SMS marketing is a great advertising tool if used correctly. A company should not grab the closest mobile phone, type out a marketing message, and then send the SMS text message to a multitude of numbers. A company doing this will find it time-consuming, costly, and overall ineffective. Luckily, there are systems in place that a business can employ to get the most out of an SMS marketing campaign, with one of those systems being the SMS short code system.
What Is a Short Code?
Often, when a text message gets sent from a business, the message typically comes from a number that is different from the format many people are familiar with. The contact number, alongside the text message, is either 5 or 6 digits long, and this is a short code number. Messages from this number come from an automated text messaging system, so if a user were to reply to the message with any reply, they would not get an answer. Instead, they would need to use a specific keyword, with more on that below. The idea of a short code number is that it is easier for a consumer to remember the sender ID, as opposed to the more extended 10-digit long code number. The sender of the mass text message, usually a business, has two choices when employing short codes in their marketing plan.
Shared Short Code
The shared variant of a short code is 5-digits long, with a single short code phone number getting used by multiple businesses and other organizations, all at once. How do consumers distinguish which company is texting them a message if they all have the same short code number?
Shared short code messages come with a specific keyword chosen by the company sending the message. Only one keyword per short code number can get used, meaning a company can choose any keyword, though it may not be able to use the short code number it had initially desired.
If a consumer wished to opt-in to a company’s text marketing campaign, they would reply to the number with the outlined keyword. The fact that the number gets shared between multiple companies means short codes are much more affordable than the alternative. A shared SMS short code also doesn’t require a long-term commitment, as a company can rent the number on a per-use basis.
Additional reading: The inconvenience That is the SMS Character Limit
The Disadvantages of a Shared Short Code
Any business using a short code service, shared or not, opens itself up to a short code audit, ensuring the company is following the rules outlined by the CTIA. However, that can be an issue when working with shared short codes. If a mobile wireless carrier finds a company in breach of the CTIA standards, it will block all outgoing traffic from that number. Even if business A is doing everything right, business B can violate the rules, losing access to the number for business A and everyone else using the short code. A company losing one of its means of marketing can be very damaging and the fact it can happen with no notice is even worse.
However, that is not the only disadvantage that comes with a shared short code. The idea of a short code is for a consumer to have an easier time remembering which company they are contacting. The message’s keyword can still provide that familiarity with the brand a user has subscribed to, though an initial check of the number that comes with the message notification won’t do anything for the recipient. It is for these two reasons why a company, if they have the funds, should invest in a dedicated short code number.
Dedicated Short Code
A dedicated short code, as the name suggests, is owned and operated by a single company. The 5 or 6-digit number belongs to only one company, allowing consumers to associate the number with the company they have subscribed to. Additionally, that company is solely responsible for following the CTIA guidelines. Provided the company is following the rules, the marketing campaign will get left alone. As stated, if a company uses a shared short code, they may see their marketing plan shut down due to a company’s actions on the other side of the country.
The use of a dedicated code number also brings other advantages to a company, along with those listed above:
- Minimal Traffic – If multiple companies are using the same number, the mobile service provider center has to process each message from that number, without consideration of which company might need their message seen first. A dedicated short code gives a company full control, with the only other traffic to deal with being their own.
- Marketing Insights – A dedicated SMS short code will allow a company to access both previous inbound and outbound messages. That ability lets a business check back over its marketing, which then allows them to gauge the relationship it has with a specific customer.
- Additional Functions – With the use of a dedicated short code, a company can run a variety of different marketing campaigns, all with different purposes and functions. This flexibility does not come with shared short codes as a company can only have one keyword.
- Security – A dedicated short code comes with more protection than the shared counterpart. Financial services, in particular, require a high level of security. As the number is not shared, a dedicated short code brings that security as there is no chance of another company picking up the message sent between the sender and recipient. Additionally, as stated, a company has more control over monitoring the incoming and outgoing traffic.
The Disadvantages of a Dedicated Short Code
A dedicated SMS short code is better in nearly all aspects for a company when compared to a shared short code. However, there is one significant disadvantage that comes with the use of a dedicated short code, that puts companies off from using it, and that is the cost. Typically, a company should plan to spend between $500 and $1000 a month on the dedicated short code when purchasing a random short code, with an additional upfront fee, and the cost of sending each message. A vanity short code, which is a number a business chooses, can be even more expensive, with prices averaging around $3000 a month. As the company can choose its vanity SMS short code number, it is given further customization, though it should consider if the additional cost is worth it. An additional minor inconvenience is that they take a while to get approved by the short code registry, so they cannot get used instantly like their shared counterpart.
What Is a Long Code?
As touched on above, the two variants of short codes do have an opposite number. That opposite comes in the form of an SMS long code. Just like a short code, a long code is a number used by a company for sending an SMS, though it comes in the form of a standard 10-digit number.
As with a dedicated short code, when a marketing message gets sent with a long code, the recipient can use the number to judge where it came from. The fact that the number looks like any other normal number convinces consumers they are receiving a text message from a real person, as opposed to a message from an SMS marketing service. A long code number also comes with a local area code, which only furthers that illusion. With that being the case, why not just settle for a long code number?
The Disadvantages of Long Code
A long code system allows a business to send one message per second. If a company runs a bulk SMS campaign, with thousands of intended recipients, one message per second won’t work. Additionally, long code messages do not allow for much customization. A short code can send SMS and MMS messages, though a long code can only send SMS. Finally, though the number accompanying the text message looks like a normal 10-digit number, it is still more numbers for a consumer to remember than the 5-digits of a short code. That’s not to say a long code doesn’t have a place in a business’s marketing place, just not for mass marketing.
How Can a Company Use a Long Code?
Sometimes a company needs to communicate with a consumer on a one-to-one basis, whether for texting a customer service SMS or relaying some details that other customers don’t need to know about. Alternatively, a long code can work as a means of internal communication for a business if they wish to make an SMS system their primary means of communicating.
Short Code In Use
At this point, it should be clear what a short code is, along with the advantages it has over the alternative long code number. However, the best way to see the benefits is to look at a short code application in action.
Short Code for Banking
SMS messages have one of the highest open rates among multiple means of communication. With that being the case, SMS messages are a great way to get valuable information seen by a consumer and many banks take advantage of this. Once a consumer subscribes to a service, a bank can use a mass mobile messaging system to send a variety of information based on the triggers activated by the customer. Balance statements, overdraft warnings, payment confirmations, and fraud alerts are just some examples of what a bank can pass on via an SMS short code.
Short Code for Non-Profit Organizations
Many charities rely on donations to operate, with door-to-door collections not being a viable option, especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, for non-profit organizations, SMS short codes can help with their collections, without having to step out the door. The text message asking for the donations should include a keyword that a consumer can send to the number as a reply. Once the charity has received the reply, they can return an external link to the recipient’s mobile device that allows the consumer to send their donations. Many smartphones can do all of this, so it’s not that much of an inconvenience to a recipient.
Short Code for Ecommerce
Many e-commerce businesses rely on short codes for texting updates to their consumers. Messages can get sent to let consumers know their purchases are out for delivery, provide a receipt for a purchase, or generally advertise their services via special offers or for letting customers know about new products. It is worth noting that delivery notifications do not come as default with most SMS provider marketing systems, meaning the mass SMS system will require the implementation of a transactional API. Alternatively, the text message can include a tracking number or a URL that links to the relevant information. Doing so might be more accessible instead of containing the information within the body of the text, via automatic updates.
Short Code for Emergency Alerts
Many government organizations, along with medical centers, use short code messaging to forward important emergency alerts quickly. Incoming weather alerts, road closures, or health guideline updates can all get delivered via short code messaging. Not everyone checks current events online or by watching the news, so SMS messaging ensures the information gets to where it needs to go.
Short Code for Double Authentication
No single industry uses double authentication via short code messaging, as it is a useful security tool. Banking institutions, e-commerce stores, mobile operators, and more, all benefit from this service. Double authentication gets activated when a user attempts to log in to a service. The system will ask for a password, which is when a message gets sent by the short code to the number the system has on file. That sent message contains that unique password, which the recipient then enters into the site or service they are trying to access. Doing this ensures that the person logging into a site is who they say they are.
Short Code for Lead Generation
Another reasonably common short code use is for lead generation. When a company puts a marketing plan in place, the common goal is for them to attract new customers. A company can send out a mass text message with a keyword that allows subscribers to receive further updates from the company. Alternatively, the message can collect other information such as a consumer’s name or location to help with further targeted marketing.
Hopefully, it is clear what a short code is, along with the benefits it can bring. However, a company using short codes for marketing should ensure that their messages meet the guidelines of the TCPA and CTIA. Short codes are an invaluable marketing tool though the line between enticing customers and harassing them is a thin one. An SMS aggregator will monitor messages to a degree, but a company should ensure they are compliant, just in case.