APIs, or application programming interfaces, are software intermediaries that allow two applications to “talk” to each other. Businesses leverage APIs in a variety of ways to automate and optimize their communication strategies.
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One of the most important communication strategies out there today is SMS, or text messaging marketing. There’s perhaps no other platform better at building APIs that optimize your SMS strategy than Twilio.
In our review of Twilio, we’ll be covering what the platform offers as well as its pros and cons to help you decide whether it’s the right fit for your business.
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What is Twilio?
Twilio is a developer platform for communications. They specialize in providing programmable APIs that are building blocks that developers can use to create whatever customer communication experiences that they want.
How Does Twilio Work?
Twilio offers a set of channel APIs that are essentially communication tools that you can use to reach your customers.
Their Programmable Messaging API allows you to deliver messages to your customers, while their Conversations API creates a two-way SMS communication channel to talk with your clients.
Twilio offers code samples for SMS functions like notifications, service alerts, reminders, and marketing messages in languages such as C#, Java, Node, and Python. Shortcodes for sending mass texts and for collecting phone numbers are also available.
Outside of SMS, Twilio offers Programmable Voice APIs that let you make, receive, and monitor phone calls going in and out of your company. You can integrate similar functions through your company email and fax services as well.
What is Twilio Used For?
Twilio is most often used to build communication channels between businesses and their customers. Their APIs allow you to create SMS programs as well as video applications, chatbots, and email services.
They also offer tools to create 2FA and other security programs, design communication workflows, or deploy other communication solutions and customer data analysis tools.
Who Uses Twilio?
Twilio’s APIs are used across a variety of industries, primarily for marketing, customer service, and for improving overall company efficiency.
Their scalable tools make Twilio particularly attractive to medium-sized to larger companies with sizable customer bases. Industries that use Twilio include, but are not limited to:
- Healthcare organizations
- Hotels and other hospitality
- Financial services and consultants
- Real estate
- Non-profit organizations
Brands and companies that have used Twilio include:
- Blue Apron
- American Red Cross
What Does Twilio Cost? (Twilio Pricing)
Twilio uses a “pay-as-you-go” structure.
SMS pricing is based on the destination and type of message you’re sending, as well as the carrier to which the SMS is being sent. Twilio's pay-as-you-go pricing gives you a fair price no matter what you build.
All of Twilio's APIs come with volume discounts. This is especially attractive to larger companies and enterprises that are sending out hundreds of thousands of text messages to large networks and databases.
Twilio’s SMS pricing starts at $0.0075 to send a message and the same amount to receive messages. This price is the same for local and toll-free numbers. It costs $0.02 to send picture messages and $0.01 to receive (MMS).
It costs $1/month to use a clean local number and $2/month to use a toll-free number. You can lower that cost to $0.50 a month if you use your own number.
You can also purchase a high-volume shortcode that lets you send 100+ messages per second for $1,000 a month. This can be reduced to $500 a month if you manage your own lease.
Twilio is undoubtedly the biggest name in SMS because of its versatile text message marketing APIs and toolset. Their incredible customizability, recognizable brand, and existing client base are very strong assets that can't be ignored.
While Twilio offers plenty of non-SMS APIs that are certainly worth talking about, we’ll be focusing on text messaging for this review.
Looking for a simple SMS marketing tool? We recommend TextMagic over Twilio.Visit TextMagic
For larger enterprises and development teams, Twilio is the industry standard. It's seriously perfect for developers. Not only does Twilio offer support for a wide variety of programming languages, but they also include a comprehensive set of resources and documentation to streamline development. Every backend developer I've talked to gets a little giddy whenever I bring up Twilio.
With that said, there’s a HUGE learning curve when using their SMS API if you aren't a developer. This isn't a “drag-and-drop” type tool that you can set up in 15 minutes. There's no simple way to have two-way communications. There's no way to run bulk SMS campaigns. Twilio is not built for most marketers. It's a development tool. That's a big reason as to why we don't recommend Twilio as a solution for SMS marketing.
Their pricing structure is ideal for enterprises and development teams that are working with companies looking to scale their services. The pay-as-you-go structure for their SMS features will allow businesses to optimize their budget when implementing programmed messages.
But remember, the pricing on the actual text messages is really irrelevant. Businesses need to be aware of the amount of time that will need to go into paying a developer to set up communication systems. They'll also need to be aware of maintenance costs. Something as simple as changing an automated response script from “Hi” to “Hey” is a task that may result in your developer charging you for an hour worth of work. Even though it'll probably only take them 5 minutes! Is that $150 bill for one less character worth it?
Don't get me wrong. As a whole, I think Twilio is a great company and their SMS API is state-of-the-art. I often recommend it to my clients when building out custom software and when there is a justified budget (and use case) behind it. For many of my small business clients, however, Twilio just doesn't make sense. Instead, we typically defer to setting up an SMS marketing platform, which provides a simple user interface for sending and receiving text messages online.
Pros: Here’s what I like about Twilio
- Their versatile SMS APIs lets you create virtually any programmed text messaging you want while connecting it with your other business applications and websites.
- Their pricing structure is highly-scalable for large enterprises and doesn’t lock you into any big contracts.
- The resources page is packed with helpful information about getting started with your SMS campaign.
- The customer service program is responsive and helpful with most basic inquiries.
- They accommodate most developers by making their APIs and shortcodes available in a number of different coding languages.
Cons: Here are the only things I don’t like about Twilio
- Their services are geared towards programmers and developers, meaning those inexperienced in those fields will be overwhelmed.
- Setting up responses should be more intuitive like an email autoresponder or a chatbot service where you can send users through flows based on actions.
- Their UI, while clean and well-formatted, can be a bit cumbersome with the amount of text in each tab. Some of the vernacular is a little confusing too. Overall, it would be a huge plus if there was a simple user interface to set up communications, but clearly, that's not their bread and butter.
- Twilio's usage analytics could be more comprehensive and user friendly.
- Their documentation could be improved. It can be hard to figure out what you are looking for if you don't already know where and how to look for it. When new features are added, also their communication of those features is sometimes non-existent.
- While their customer service is helpful, it can take a little bit of time to get a response since it’s done through email and not by phone.
Interested in what Twilio has to offer but not sure if it’s the right fit for you? In that case, we’ve gathered some other platforms that offer similar services as Twilio. For more information on each company, read our detailed post on the best Twilio alternatives.
Looking for a simple SMS marketing tool? We recommend TextMagic over Twilio.Visit TextMagic
For SMS APIs
If you’re looking for platforms that offer development tools similar to ones offered by Twilio, check out these alternatives:
They offer a lot of the same SMS APIs as Twilio and are popular among programming teams.
For SMS Marketing
If you want a simpler system to use send and receive text messages without the complicated programming language, check out these alternatives
- SimpleTexting – Read our review
- ClickSend – Read our review
- TextMagic – Read our review
- Salesmsg – Read our review
- Heymarket – Read our review
- Textedly – Read our review
- EZ Texting – Read our review
- Mobile Text Alerts – Read our review
Which platform you ultimately choose depends on a variety of factors like budget, use cases, programming experience, scalability, and personnel. Leverage this guide to find the right fit for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
When did Twilio start?
Twilio launched in 2008, founded by Jeff Lawson, Evan Cooke, and John Wolthuis.
When did Twilio go public?
Twilio's stock was offered to IPO investors at $23.99 and started trading in the public markets on June 23, 2016.
Does Twilio offer multiple user capabilities?
Yes. Users can invite other team members to collaborate on projects in different capacities.
Does Twilio offer a free trial?
Twilio does offer a free trial, and an initial balance of about $15 to send and receive texts, calls, and other services.
Is Twilio legit?
Yes, Twilio is legit. They are a reputable American cloud communications platform as a service (CPaaS) company based in San Francisco, California.
Who are Twilio's competitors?
Twilio’s biggest competitors in the cloud communications industry are Nexmo, Bandwidth, Cisco Systems, Avaya, and Plivo. Twilio also has many other smaller competitors within their various product and service offerings.
How did Twilio start?
Twilio was started by Jeff Lawson in 2008. The idea behind Twilio was coined from Lawson's previous professional experience where he noticed the importance of communications, but how difficult and expensive it was to set up.