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Shared Short Codes Are Going Away: What You Need to Know

If your text marketing provider hasn’t begun talking to you about a plan to transition away from shared short codes, it’s time to start the conversation.

Mobile carriers have made it clear that shared short codes (SSCs) will be phased out in the near future, a decision that has been more than two years in the making. This means all businesses using text (SMS or MMS) to communicate with customers will need to be prepared to stop the use of shared short codes or, at best, risk interruptions to their text marketing efforts and, at worst, face fines for using unsupported codes.

Here’s what you need to know about the end of shared short codes, what it means for mobile marketers, and how to ensure you’re prepared for the transition.

What Are Shared Short Codes?

A short code is a 5-6 digit telephone number that is pre-approved by carriers and enables content providers, such as brands, to communicate with consumers through high-throughput SMS and MMS text messaging without being marked as spam. In contrast to a dedicated short code, which one business uses exclusively, a shared short code may be shared by potentially hundreds of content providers.

Shared short codes evolved as a way for text messaging platform providers to offset the cost of maintaining separate codes for each content producer. Short codes are obtained through the U.S. Short Code Registry, and it costs $500/month to maintain a single short code.

The primary appeal of shared short codes is that they are cheaper to use, since all brands using a single short code share the burden of leasing it. However, the risks and costs of using a shared short code outweigh the potential savings and have pushed carriers to phase them out entirely.

Why Are Shared Short Codes Going Away?

While shared short codes sound efficient in theory, mobile carriers began to notice issues in the customer experience for users receiving text marketing, as well as issues in the functionality for brands sending out SMS or MMS marketing.

Poor User Experience

The most visible problem with multiple brands sending SMS and MMS messaging from the same phone number is how these are received by consumers. These messages will show up as a single conversation from only one contact in a user’s messaging app, with limited context to distinguish what information is coming from which brand. This can quickly create confusion and frustration in the customer experience and can even potentially cause consumers to form a negative association with your brand due to off-putting messaging tactics from an entirely different company.

You likely wouldn’t allow a bevy of other brands to email consumers using your brand’s domain name. Why would you accept that risk with your text outreach?

Spam Complaints

A violation of spam guidelines and best practices by anyone using a shared short code is a detriment to everyone using it. Carriers cannot distinguish between individual businesses using the same short code when evaluating spam reports and taking punitive actions for malicious or unscrupulous behavior.

When mobile carriers receive consumer complaints for entirely different businesses attributed to the same short code, they are at an impasse. With potentially hundreds of brands running different content through the same short code and with all of those brands having the ability to change out the content anytime, mobile carriers have no way to track, attribute, and address their customers’ complaints appropriately. A carrier has no way to separate a business that is out of compliance from your business, if you happen to be marketing through the same shared short code.

Keyword Limitations and Opt-Outs

With shared short codes, you share not only your reputation and user experience with other businesses, but your keywords, too. If your business wants to use common SMS keywords like SUBSCRIBE, INFO, or JOIN, you will be in competition with the other brands sharing the service for those keywords.

Similarly, required opt-out keywords such as STOP, CANCEL, and QUIT apply to the entire shared short code, not just a single sender. Therefore, a customer who unsubscribes from communications from another brand on your shared short code will also close the door to your brand as well.

For these reasons, mobile carriers such as AT&T have decided in the last two years to phase out the use of shared short codes entirely.

What Is the Impact of Shared Short Codes Going Away?

The immediate impact of carriers discontinuing the use of shared short codes is that they have already stopped approving new shared short codes. The shared short codes still in use today are only those which were in use before mobile carriers made this decision.

For those who continue using shared short codes, the pressure is on from mobile carriers to make a transition plan. The target state, for businesses and mobile carriers alike, is for each content provider to send SMS and MMS messaging through a number unique to their organization. Shared short code alternatives are:

  • Dedicated short code
  • 10-digit long code
  • Toll-free number

Today, the deadline for completing this transition looms near. Carriers have communicated in no uncertain terms that they are drawing quite close to cutting off support to all shared short codes. They have the infrastructure in place to monitor and cut off any unintended use of shared short codes that goes on after the final cutoff date. This continued use could be considered a violation of the provider’s terms of service, potentially resulting in hefty fines.

Transitioning Away From Shared Short Codes

If your current SMS/MMS aggregator or platform provider hasn’t already begun talking to you about their plan for helping to make this transition, start the conversation sooner rather than later; or look for support through an expert that knows how to navigate a transition like this.

Once carriers announce their cut-off date for shared short codes, there won’t be any extensions, as carriers have already provided aggregators and content providers the past two years to plan and fully transition.

As mentioned above, there are three different options for businesses to send messages via text: dedicated short codes, 10-digit long codes, and toll-free numbers. If you need help making a transition plan, or you’re not sure whether your current text marketing partner already has a plan in place, reach out to a reliable SMS aggregator or platform provider for guidance.

Vibes has already helped many businesses transfer their messaging functionality away from shared short codes and onto dedicated codes, to avoid interruptions to their mobile marketing efforts and ensure they are compliant with mobile carrier regulations.

Connect with Vibes today to learn more about moving away from shared short codes.

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