SMS Short Codes & Texting: What You Need to Know

It’s estimated that by 2025, SMS marketing will be a $12.6 billion market in the United States, up from just $2 billion in 2015. As mobile device usage continues to increase and the SMS market continues to grow, so does the enterprise use of text short codes to send messages at scale.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what SMS short codes are, how they’re different from long codes, and how businesses can utilize short codes for mobile marketing, brand engagement, customer service, and operations. We’ll also cover Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) compliance for SMS marketing and provide answers to frequently asked questions about text short codes.

What is an SMS Short Code?

SMS short codes are 5 or 6-digit phone numbers that can be used to send and receive text messages. They’re commonly used to send marketing messages, mass text notifications or alerts, and account verification codes.

Short Codes vs Long Codes

Long codes are 10-digit phone numbers tied to an area code—for example, your home phone, or Syniverse’s contact number, 813-637-5000. Long codes can be used to send and receive texts, faxes, and calls, while SMS short codes can only be used to send and receive texts. Both support two-way messaging.

One of the biggest differences between short and long codes is the volume of messages they’re able to handle, with short codes being able to send more messages at one time than long code numbers. Another key difference is accessibility—short codes take longer and cost more to get, especially if you opt for a custom vanity code (for example, Domino’s Pizza uses DOMINO, or 366466).

Traditionally, long codes were only for person-to-person (P2P) messaging, but today they are commonly used for application-to-person (A2P) as well. The industry standard for A2P long codes in North America is called 10DLC. To learn more about A2P 10-digit long codes and enterprise use cases for them, check out our guide to 10DLC here.

When Should You Use a Short Code?

Because short codes can send more messages per second, they’re ideal for large, time-sensitive campaigns, like conducting a television poll or alerting customers to an upcoming sale.

Short codes have non-marketing-related uses, too. An airline might want to send out alerts about flight delays; a medical practice might want to send out appointment reminders.

So, when would you want to use an A2P long code instead? Depending on your unique messaging use case, verified nonprofits and political campaigns can qualify for reduced long code messaging traffic fees. You can learn more about using 10DLC for political campaigns in our article here.

Examples of enterprise text messages from both short code and long code numbers.

Ultimately, whether you use a short code or long code number to engage with your customers will depend on your unique use case and business type. If you have questions about what’s best for your business or organization, contact the Syniverse sales team.

Common Short Code Use Cases

How can you use SMS short codes to increase customer engagement and brand loyalty? From mobile marketing campaigns to customer service, here are some of the most common use cases for SMS short codes with real-world examples.

Mobile Marketing

Because short codes can send a high volume of text messages over a short period of time, they’re a popular choice for mobile marketing campaigns, such as running sweepstakes, offering purchase rewards, and advertising special promotions.

Use Case: A restaurant chain runs an SMS promotion where customers can text “FREE” to the vanity short code BURRITO (2877486) to enter to win a year’s worth of free burritos. This creates buzz around the brand and encourages more customers to sign up for text alerts, growing the audience for future marketing campaigns.

Loyalty Programs

Short codes can also be used to create text-based loyalty programs that encourage repeat business and build brand trust. These types of loyalty programs are easier and less expensive to set up than in-app reward programs.

Use Case: A cosmetics retailer sends customers a text with a coupon code for 20% off as a reward for making their tenth purchase—later, they send a $5 off coupon as a reward for customers signed up for one year. Because they’re rewarded for their loyalty, customers feel more inclined to shop there again.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a security feature that requires users to grant access via a secondary device, such as a text message. This added layer of security helps protect sensitive information and prevents unauthorized access. Many businesses, especially in the financial and healthcare industries, are turning to short codes to implement MFA for their customers.

Use Case: A bank sends a text message with a code to a customer’s phone, which the customer must enter to access their account online. This way, even if someone obtains the customer’s login credentials, they cannot access the account without the code sent to the customer’s phone.


An “opt-in” is when a customer actively chooses to receive text messages from a business. This is a crucial aspect of SMS marketing as it ensures the customer has given their consent to receive messages. It also gives customers a chance to personalize their experience upfront by choosing what kinds of messages they’d like to receive.

Use Case: Patients can opt-in to receive text notifications about their prescriptions by texting “JOIN” to an easy-to-remember short code, or at other touchpoints like the pharmacy counter, or through an online portal. They might also sign up to receive additional notifications about vaccine availability, personalized health tips for their age range, or events.

Crisis Communications

SMS short codes are a great tool for businesses to improve customer relations. One common use case is crisis communications, where businesses can quickly and effectively communicate important information to a large group of customers during an emergency.

Use Case: A regional power company uses a short code to quickly send updates and instructions to all of their affected customers at once during a power outage.

Financial Services

When it comes to financial services, customer trust is everything. Sending balance updates and fraud alerts from a dedicated short code customers recognize makes those messages more trustworthy and more likely to be acted on.

Use Case: A bank sends a text alert after a customer’s card is used to pay for a big ticket item far away from their home address to confirm that they were the one who made the purchase. The customer texts back “YES”—it gives them peace of mind knowing that their bank is actively monitoring for suspicious credit card activity.


Short codes can also be used in a variety of operational capacities. One common use case is logistics, where short codes can be used to track shipments and deliveries.

Use Case: A national shipping company sends text updates to customers, including the tracking number and estimated delivery date, from a dedicated SMS short code. This allows customers to stay informed about the status of their package and can also help the company identify and resolve any potential issues.

Union Communications

Another use case for text short codes is in union communications. This can be a quick and efficient way for the union to reach many members at once, without having to rely on traditional mail or email.

Use Case: A union might use a short code to communicate with members about upcoming meetings, strikes, or other important events.

SMS Marketing Compliance: What is the TCPA?

While using short codes to send text messages to consumers is faster and more engaging than traditional marketing methods, it also comes with unique rules.

All for-profit businesses that engage in mobile marketing must be compliant with the TCPA. Passed in 1991, this law is designed to protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls and text messages. Businesses that don’t adhere to these regulations could face penalties or legal action.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

The standard penalty for non-compliance with the TCPA is $500 per violation. However, if a violation is found to be willful or intentional, the penalty can increase to $1,500 per violation.

Companies like DirecTV, Dell, JiffyLube, and the Huffington Post have faced multi-million-dollar class action lawsuits for sending unwanted text messages to consumers. Don’t let the same thing happen to you—before you apply for a short code, your company needs to be ready to commit to TCPA compliance.

How to Keep Your SMS Marketing TCPA Compliant

To ensure compliance with the TCPA, businesses should:

  • Receive expressed written consent from consumers before sending text messages.
  • Include an “Opt-Out” option in all text messages, allowing consumers to unsubscribe at any time.
  • Disclose how many texts a consumer can expect to receive.
  • Only send messages during business hours.
  • Include your business name in all communications.

SMS Text Short Codes: Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get a short code for mobile marketing?

In the US, short codes for mobile marketing can be obtained from the official US Short Code Registry. Short codes do not work internationally, so if you’re outside of the US, you’ll need to go through your country’s short code registry—for example, in Canada or in the UK.

As an official US Short Code Registry partner, Syniverse helps enterprises manage their mobile messaging campaigns after the short code is leased, ensuring they go off without a hitch.

Who owns SMS short codes?

SMS short codes are owned by a provider like the U.S. Short Code Administration. These providers then lease short codes to companies for a specific period of time, during which the company has the right to use it for their campaign. 

How do I look up SMS short codes?

You can look up SMS short codes currently in use and find information about the company using the code on the US Short Code Registry website.

Leverage the Power of SMS Short Codes for Your Mobile Marketing Campaigns

SMS short codes are powerful mobile marketing tools—whether you’re looking to increase sales, engage customers or improve internal communications, short codes can help you achieve your goals.

As a global leader in mobile messaging services, Syniverse is able to offer faster message delivery, lower latency, reduced costs, and greater messaging control. To learn more about our enterprise mobile marketing services and how to get started with SMS short codes, contact the Syniverse sales team today!

For more information, get in touch with our experts!



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