101: Short Code Basics

Lesley MattI knew what a mobile short code was when I first started at Knotice. I knew that it was a shorter version of a mobile number used for sending text messages to a company. Now, having had the chance to work on mobile programs myself, I quickly learned that there are many aspects that go into determining what works best for companies, for marketers, and the world of mobile marketing.

For those new to mobile marketing, a short code is more than just a shorter version of a phone number. There are many different, predetermined rules that a person wishing to obtain a short code needs to follow… and regulation is not global. The U.S. has different rules and regulations about what makes a short code and how it can be used. In the U.S. a short code can either be five or six digits long. A short code starting with a number one or a zero is not permitted. A short code must fall in the digit range of 222222 to 999999. You may have seen three digit short codes, but those are used by each individual carrier for their own carrier specific programs and are not available to the public. Since there is a definitive number of short codes available, it is important to keep in mind how a short code will be used within a mobile program.

When choosing a short code a choice must be made between a vanity short code where it is possible to determine the numbers (or letters) that are used versus a random number short code. One of the big differences between these is the cost. A vanity short code is double the cost of a random short code. When picking a short code for marketing purposes, it is important to keep in mind how a mobile program is going to be promoted and if it is necessary for the user to remember the short code in order to participate. If it is necessary that the user remember the number sequence, then a vanity short code makes sense.

When picking a vanity short code it is important to consider picking a word versus picking numbers that are easy to remember. Choosing a word that goes along with a brand might sound cool to everyone within the organization, but consumers need to be able to easily text the word. Currently, companies are promoting mobile programs as texting a word to a number that is easy for consumers to remember. For example, which is easier for the consumer to do text: “CAR” to CHEVY (24389); or “CAR” to 811811?

Something else to keep in mind when planning out a mobile marketing program is whether or not using a shared short code versus a dedicated short code makes sense. If the plan is to just dip a toe in the mobile space but not to make a huge commitment, it may be beneficial to use a shared short code program where companies use the same short code for different mobile programs. Since all mobile programs that run on a short code must be approved by all wireless carriers prior to the program launch, a shared short code helps keep the time to market down for running basic programs.

With all of the rules and regulations surrounding mobile marketing programs it is crucial to know the basics and what options are available in the mobile space. Having a solid mobile marketing plan complete with the right short code is key to mobile success.

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  1. Posted December 3, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Great information for the novice. Additionally, it is important to know the process for obtaining a personal or vanity short code may be quite lengthy. Due to the regulations which as stated are not consistent across countries, the cost and time may be outside the planned marketing time frame. Strategic and integrated planning is crucial as is the timing. Happy Text Marketing

  2. Posted December 4, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    One issue I’m finding with Short Codes is when companies use promotions like ‘Text Car to CHEVY’.

    Smartphones like Blackberrys and other phones with flip-out keyboards don’t map letters to numbers as they do on a typical phone.

    It’s difficult to translate CHEVY into numbers when you’re staring at a QWERTY keyboard :)

    • Posted December 4, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Excellent point! That is another consideration when short code shopping and designing the marketing collateral to support mobile campaigns.

  3. Posted December 11, 2009 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    Great post this will really help me.

  4. Posted February 3, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the information. I have a question. You write:
    The U.S. has different rules and regulations about what makes a short code and how it can be used…. You may have seen three digit short codes, but those are used by each individual carrier for their own carrier specific programs and are not available to the public.
    Which regulations control short code use? Does the FCC dole out the short codes? Including the 3 digit short codes?

    • Dutch Hollis
      Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Short codes are controlled by the CSCA, or Common Short Code Administration, an arm of the CTIA, the Wireless Industry Association. According to their website, “Common short codes… are administered by a single CSC Administrator (CSCA) – CTIA-The Wireless Association® – for a group of U.S. wireless carriers. In addition, the CSCA oversees the technical and operational aspects of CSC functions and maintains a single database of available, reserved, and registered CSCs.

  5. Posted May 29, 2010 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for very useful info

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