You’ve read about short codes and you’re ready to start adding them to your messaging mix. Read on below for how to select, apply for and lease a short code.

1. Know your options

 Short codes are textable five- or six-digit numbers that organizations use to communicate with people like customers, donors, voters, or members of a community, like students. 

 Before you start the application process, think about the type of short code that will best fit your budget and project:

Random vs. select: Short codes randomly assigned by the U.S. Short Code Directory and Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) are less expensive. But select, or “vanity,” short codes offer several advantages, including memorability and brand recognition. Think about the power of a six-digit numeric code like “007007” for a James Bond-themed short code marketing campaign, for example, or short code advertising where the letters spell out a catchy word or your organization’s name.

Dedicated vs. shared: You may also choose to use a dedicated short code. These are codes that organizations use exclusively for themselves or for a specific purpose or campaign. These also have the advantages of strengthening brand recognition and association 

Shared short codes typically cost less. Here multiple—often thousands—of organizations run their campaigns on a single code. If one campaign on a given code violates the rules, all campaigns are taken down. Because of risks like these, some major carriers have banned the use of shared short codes.

A specialized short code partner can help you navigate this process as you plan your campaign.

 2. Look up the short code you want to use

Now it’s time to select your short code.

The United States has a defined range of short codes: 20000-99999 for five-digit short codes and 200000-999999 for codes with six digits. You can see which ones are available in the U.S. Short Code Registry, which CTIA administers along with service provider iconectiv.

The code is taken. You can wait for the code’s current lease to become available. Some short codes partners will enable you to sign up for notifications when this happens. Or you can continue searching.

The code is available. Now it’s time to get your application moving. Note that the application process can take several weeks, so plan your campaign and manage stakeholder expectations accordingly.

3. Submit your application

To protect consumers from unwanted messages, an organization has to successfully undergo a comprehensive application and vetting process to be able to use a short code.

The most important part of an application form is the use case: how you intend to use the short code in your organization’s messaging. To prepare this part of this response:

  • Review the CTIA Short Codes Monitoring Handbook for wireless carriers’ best practices
  • Also review any policies, guidelines, restrictions and exceptions by your short code partner
  • Carefully think through your messaging strategy for this short code

Your short code partner will guide you through the application process. Note that carriers require payment before reviewing your application. This means that you’ll need to determine the terms of your lease before you apply.  

4. Lease your short code

In the United States, short codes are not bought and sold; they are leased for specific amounts of time: typically three, six, nine, or 12 months. A lease gives your organization the right—an exclusive right for dedicated short codes—to use the code for that period of time. 

You’ll need to budget for:

  • The monthly lease
  • A one-time setup fee
  • Inbound and outbound usage at a per-message rate, so you’ll need to think about how many text messages are sent a day

Some short code partners will offer discounts, and most will let you lease multiple short codes with one order.