We’ve all seen the commercials, urging us to text a word or phrase to ##### to receive the joke of the day or have a daily horoscope delivered to our cell phones. Even more familiar are the services that allow people to vote on various topics, as seen on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, simply by sending a text. Although we’ve all seen these things advertised or even participated in them ourselves, most of us don’t understand exactly (or at all) how they work. Well it all boils down to one basic concept which is the Common Short Code (CSC).

Common Short Codes, or simply ‘Short Codes,’ are 5-6 digit phone numbers which mobile phone users can send text messages to for a variety of reasons. The most common uses of short codes enable individuals to request information, join alert notification lists, or place their votes in a poll or contest. CSC’s are recognized by all major wireless providers in a given country, providing uniformity to the system that makes these methods extremely powerful as marketing tools.

There are two different types of short codes; shared and dedicated. Although they function similarly and serve the same general purposes, shared and dedicated short codes differ in many ways.

Shared short codes are ideal for use by small businesses, groups, and individuals interested in an inexpensive, locally-focused mobile marketing campaign.

In the case of shared short codes, companies maintain a particular code, such as 292929, which they allow their clients to utilize. The clients then choose a keyword (letters and/or numbers) to represent their group and then promote their keyword to build up their list. Therefore, many different companies can utilize the same short code, but it is their unique keywords that designate which business receives the text.

Shared short codes are the least expensive form of business texting for marketing. They are also the simplest and only take a few minutes to set up online.

Dedicated short codes differ from shared short codes in one basic way. Rather than sharing a particular short code (i.e.: 292929) with a bunch of other companies, a business or organization will lease their own short code from the Common Short Code Association (CSCA) which will be specific to their company.

Dedicated short codes are an enterprise solution for corporations, and organizations that have the means and need to create a more custom-tailored campaign. Leasing a dedicated short code from the CSCA costs about $500-$1000 a month for a random code, or $1000+ a month for a vanity code. As well as the per message charges. Furthermore, the set up of dedicated short codes is somewhat complex and requires an application process which includes gaining the approval of each individual wireless carrier. It can take two to three months to fully establish and launch a dedicated short code, often requiring a consultant to guide and help them through the process.

So which option is right for you? It depends on what you’re hoping to get out of your text messaging campaign. If you’re looking for an enterprise solution, and have the money to purchase your own code – dedicated is the way to go. Otherwise, you’re better off using a shared short code with some effective keywords and saving a lot of money. For more information, check out what the Common Short Code Association (CSCA) has to say.