internet revolution. Applications like AOL and Prodigy allowed you to instant message or chat with friends, strangers—even people in other parts of the world—right on your computer screen. As the dot.com bubble burst and these applications quickly became obsolete due to advances in Internet technology, one surviving feature remained: instant messaging.

Today, the text message has become the instant message for your mobile device. While it may have been slow to catch on, by June 2000, U.S. subscribers were sending an average of 12.2 million messages per month. Even though Nokia reported that text messaging had addictive tendencies in its 2001 Global Messaging Survey, no one could have predicted that only four years later—by June 2005—U.S. subscribers would be sending an average of 7.2 billion messages a month. Nor could they have predicted the exponential growth this phenomenon would see, increasing 1,877% in volume in just four years to an average of 135.2 billion messages per month (June 2009). As mobile subscribers (270 million) have now surpassed Internet subscribers (232 million), it’s clear that the text message has become the preferred method of communication for the majority.

And why wouldn’t it be? It’s quick, it’s easy, and it goes directly to the device that never leaves your side (thanks, belt clip). Text messaging is the most immediate way to send and receive information and has the lowest barrier to entry.

There is no better proof of this than the recent donations that have been made via text to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. Just one day after the massive quake, musician Wyclef Jean’s grass roots campaign generated over $400,000 (in $5 increments equating to over 80,000 texts!) in donations by asking people to text the word “Yele” to 501501. The Red Cross raised over $22 million and the Mobile Giving Foundation reported total donations via text in excess of $27 million. That’s only seven days after the quake. Telethon who?

Not long ago, pundits referred to the mobile phone as the “third screen,” with television being the first and the computer being the second. Today, however, the mobile device is quickly becoming the first screen, due to its increasingly intimate relationship with users and its constant presence right on your hip. Furthermore, when people are motivated to help, to win, to join or to buy, the quickest and most efficient way to facilitate those actions is through text message.

Text messaging enables motivated parties to act on impulse and strike while the iron’s hot. Businesses across all verticals are finding ways to capitalize on this evolution in consumer behavior. If fans can text a vote for their favorite reality show contestant, text for coupons while standing in line at the store and text an instant donation to someone in need, just imagine what texting can do for the real estate business. It’s time for our industry to catch the wave.

Seth Kaplan is president of Mobile Real Estate ID. For more information, visit www.mobilerealestateid.com.

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