Are we in the twilight of the short code?

George Perry
George Perry
Image for the twilight of the short code

The sky is falling! The end of the short code is upon us! Gather your children and flee for the hills! Ok, it’s a bit dramatic, but there are people out there that think we’re in the twilight times of the short code. But are we? Have we seen them at their peak and it’s all downhill from here?

The truth is…complicated.

Short codes are alive and well

The reality is that short codes are very much still in use, something that’s not likely to change anytime soon. How do I know? Well, as far back as 2010 (that’s a long time in internet years), Mobile Marketing Watch was predicting that short codes were dead.

Spoiler alert: They’re still around.

So what happened to ensure the survival of the short code?

Texting as far as the eye can see

There are lots of reasons to think that short codes have stuck around despite the predictions of their demise. The biggest reason is likely tied to the growth of smartphones and our increasing preference for interacting with businesses via text instead of email or voice.

Why then the predictions that short codes are going away?

A lot of it has to do with competition. As the number of smartphones has grown, and as we’ve moved towards SMS as our preferred method of interacting with businesses, the options for doing that have also increased.

Back when we all had flip phones, a short code that only required us to type in Y or N (which was several pushes of a button back then) to confirm or deny an interaction was perfect; a simple, elegant solution to an engagement problem.

Smartphones, however, are easier to type on, and competition from long code and toll-free SMS has challenged the short code for supremacy in customer engagement via text, leading many to declare the end of the short code.

And yet, here we are, still using them. Why?

Short code use cases

We still use short codes because they’re still useful. There are plenty of use cases for them, including:

  • High-volume SMS; even with the growth of toll-free SMS, short codes are still an option for sending SMS to customers at volumes local SMS can’t manage
  • Reminders; while the interactivity of short codes may not be at the same level of toll-free SMS or long code SMS, messages with appointment reminders don’t require quite the same ability to text or call back
  • Alerts; alerts from emergency services (FLASH FOOD WARNING!) or from a bank or airline are often more about sharing information than starting a conversation. Being able to send them out en masse without concerns for replies aligns perfectly with short codes

There are certainly other ways to use short codes, which is part of the point — just because there’s competition doesn’t mean they’re going away. The reports of their demise have been greatly overstated.

What should you use?

So which type of messaging should you use? Well, that depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Want to send a large number of transactional notifications quickly? Short codes are likely what you need.

Want to get in touch with your customers quickly from a number they can text or call you back at? Toll-Free SMS gives you that engagement.Texting less frequently and to a smaller number of customers? Local SMS could suit your needs if you’re not texting as often (think how often you normally text your friends) and you’re actually holding a conversation with the customer, not just texting at them.

Chart showing the differences between local, toll-free, and short code SMS

The truth is, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, there’s an option out there for you.

Let’s talk!

Want to know more about short codes? Curious about the alternatives? Give us a call and see how Bandwidth can help you reach your customers.

Talk to an expert See the differences between toll-free SMS & local SMS