What’s the Difference Between Long Code and Short Code SMS?

At the end of the day, brands want to reach their audience. This should not come as a shock to you (because it’s sort of how we all stay in business), but the real question is HOW — how should a brand reach out to its audience? And with what approach?

Last week we broke down the five different types of texting, but it’s also important to understand the main differences between the two big-picture categories of texting: long code and short code SMS. Sure, there are pros and cons to each, but which approach will get you the best results? The answer may surprise you. (And we’re not just saying that for clickbait reasons, the answer is probably not what you’d expect from us.)

Don’t want to wait for the answer? Skip to the last section to find out.


What’s Short Code SMS?


  • (Generally) one-way messaging
  • Heavily regulated by CTIA
  • Appropriate for high-volume messages
  • Robotic in nature

Short code SMS messages are essentially the text message version of push notifications. They’re called “short code” due to the “short” five-to-six-digit number from which the messages are sent. They are generally for recognizable brands (usually Fortune 1000) and are designed to be one-way in nature.

Since short code SMS is heavily regulated by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), the messages themselves are most often pre-approved by Telco providers. That means businesses can send out identical messages to a high volume of people without the messages being flagged as spam and blocked.

Usually, short code requires the submission of specific keywords to have any interactivity. See some examples below:

  • Text STOP to unsubscribe.
  • Reply with BURGER to get a meal on us.
  • Text HELP for more info!


What’s Long Code SMS?


  • Two-way messaging
  • Quality assurance and reputation management needed to prevent getting erroneously blocked by carriers
  • Conversational and humanized in nature

Long code SMS messages are sent from a standard ten-digit phone number. Unlike short codes, the receiver of a long code SMS message can call the number that is texting them and be routed to a real person.

Generally, long code SMS is considered two-way in nature (when it’s done correctly) and is more humanized and interactive. You’re less likely to see the robotic example messages above in a long code SMS.

Because long code SMS messages are human-like in nature, they can receive customized responses. However, the speed of the reply will depend on the technology or staffing available to the brand that owns the number. If they’re using an AI platform, for example, the brand could reply around the clock, but if the sender is relying on staff, they might only be able to reply during business hours.


Which One is Better?

So, which is better… long code or short code SMS?

The answer to this question will depend on your company’s needs. (Bet you thought we’d say long code, just because it’s what we do.)

If a brand just wants to alert or notify, where the goal is to bring awareness to the consumer, then short code will work well. For example, overdraft alerts, gate changes, coupon code delivery, shipping notifications, etc. would all be best served by a short code SMS. Imagine that your airport gate changed and instead of receiving the new info directly, you got a text that said something like: “Good morning! Your gate has changed. Do you want to know the new gate location?” You’d probably be frustrated, right? Long code SMS just isn’t appropriate for this situation.

But if a brand wants to engage with their audience and drive them to an outcome (when the enterprise needs the consumer to take some action), two-way long code is the way to do it. Learn more about the different methodologies here.

We find that most of our clients, of enterprises and brands in general, use a combination of both short code and long code. It’s the right tool for the right job approach. But as the pioneers of Conversational Texting®, we’ve seen the difference that comes from engaging with your audience compared to talking at them. It’s like night and day.

Think back to your own conversations. We’re sure you can remember a time where someone was talking at you, and how disengaged you felt. Maybe it was a boring lecture in a classroom. Maybe it was a one-sided “conversation” with one of your parents. But though you can probably remember the feeling of being talked at, it’s probably difficult to think about the conversation itself.

Now think of a really good conversation you had. What did it involve? Was it one-way with short responses, or was it more involved and featured a lot of back and forth? Chances are, it was most likely a conversation that featured a lot of back and forth. And you probably enjoyed it because it felt like you had a stake in the conversation. This is the kind of feeling we want to emulate when we text our audience—that they’re part of a meaningful conversation.

Communication preferences are changing, and persistent conversational long code SMS messaging is quickly becoming the preferred choice.

Learn more about how Drips makes long code SMS messaging easy.

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