I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to tell someone that sending broadcast text messages from a regular phone number is a big no, no.
These conversations are a constant reminder of just how far texting has evolved as a campaign tactic. Once a novelty, it’s now a necessary day-to-day tool that most campaigns use as part of their supporter and fundraising cultivation programs, as well as for field through their volunteer organizing and voter outreach campaigns.
But with so many different platforms out there, it’s hard to make head or tails over which one is best for your needs. The language spoken around mobile is primarily jargon incomprehensible to even the most experienced digital experts and navigation of legal compliance can be another barrier.
In this environment, it's difficult to figure out the right course for a campaign's texting program—or to even be aware of some of the pitfalls that could await. With that in mind, here’s what practitioners should hone up on before hiring a texting vendor.
But before we get into that, let’s start with some basic definitions you should be familiar with when it comes to mobile messaging:
- SMS: Short Message Service (text only)
- MMS: Multimedia Message Service (images and gifs)
- Short code: 5-6 digit number used to send broadcast SMS/MMS text messages
- Long code: 10 digit phone number, primarily used for peer-to-peer texting
- Broadcast Texting: Using an application to send multiple text messages out at once.
- Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Texting: Using an application to send one-on-one text messages.
Ok, now let’s get started.
First, why do we use short codes?
There is a very good reason reputable broadcast texting platforms send messages from a short code. Short codes are approved by all the phone carriers for broadcast texting, meaning an application or platform sending one message out to multiple mobile numbers at once. Short codes can be more expensive, which is why many platforms offer shared short codes, which allows several organizations to share the overhead costs making it more affordable. But you can purchase your own dedicated short code if you would like. Long codes are cheaper $10-25 to purchase vs. $500-1000/month for a dedicated or vanity short code, which is why vendors who use long codes can make their pricing cheaper.
Now, let’s cover why you shouldn’t be paying a vendor to send broadcast SMS texts messages via a long code (even if it costs less).
Long codes are not approved for Broadcast SMS
Long codes, also known as regular phone numbers, aren’t approved by phone carriers for broadcast text messaging (SMS/MMS) and carriers can detect when an application or platform (A2P) is sending multiple messages at once and they often are marked as spam.
Carriers are cracking down on what they consider spam text messages to prevent their customers from getting unsolicited texts. P2P texting platforms function in a gray area here because, despite messages being sent from an application, it’s still one-on-one texting or one person pressing send on each text message.
There’s a risk in sending texts via long codes.
Mobile vendors that allow you to send broadcast text messages from a long code are literally playing Russian Roulette with your list. As we already established earlier, mobile phone carriers are cracking down on what they categorize as spam text messages. Similar to an email spam filter sometimes messages make it through and sometimes they don’t.
Maybe your messages go through to all your subscribers on Gmail, but they’re blocked by Outlook. So for mobile, you might send a message out to 1,000 people on your list, Verizon might block it, but AT&T might have let it through. The next time everyone blocks it as spam.
The difference though with email versus mobile is that for email we can get deliverability reports and see which email messages aren’t getting through and marked as spam. If you send SMS from a short code, the platform you use to send the messages should also provide a deliverability report. But when text messaging from a long code, there’s no way to tell unless you call to ask all your subscribers to see if they got the messages.
A colleague of mine at an organization that does street canvassing for major non-profits and campaigns recently learned about this fact. They were informed by the donor management system they use that a text messaging functionality had been added to the platform. Unfortunately, it was via a long code. They decided to test it out before putting it into use. A broadcast text was sent to eight staff members. Half received the text message.
You can’t game the system.
A lot of vendors think they’re able to skirt spam filters by breaking up your list and sending SMS messages from multiple long codes. As you can tell from the example provided above it doesn’t matter how many people the message is being sent to. You could be sending a message to 8 or 50,000 people and phone carriers could still block it.
Vendors still think breaking up your list will help, but by doing this they are also hurting your brand identity. Every time one of your subscribers receives a text message from you they’ll be getting it from a different number. With a short code, they’ll always get messages from you at the same number.
Don’t forget your compliance obligation.
Another piece to this is legal compliance. Broadcast text messaging programs require clear opt-ins. All the ways to opt-in to a mobile program require legal language be included in both the call to action (CTA) and the first text message your mobile subscriber receives. Opt-ins usually are via a web form or keyword, such as Text SMART to 97779, in print or spoken.
The legal compliance language is:
Text STOP to quit. HELP for info. Standard data and text message rates may apply.
When subscribers opt-in to your mobile program the number they receive SMS messages from must be consistent. If the number they receive that first opt-in SMS from changes you must send another welcome text from the new number that includes all the legal language once again. So if you’re sending messages from a different long code every time, this isn’t legally compliant.
Many of the vendors who offer broadcast SMS via their platforms don’t make the opt-in requirements clear to customers, leaving them open to being audited and fined by the FCC.
Sandi Fox is the founder of Smart As A Fox LLC, a full service, progressive, digital strategy consulting agency, and Smart As A Fox Mobile Messaging. A version of the piece was originally published on the Smart As A Fox blog.