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SMS and MMS Marketing Notifications with Ruby and Rails

Ready to implement SMS and MMS marketing notifications for your Ruby on Rails Application? This post is for you!

Here's how it'll work at a high level:

  1. A user you'd like to reach sends an SMS message to a Twilio phone number you advertise somewhere.
  2. Your application confirms that the user wants to receive SMS and MMS notifications.
  3. An administrator or marketing campaign manager uses a web form to craft a message that will be sent to all subscribers via SMS/MMS message.

Building Blocks

To get this done, you'll be working with the following Twilio tools:

  • TwiML and the <Message> Verb: We'll use TwiML to manage interactions initiated by the user via SMS
  • Messages Resource: We will use the REST API to broadcast messages out to all subscribers

Let's get started! Click the arrow below to move on to the next step of the tutorial.

Let's Explore Marketing Notifications

Creating a Subscriber

We begin by generating an Active Record model that we will store in a postgres database. For our purposes we don't need to store very much information about the subscriber - only their phone number (so we can send them updates) and a boolean flag indicating whether or not they are opted-in to receive updates.

We'll use the Rails generate command to create our model:

bin/rails generate model Subscriber phone_number:string subscribed:boolean

This generator creates our model, migration and schema for us. Now all we need to run is rake db:migrate and we have a table of Subscribers.

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        Subscriber Model

        Creating a Subscriber

        Subscriber Model

        Now that we have a model object to save a Subscriber, let's move up to the controller level to see how we receive incoming messages.


        Handling An Incoming Message

        Since the incoming function will be called every time our application receives a message, it has a lot of business logic it needs to implement.

        We'll look at how this function works piece by piece as the tutorial continues, but let's focus on the first message a user sends us for now.

        Twilio can send your web application an HTTP request when certain events happen, such as an incoming text message to one of your Twilio phone numbers. These requests are called webhooks, or status callbacks. For more, check out our guide to Getting Started with Twilio Webhooks. Find other webhook pages, such as a security guide and an FAQ in the Webhooks section of the docs.

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              Register a new user or execute commands for an existing user


              Assuming a user doesn't exist, we'll want to add them as a potential subscriber. That's where we're headed next.

              Populate the Subscriber Database

              Creating a New Subscriber

              We begin by getting the user's phone number from the incoming Twilio request. Next, we try to find a Subscriber model with that phone number (this should be a unique property of the Subscriber).

              If there's no subscriber with this phone number, we create one, save it, and respond with a friendly message asking them to text "add". We require this two-step opt-in to our marketing notifications to keep our customers happy.

              We've now created a Subscriber model to keep track of the people that want to receive our messages and have learned how to save them in the database when they text us for the first time.

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                    Create a new subscriber if we lack the phone number


                    Next, let's look at the logic we need to put in place to allow them to manage their subscription status.


                    Manage Subscriptions

                    We want to provide the user with two SMS commands to manage their subscription status: add and remove.

                    These commands will toggle a boolean flag for their Subscriber record in the database, and will determine whether or not they receive messages from our marketing campaign. Because we want to respect our users' preferences, we don't opt them in automatically - rather, we have them confirm that they want to receive messages from us first.

                    To make this happen, we will need to update the controller logic which handles the incoming text message to do a couple things:

                    • If the user is a person already in the database, parse the message they sent to see if it's a command we recognize
                    • If it is a add or remove command, update her or his subscription status in the database
                    • If it is a command we don't recognize, send a message explaining the two available commands.

                    Handle the Marketing Form Submission

                    On the server, first we grab an incoming form message text and optional image URL from the POST body. Second we loop through all Subscribers and call a function on our Subscriber model to send our marketing message.

                    When the messages are on their way, we redirect back to the same web form with a flash message containing feedback about the messaging attempt.

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                          Validate the form and send a message to all active Subscribers


                          Let's jump into the model now to see how these messages are sent out.

                          How Are the Messages Sent?

                          Using the Twilio REST Client

                          When the model object is loaded, it creates a Twilio REST API client that it can use to send SMS and MMS messages. The client requires your Twilio account credentials (an account SID and auth token), which can be found in the console.

                          Next all we need to do is call messages.create on the client object in order to send our message. The Twilio Message API call requires a From and To parameter, and either a Body or a MediaUrl attribute (or both).

                          These nine lines of code are all you need to send an SMS in Rails.

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                                Use Twilio Ruby client to send the message


                                With that? The tutorial is finished! Next we'll look at other easily implemented features.


                                Where to Next?

                                That's it! We've just implemented a an opt-in process and an administrative interface to run an SMS and MMS marketing campaign through your Ruby on Rails site. Now all you need is killer content to share with your users via text or MMS... and that's on you and your team.

                                Twilio loves Ruby! Here are just a couple of our other Ruby tutorials:

                                Warm Transfer

                                With Warm Transfers your agents will have the ability to conference in another agent in realtime.

                                Automated Survey

                                Instantly collect structured data from your users with a survey conducted over a voice call or SMS text messages.

                                Did this help?

                                Thanks for checking this tutorial out! Please let us know by tweeting @twilio what you're building!

                                Jarod Reyes Hector Ortega Kat King Mica Swyers Andrew Baker Paul Kamp Lizzie Siegle Alexis Crespo
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                                Need some help?

                                We all do sometimes; code is hard. Get help now from our support team, or lean on the wisdom of the crowd by visiting Twilio's Stack Overflow Collective or browsing the Twilio tag on Stack Overflow.

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