How to Acquire a Common Short Code for Mobile Marketing

By John Arnold, Michael Becker, Marty Dickinson, Ian Lurie, Elizabeth Marsten

When it comes to commercially addressing text messages, your Common Short Code means everything. In the United States, all commercial text messages (text messages for the purpose of mobile marketing) must be addressed and sent via Common Short Codes.

A Common Short Code (CSC) is simply a short (five- or six-digit) phone number used to address and route commercial text or multimedia messages through wireless operator networks. CSCs are critical because nearly all effective mobile marketing programs leverage text messaging in one way or another.

You have two ways to gain access to a CSC for your mobile marketing program:

  • You can lease a CSC directly. Choose this option when you want to run lots of different campaigns with no limit to the complexity of the campaigns.

  • You can rent access to an existing CSC. Choose this option when you’re on a budget or you need to run a minimum number of simple campaigns.

Many countries don’t have a centralized Short Code administration body, in which case you must rent access to a Short Code. Although this approach may get you up and running faster, at less expense, you should take care when using this model. Depending on the relationship you forge with the application provider, the provider may end up owning all your customers (all the opt-ins) on the code.

If you’re going to be doing any mobile marketing beyond one-off campaigns here and there, lease your own CSC.

If you’d like to lease your own CSC directly, you can obtain it from one of the few Short Code administration bodies:

To lease a Short Code or obtain access to one in other countries, you need to go through your application provider or a local aggregator. Ask your mobile marketing provider or local aggregator for assistance.

If you decide to lease a Short Code, it’s a pretty easy process. The following are the steps for doing so in the United States. Remember that every registry may have a slightly different process:

  1. Go to the Common Short Code Administration website.

  2. Click the Get an Account Now button, complete the form that appears, and register your account.

    If you’re the marketer, select the role of content provider and click Create Account.

  3. Log in with your user ID and password, click the Apply for a New CSC link (on the left), and fill out the form that appears. Click Submit.

    If you’re having your application provider do this for you, be sure that he puts your contact info in as the content provider. That way, if you leave your application provider, you are the leaser of record for the Common Short Code. In addition, you need to specify whether you want to lease the code for 3, 6, or 12 months, and the type of code that you’d like.

  4. Read the terms and conditions and select the I Agree check box.

  5. After you’ve accepted the terms and conditions, confirm your purchase.

    Your code is e-mailed to you. If you do not complete the payment for the Common Short Code immediately, the administration will hold it for 60 days. If you do not pay within 60 days, the code goes back into the pool of available codes.

Leasing your CSC is just the first step. After you’ve leased your CSC, you then need to have it activated on the mobile operator networks and have it bound to an aggregator, who in turn binds it to a mobile marketing application.

After this binding is complete and your CSC is registered in the carrier networks, all messaging traffic addressed to the CSC must be routed through a carrier network, who hands it to the registered aggregator, who in turn routes it to your specified application provider’s text-messaging platform.

Leasing your own CSC can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per month, and it takes many months to get a new CSC approved. If you’re not prepared to get your own Short Code — due to the expense or due to the time it takes to activate one — you can ask an application provider or connection aggregator to rent you access to one of its CSCs.