How SMS Shortcodes Work

In order to understand how shortcodes work you must first understand what a shortcode is.  There are rules and regulations that govern short codes that do not apply to long codes, or regular phone numbers.  Keep reading to learn more about shortcodes and how they work.

What is a Shortcode – 

A short code, or short number, is a special shortened telephone number that is used to send SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) messages to mobile phones.  In simple terms a SMS message is just a text message and a MMS message is a text message with pictures, videos, or other entertainment aspects attached to it.  Shared and dedicated are terms often used with short codes, this terminology simply means a business owns their own dedicated short code or that a short code is shared by several different people/businesses.  A short code has a number of keywords associated with the phone number.  A dedicated short code owner would also have ownership over all keywords associated with the short code number.  With a shared short code all people/businesses using the same short code are given their own keyword.  The keyword is what differentiates each user of the short code and determines who will receive messages sent to the short number.  Very few businesses own their own dedicated short code due to the requirements, time, and expense it takes to provision one.  In most cases a mobile marketing provider will own the dedicated short code and sell packages that include use of the short code, a keyword, and a specified number of messages.

Shortcodes have been made more popular in the last few years by a number of television shows that allow viewers to text a message to a short number.  Examples include viewers sending a text message to a short code to vote for their favorite contestant of a reality tv show, or to make a charitable donation.  These shortcodes have since become a very effective form of marketing for nearly any type of business.  The use of short codes has boomed in the business industry as more and more companies are realizing that text message marketing is a very quick, inexpensive, and more productive way to reach their customers (or potential customers).

How Shortcodes Work –

Once a short code has been provisioned to a company they may start using that short number to send and receive MMS and SMS messages.  However, there are a number of rules and regulations that govern any short code.  For instance, in order for the text message sender to be allowed to send a message to a specific cell phone number they must have the cell phone owners previous permission.  This is what is called an opt-in program.  A mobile phone user must give their explicit permission to the sender indicating they wish to receive messages from them.  If a business sends unsolicited messages to any mobile user without their permission they will be in violation of anti-spam laws and will be fined or punished.

There are a number of ways people/businesses can get the cell phone users authorization to send messages, the most popular way is to have them text authorization directly to the short code. For example: Joe’s Pizza uses short code 54321 and the keyword “pizza”.  A cell phone user would send a message to the phone number 54321 and within the body of the text message type the word pizza.  This message will be sent to Joe and opt them in to receive messages for Joe’s Pizza.  They then become part of Joe’s customer database, which allows Joe to then send them future texts regarding special discounts or promotion he may have.  A great way for businesses to get potential customers to opt-in to their mobile marketing campaign is to include a statement such as “Text Pizza to 54321 to receive discounts” to all other forms marketing they use (ie. signage, mailings, emails, website, etc…).  Some businesses have found it best to get their customers written permission, this works well for businesses that have regular or walk-in customers.  For example: A med spa or doctor’s office may include a check box on the bottom of a new customer information form that just says something like “I would like to receive special discount information via text message”.  The beauty of using an opt-in program, versus purchasing an email list or something similar, is the people opting in are either already customers or potential customers that are already interested in your business but want incentive to purchase from you.  Once you get authorization to send text messages to customers it is an excellent way to entice them to continue to use your product or service, perhaps on an even more frequent basis.

Opt-in and Opt-out Messages

When someone opts in to your text message marketing campaign, and becomes part of your customer database, it is mandatory they receive a message letting them know they have opted in to receive messages from you. The default opt-in message will typically look something like this:

You’ve opted 2 receive msgs from <company-name>.  Up to <messages-month> msgs/mo. Reply HELP for help or STOP to cancel. Msg/data rates may apply.  

Along with rules applying to opting-in there are other rules/laws you must abide by, and one of those is providing a way for your customers to opt-out of your mobile marketing campaign.  This is done by including some mandatory information that tells them how many messages they can expect to receive, allows them to ask for help, to discontinue receiving texts, and notifies them fees may apply (for those who do not have text messages included in their cell plan).  The text message marketing providers typically automatically include this in all messages being sent from their short code.

Once the original opt-in message is received, all future messages will be composed and sent out by the business authorized to send the text messages.  All messages are limited to 160 characters.  Every message should include a shortened version of the mandatory information which may look something like this:

Msg&Data rates may apply.Stop to Stop. Help for Help.

Although this information uses some of the characters allowed in your message  , it is not only is it mandatory, but in your best interest to include.  By allowing your customers to opt-out of your text message marketing campaign you are saving your self money by not wasting your allotted messages on someone who is not going to view them or use your service.

The way short codes work is not as complicated as some of the technical sites may portray them.  There are basic steps that need to be taken to ensure messages are delivered to the right place and some simple rules that need to be followed. Other than that it’s just a matter of getting people to want to opt-in to your campaign then sending them messages enticing them to use your service/product.