How SMS shortcodes work

Have you ever requested a service or entered into a competition by sending a text to a special shortened number? Then you have made use of a SMS shortcode. But what exactly is
originally gained popularity due to television shows that allowed viewers to vote for their favourite singer/ contestant or to make a donation. It quickly caught on in other industries as companies realised that it is a cheap, speedy, reactive and productive way to target consumers.

Generally, businesses can get access to dedicated or shared short codes. Every code can also have a specific set of keywords assigned to it.

Dedicated codes imply that the particular business has ownership over all keywords associated with the short code number. With a shared short code all people/businesses using the same short code are given their own keyword. The keyword is what differentiates each user of the short code and determines who will receive messages sent to the short number.

According to, very few businesses own their own dedicated short code due to the requirements, time, and expense it takes to provision one. “In most cases a mobile marketing provider will own the dedicated short code and sell packages that include use of the short code, a keyword, and a specified number of messages.”

Once a company obtains one of these codes, they can invite consumers to send SMS as well as MMS messages to the specified number. The message could look something like this:

“Text the word ‘hamper’ to 12345 and you could win one of our Easter Hamper giveaways.”

The company receives the messages along with the phone numbers of the participants. They can now store these numbers in a database for future marketing purposes.

SMS shortcodes can be used for permanent opt-in purposes or for once-off competitions/ specials. If you are looking at a more permanent option in order to build your marketing database, you could place your codes in email signatures, on the company car, on a sign outside the shop etc. This way you can establish an ongoing conversation with your customers, because they have opted willingly to receive your text messages.

Herman Cremer
A seasoned professional with 20 years of experience in digital & mobile solutions and advertising.


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