With 97% of Americans using texting at least once a day, it is the most widely used application on a smartphone¹. Messages sent via text are read more often and faster than other forms communication, but business texting, and more specifically group texting for business, has struggled to gain adoption due to limitations and regulation. Recent changes in technology and legal requirements are making texting a more viable solution for businesses. Let's take a look at the various ways that texting works today, the changes, and why it's better for you.
Up until now businesses had two options when it came to texting, and only one real choice for group texting.
Short codes are five or six digits in length and were built to accommodate business sms and applications. While American Idol and marketing dominated early applications, short codes are now widely used for shipping notices, flight updates, big brand marketing, reminders, and notifications. For example - American Airlines uses a short code to send flight reminders and change notices. Short codes obviously support group texting but they are expensive - costing thousands of dollars per month on top of per message fees. They are regulated by the CSCA and CTIA, and acquiring a number requires a significant application process.
In the US, a long code refers to a standard 10-digit number. Unlike short codes, long codes are readily available and cost far less. Long codes are designated by US cellular carriers for P2P (person-to-person) messaging only. That means that they can’t be used for high-volume business applications. The carriers strictly monitor long code messaging for traffic that doesn’t look like P2P, and will block all messages on numbers they find that violate their (unwritten) rules. When this happens, businesses have no recourse, because they were not supposed to be using long codes for non-P2P messages.
The challenge for many organizations is that short codes are prohibitively expensive, while long codes can’t be used to reach everyone in an organization. Imagine a church, school, or apartment complex that needs to send a quick update to 500 people. This message is definitely bigger than long codes allow, but a short code costs thousands of dollars per month. In the best case, a short code is shared with many others, which can cause mix ups with opt-outs and reply messages intended for someone else.
It is certainly frustrating that long codes can’t be used for mass text messaging, but the carriers have this policy because they fear flooding their users with SPAM messages. Can you imagine if text messaging was as bad as unwanted robocalls? Carriers haven’t figured out how to keep the bad guys out of the long code texting system, so they instead allow only low-volume, slow messaging P2P.
Group Texting Is Changing
Recently, carriers have enabled a new kind of texting. One that by nature, is immediately identifiable with business and allows organizations to send large group texts.
Recently, carriers agreed to allow high-volume text messages on 8xx, or toll-free, numbers. While the possibility for abuse still exists, separating out this traffic onto 8xx numbers makes it easier to monitor and hold companies responsible for their messages. Texting over 8xx numbers finally gives Call-Em-All the ability to offer a single product that supports large group text messages and the natural one-to-one text conversations that follow. Together, these features create the more powerful mass texting solution our clients have hoped for.
Limitations and the future of messaging
While a great improvement, 8xx texting is not perfect. One big problem is that 8xx numbers incur a per-minute cost if they are called. Another is that the numbers are not a local, familiar number to text recipients. While the carriers balance spam-prevention and business access, other companies and tools are pushing to become the messaging service of choice. It’s hard to think of text messaging becoming irrelevant, but applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have billions of users and are moving towards allowing businesses to access their platform.
For now, we believe that text messaging over 8xx numbers is the best solution for most organizations. We will continue to monitor the global messaging scene and adopt our solutions to help our clients communicate easily.
Brad Herrmann is the founder and president of Text-Em-All (formerly Call-Em-All), an automated calling and mass texting company that provides solutions for small and medium-sized businesses, large corporations, membership organizations, community groups, and individuals. Brad is a graduate of Texas A&M University.