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10 Things to Know About Short Codes

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Most likely you’ve seen cell phone “short codes” when advertisers slap them on candy wrappers or big media brands like American Idol create text message-based voting campaigns. You know, text a message to this 5 or so digit mobile code and get some free stuff you don’t really want. But more smaller organizations and communities are turning to short codes with the help of startups like Mozes and TextMarks. And mobile companies like 3Jam and Embrace Mobile are using short codes to power their services.

Do you need one? If you want to market or promote something to mobile users, manage mobile communications to members of a group or organization, or get cell phone users to access your mobile application or service — then, maybe. How much are you willing to spend and what kind do you need? Here’s 10 things to know about short codes, how to get them and what to avoid:

1). There are two kinds of short codes, shared and dedicated. Dedicated short codes are dedicated for one customer, and are costly and take awhile to set up – in the U.S. it can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 per year and take two months to get it ready.

2). Shared short codes are shared among customers and use keywords to identify their traffic. The cost of these is pretty small, and you can access these services from companies like Mozes and TextMarks. Mozes has been actively signing up bands while TextMarks has been working on organizations and local communities.

3). If you want to obtain a dedicated short code in the U.S., you have to choose between vanity or select (hand-picked) and random codes. It’s like picking a license plate. Vanity codes cost around $1,000 per month just to register and random short codes cost about half that.

4). Registration of dedicated short codes is only part of the process if you want your own code. You’ll probably want to go to one of the dozen or so SMS aggregator companies that have relationships with different carriers like Clickatell, or VeriSign. Research prices and compare as they are all trying to undercut each other.

5). The method of obtaining and using short codes is different in different countries — don’t assume it’s a global world when it comes to carriers and use of short codes. Particularly the U.S. is somewhat more difficult than many other countries.

6). It’s also not like the open Internet, and carriers can shut you down any time they want if you do something they don’t like. Often startups that have created mobile applications using short codes find out they’ve been snubbed when the service goes dead over one carrier or the other. Fun!

7). If you are a content provider you can’t have any fun either. According to the CTIA site you generally have to: “Agree not to transmit political marketing (news is acceptable), religious, pornographic, prostitution/escort, gambling, hate, alcohol or drug related content.” Wonder how FAITH and PLBOY (see below) are working that out.

8). Carrier control is frustrating for a wireless startup or a third-party application provider but sometimes a modicum of control makes a better experience for the customer (only sometimes). It’s good for a carrier to stall applications that can mess up systems or wreak havoc on end users.

9). If you text HELP or STOP to a short code, the service should respond. This is implemented to help users end or learn more about the short code service, and is useful for managing and finding these services.

10). Here’s a site that pulls together a lot of registered short codes. I can’t verify the accuracy of all of them (some worked with HELP/STOP and some didn’t), but some vanity codes on this list might inspire you: COKE, 20FOX, FAITH, FBOOK (Facebook), GAWK (Gawker Media), MYSPC, (MySpace) PLBOY (PlayBoy).

28 Responses to “10 Things to Know About Short Codes”

  1. Glenn Dooner

    There is now a Universal Short Code available from Go800.
    Brand Voice Keywords (AVIS, GEICO, HOMEDEPOY, etc} are text to 46800 (Go800) to get immediately connected. Companies can lease TAXI, PIZZA, TIRE, TOW to have their customers connect to their phone number without dialing or even knowing the number!
    To find out how you can test your own Voice Keyword for free, text ABC to 46800 (Go800)

  2. It is finally taking off! Let me connect you to the company that offers affordable packages, an option to pay yourself back, & much more. Visit Click on 1, 2, 3 and watch the short clips. We own the most searched for number on Google. 90210! Its awesome. Mobile business cards, text CAMERON to 90210 for an example.

  3. A number of years have past since this article was first published, even though technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, trying to find shortcode suppliers that also have back end sms marketing functionalities, is still like trying to find a needle in a hey stack.

    I am surprised about this fact but also excited because early adopters of this technology will have a wonderful future in marketing.

  4. Some parents have been stuck with HUGE cell phone bills after their kids have subscribed to short code services. Alot of these services seemed to be aimed at kids and I think there should be more regulations to keep minors from using these services and racking up unreasonable phone charges.

  5. With the development of advanced phone and Apps, I think short codes might find it hard to keep up with the market. Twitter is now mobile compatible, it is free for advertisers. I do think SMS will always be affective in radio, for contest, and voting, but the cost is very high. A shared code is the best solution for this economy.

  6. I have been google’ing for this information for the past 2 days and i found on Gigaom, a site which visit daily.

    Hmmmm.. it would be nice if you could add a Forums section to Gigaom to discuss technical details..

    THANKS OM anyway.

    Cheers, Nag

  7. You said: “Do you need one? If you want to market or promote something to mobile users, manage mobile communications to members of a group or organization, or get cell phone users to access your mobile application or service — then, maybe.”

    Can I still do all this without using the short codes? What are the alternatives?

  8. Katie,

    You are absolutely right that all this confusion with short codes, and the expensive set up fees put mobile marketing outside the reach of most small businesses.

    We built Mobivity to make it easier to get into mobile marketing and sms content delivery. With Mobivity you can get on our short code and mobilize your content for a few dollars per day.

    While Mozes & TextMarks get you on a short code, they are not platforms for marketing via sms. They are more consumer focused and lack some marketing based features.

    At one point we had set up a test account for you. Let us know if your interested in evaluating it.

  9. I run the site that pulls together a lot of registered common short codes:

    I know that many of the common short codes are no longer active (provisioned) or the applications behind them are not responding (inactive campaign). I also know that there are many missing from the list. I was informed by an Analyst who listened to a Neustar investor call recently (Neustar runs the short code administration authorized by CTIA) that they reported 900 registered common short codes. The WHOIS site is far from 900.

    If you know of missing codes, please contact me so I can add them. I have been told about, or found myself, another 25 or so that I have not posted yet to the site.

    And my own short code is 74574.

  10. Swampthing

    I do not mean to attack but the Pondering Primate blog does not give the readers the full blown truth about this interactive space.

    Check out this article regarding real short codes:
    2D mobile bar code readers: breakthrough for marketers
    March 10th, 2007

    I am assumeing that links cannot be posted but you can Google what you need.

    The truth is told here.

  11. One thing about short codes that I have noticed is that there are still a lot of people confused about them.

    They’re still assuming that, to send a SMS, he or she still needs a full 10 digit number. Then once they get it, you run into people with smart phones, who’s keys don’t map to the characters to numbers.

    Also, branding the product is always an issue, do you put your short code or your brand first? Should it be “Text to Mozes (66937)” or “Text to 66937 (Mozes)” ? At our startup, Msgme, we’re faced with that all the time.

  12. Dean, thanks, I pointed out the registration fees of random and dedicated in point 3 on a monthly basis. I was estimating the entire fees for a year in post 1, based on the other additional fees you need to set up the service and working with third party companies.

  13. For QR codes google up a blog called “The Pondering Primate”, but this has nothing to do with CSC’s.

    Also Katie point 1? Short codes cost $500 (randomly allocated) to $1000 (selected) per month (at least last time I checked about 4 months ago).

    Also if you want to run SMS marketing campaigns you might want to check out, it’s an ASP solution that hooks into the USA network via the mBlox agregator.