Text marketing is becoming the norm in the business world. Companies are using inbox messages to engage customers and rightly so. Text messages have a 98% open rate, an unmatched success rate compared to other marketing tools.

It’s likely that you’re also interested in enticing customers through a mass texting service. However, it’s important to understand how SMS short codes work and the rules and regulations that govern SMS short code messaging.

SMS Short Code: The Basics

An SMS short code also referred to as CSC (Common Short Code), is a 5 to 6-digit number that businesses use for A2P communication. Essentially, SMS short codes help businesses to opt-in customers to their SMS programs.

Businesses send promotional offers and text message coupons to customers who opt for their programs. You may personalize your 5–6 digit code to spell out a brand’s name or relevant word.

The U.S. Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) registers CSCs and oversees their operational and technical aspects. In addition, the CSCA maintains a database of all available, reserved, and registered CSCs.

Dedicated SMS Short Codes

Dedicated SMS short codes are unique short codes that only a single business uses. For instance, Pizza Hut uses 69488 as an SMS short code. This means that no other pizzeria can use the same code for their SMS program as it is dedicated to Pizza Hut.

Shared SMS Short Codes

Some companies opt for shared SMS short codes. With this option, multiple different businesses use the same short code. However, each company gets a unique SMS keyword for the code. The SMS keywords indicate which SMS program a user is trying to opt into.

An African American Police Officer displayed inside of a mobile device, speaking into a megaphone, with a text message icon showing and its content

CTIA Short Code Rules

Short codes are, perhaps, one of the most powerful and quickest tools to reach your customers. Whether you want to send time-sensitive messages or mass texting, short codes work well. While short codes empower you in many ways, you’ve to follow certain rules and regulations of SMS API Short code messaging.

CTIA –The Wireless Association governs all SMS messaging in the U.S. CTIA and Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) have developed a set of rules that all short code programs must adhere to. The rules protect consumers against bad practices.

CITA has outlined the rules and regulations in their Short Code Compliance Handbook. If a business violates the text messaging campaign regulations, the wireless carriers can immediately deactivate the short code. Let’s have a look at the industry standards for SMS short code messaging.

Choice and Consent

First, businesses need to make sure they deliver “sufficient value” so that the consumers can choose to participate in transparent delivery conditions.

Unsolicited Messages

Businesses may not transmit unsolicited messages through SMS short codes. CITA defines unsolicited messages as:

  • Messages sent to the user or account holder without prior consent
  • Messages sent to the user after they have opted out of the SMS program

If you send unsolicited messages to a consumer, it will be considered a violation of anti-spam laws. The violation leads to a fine or ban.

Marketing Context

According to the rules, no component of the advertisement or message may be deceptive. You cannot lie about your program’s functionality, content, or features. From call-to-action to advertisements and terms and conditions, the message must be clear and consistent.

Opt-in Program

For sending a message to a particular cell phone number, you must have their permission; this is called an opt-in program. It’s important to have explicit permission indicating that the user wants to receive messages from your end.

A user may use several ways to opt-in to receive messages from a business. For instance, the user may click a button on a mobile webpage, enter the number online, or send a MO message containing the branded keyword.

Further, a user may sign up at a point-of-sale (POS) location or show consent over the phone using IVR technology. Usually, it’s the existing customers or potential customers who opt-in with the hope of getting incentives on purchasing your products or service.

You must immediately send a single opt-in confirmation message verifying the customer’s enrollment in your database. In case of POS or hardcopy opt-ins, make sure to deliver the confirmation message as possible.

Opt-out Message

It’s important to provide a functioning opt-out mechanism to your customers. Acknowledging and respecting customers’ requests to opt-out of your messaging program is crucial. Usually, text messaging marketing providers automatically include mandatory info in the messages sent from their short code.

The information tells customers how many messages they may receive, to opt-out of the program, allowing them to ask for help, and also notify the fees. The regulations require the recurring-messaging programs to display opt-out instructions at program opt-in at regular intervals. You must also send a final confirmation message after a customer opts out successfully.

Two African American Police Officers standing beside one another. Both are holding signs. One is holding a checkmark, the other is holding an 'x' with a cellphone in the middle of the two of them with a text message icon displayed on its screen

Industry Regulations for HELP and STOP Keywords

To comply with the industry standards, it’s important that your U.S. short code responds to keywords HELP and STOP.

STOP

So, if a user decides to opt-out of your program, he can use the keyword STOP. It becomes necessary to add the user to the opt-out list, and you cannot send further messages. Besides STOP, your short code program should respond to the other universal keywords for opting-out. The words may include STOP, UNSUBSCRIBE, END, QUIT, and CANCEL. You have to send a message confirming the opt-out.

HELP

The regulations require you to send a compliant response to the customer who has text in the keyword HELP to your SMS short code. The user may or may not have subscribed to your SMS program.

Message Format

You cannot exceed more than 160 characters when sending a message through SMS short code. Every message must include a summary of the mandatory information.

Since you’re sending a message via short code, you cannot use alphanumeric or other numeric code to send the message. Rather, the sender ID must contain the approved U.S. sender number only.

Make sure that the “description” is a single word defining the kind of alert—for instance, “News Alerts.” Your HELP source must either be a supportive email address or a toll-free number.

Final Word

Using a short code is not as complex or technical as one might expect. All you have to do is to abide by the messaging rules and regulations, and you are good to go.