Wednesday, 25 September 2013

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How to get a SMS Short Code


How to get a SMS Short Code

Short codes are shorter versions of telephone numbers that provide increased functionality with SMS.  They typically provide automated services to people who text them.  One advantage of short codes is that organizations can charge special rates for texting to a short code.  For example, the American Red Cross charges users five dollars to text “GIVE” to 24357, which is an extremely convenient donation method for supporters.  Short codes can also be free to text to, which is used to encourage interaction between and organization and the community.  For example, an organization can mass message members and ask for a vote on a decision.  Community members can text their votes for free, allowing an organization to easily get feedback from supporters.

Step 1.

Be sure a short code is right for your organization.  Depending on the type of code, buying a short code can be very expensive.  Plan what your code will be used for to be sure that your organization will get sufficient value to justify your investment.


Short codes are carrier specific, which often means that they are country specific.  For example, the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) regulates US short codes.  If you buy a code from them people using wireless carriers popular in the US will be able to use your code.  However, if you have supporters across the globe using carriers that are not popular in the US, you might not be able to recieve messages from them.

Step 2. 

Decide what type of short code you want.  There are two types of short code:  Shared and Dedicated
  • Shared short codes are used by multiple organizations.  Each organization has a “keyword” which a user must preface their text with to indicate which organization they wish to interact with.  This is more complicated for users and may result in messages being lost.  Additionally, cell phone carriers can refuse to accept short code information at their discretion.  If a carrier wishes to block an organization you are sharing a short code with, your organization will be blocked as well (check who else is using a shared code before you buy).  Shared short codes vary from under 100$ to 500$ per month, depending on the number of keywords you want to use and the number of messages you want to send.
  • Dedicated short codes are owned by one organization, and that organization has control over the code.  These are much more expensive, and typically cost over $1,000 dollars to set up, plus between 500$ and over 1000$ per month.  Dedicated short codes also need to be approved by wireless carriers, which can take several months.   Dedicated short codes give an organization control over all data sent to the code.  Organizations can also choose their code (although this is more expensive).  For example, Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign used the code 62262, which spells “OBAMA” on a phone.  This code was extremely easy for supporters to remember.
Shared short codes are cheaper and can be set up faster and more easily.  Dedicated short codes are valuable if an organization is very large or will be using the short code a lot.  In general, only business and the largest organizations use dedicated short codes.

Step 3.

If you are buying a dedicated short code, you will need to supply information for the short code to be accepted.  In the United States, the CSCA regulates short codes.  To get a short code, first register on the CSCA website by clicking the "Get an Account Now" box in the top right corner.  You must pay for your code before it is approved by carriers.  Note that this money is non-refundable, so if your application is rejected you will still need to pay.  Once you have paid for your short code, you can start a "campaingn" to get carriers to accept it.  Here is a lengthy guide on getting a dedicated short code approved.  Since the process is rather complex, there are companies that will assist you with the process, called application providers.  This list of popular application providers is a good starting point.  The list does not provide links to the websites, but you should check an application provider's plans and pricing before you buy.
If instead you are leasing a shared short code, there are lots of companies that have codes for sale.  The Mobile Giving Foundation has a list of recommended partners to set up a short code for donations.  Rates and plans vary quite a bit, so shop around for deals that offer the number of messages and keywords your organization needs while matching your budget.  Be sure to check what carriers accept the short code and what country the short code is designed for.

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