Obtaining a short code for sending text messages to US recipients – Part 2
In my last post, I gave an overview of the benefits of short codes. I also covered several important pieces of information that you should have in place before you apply for a short code. In this post, I’ll look at the application process itself. I’ll share tips and information that will help you complete the application process. My goal is to help you obtain your short code as quickly as possible. I recommend that you read part 1 of this series before you proceed. The steps in this post build upon the materials that you should have in place after reading part 1.
As in part 1, the information in this post applies specifically to US short codes. US short codes can only be used to send messages to recipients with US phone numbers. Generally, you can use the guidance in these posts when applying for short codes in other countries. However, some parts of the application process might be different from what you see in this post.
Step 1: Create a case in the AWS Support Center
To start the process of requesting a short code, you must create a short code request case in the AWS Support Center. You can find the steps for opening a case in the Amazon Pinpoint User Guide. Some of the fields on the form that you complete in the AWS Support Center are marked “optional.” However, you should provide thoughtful answers in all of the fields. Be sure to provide a detailed description of your use case and opt-in policies, and provide examples of your message templates.
You have to provide some of this same information again when you complete the application in the next step. Make sure that you provide consistent information in both places. Keep in mind that short codes aren’t a resource that can be handed out at will. In fact, AWS doesn’t hand out short codes at all. To obtain a short code, we have to convince all of the US mobile carriers that you have a use case that complies with their requirements. Providing detailed information in your AWS Support case shows that you’re prepared to meet these requirements.
If all of the required information is present in your request, a member of the AWS Support team will respond to your message within 24 business hours. Their response will discuss the charges associated with the short code, and will ask you to confirm that you approve of those charges.
When you reply to the case stating that you approve the charges, the Support team will send you an application form to complete. In the next section, we take an in-depth look at this application form.
Step 2: Complete the short code application
The short code application form contains all of the information that we send to the carriers to let them know about your use case. For this reason, the form must be filled in completely, and the responses must all be compliant with the requirements of the carriers.
Note: The application form is occasionally revised to clarify or add to existing information. By the time you read this post, the form that you receive might differ slightly from the screenshots that I show in this post.
The first page of the form contains basic information about your company. Most of the fields on this page are straightforward, although there are a couple that customers often ask about:
- Support webpage: The URL of a page where your customers can go to find information about contacting your Customer Support team.
- Support email address: The carriers require you to provide an email address that customers can contact if they have questions about your short code messaging program. This address should be a shared mailbox (such as email@example.com) rather than an individual person’s email address.
- Support phone number: Like the support email address, customers should be able to call this phone number to get support for your short code messaging program. The phone number doesn’t have to be a toll-free number, but it does have to be a US-based phone number.
- Terms and Conditions webpage: This is the URL where your SMS-specific Terms and Conditions document resides, or where it will reside. You can also include a link to your standard Terms and Conditions page, as long as it includes a section dedicated to SMS messaging. The page that you link to must contain all of the terms and conditions that I listed in the first post of this series. If those terms and conditions aren’t live yet, you must include a copy of the Terms and Conditions that you plan to implement along with your completed application.
The second page of the application contains general questions about the use case that you will use the short code with. Let’s review all of the fields on this page:
- AWS Region: The AWS Region that you use Amazon Pinpoint in. If you’re not sure, check with the person or team within your organization that is responsible for managing your AWS accounts.
- Target country: This question is intended to make sure that you’re requesting a short code for the correct countries. Short codes are specific to a single country; US short codes can’t be used to send messages to recipients in Canada, and vice versa.
- Name of service: A name or phrase that identifies your messages as being from you. Service names typically take the form [Company or brand name] [description of program]. For example, if Example Corp. wants a short code for sending account-related notifications, they could use a service name like “Example Corp. Account Alerts” or “Example Corp. Account Updates.” The carriers require you to put this service name at the beginning of each message.
- How do you plan to use your short code: Use this space to describe your use case. A 1–3 word description—such as “account alerts,” “one-time passwords,” or “promotional messages”—is sufficient.
- One-time or subscription: Indicate what type of messaging program you plan to send. If you plan to send messages that go out on a regular basis (such as “deal of the day” messages or weather alerts), then indicate that you have a recurring use case. If you will send messages that are sent based on a request or event (such as one-time passwords, account notifications, or purchase confirmations) then indicate that you have a one-time use case.
- How can a user sign up to receive messages from your short code? Choose the option that applies to your use case. It’s fine to choose more than one option. However, you must provide mockups of the opt-in workflows for all of the options that you select.
- Per-user message frequency: State how often recipients will receive messages from you. For recurring promotional messages, you might say something like “One message per day.” For account notifications or informational alerts, you could say “Message frequency varies.” For one-time password and multi-factor authentication use cases, you might say “one message per login attempt.”
- Will you use your short code for any of the following: The carriers are sensitive to messages related to sweepstakes, and to use cases that involve affiliate marketing or sharing of short codes. If you plan to use the short code for any of these use cases, you must indicate it in this section.
The next page of the application is where you document your opt-in workflow. It contains the following fields:
- How does a user learn to sign up for this program? In this field, document the steps that your customers take to opt in. It’s important to include the “call-to-action” text that your customers see when they opt in. A call-to-action is the part of the workflow that encourages users to sign up for your service. The carriers want to ensure that your calls-to-action include all of the required disclosures. They also want to ensure that the opt-in workflow is compliant with their requirements. It’s important that you don’t force your customers to accept text messages from you if they don’t want to. Also, you have to be transparent about the types of messages that you plan to send and how often you’ll send them. You have to make sure that customers can easily find the terms and conditions that govern your messaging program. And finally, you have to make sure that customers realize that they might be responsible for paying messaging fees when they receive your messages. This last point varies depending on the recipient’s mobile subscription, but as a sender, you don’t know anything about the recipient’s subscription.
- What messages do you send to a user to confirm sign up? If you have a recurring messaging use case, you must send your customers an opt-in confirmation message. This message must include the following:
- The service name that you specified earlier in the application
- The phrase “message and data rates may apply”
- Information about how often recipients will receive messages from you (such as “up to 30 messages per month” or “message frequency varies”)
- Information about getting help (typically, something similar to “Text HELP for more info”)
- Information about opting out (typically, something similar to “Text STOP to opt out”).
If you have a single-message use case, you don’t have to include a confirmation message.
This page also asks about the messages that you’ll send in response to the keywords HELP and STOP. The carriers require you to include templates for both messages, even for single-message programs. Additionally, there are some specific items that should be present in these messages:
- For the HELP response, include the service name, and a method of contacting your support organization. Email addresses, websites, and phone numbers are all acceptable methods of communication. I recommend that you include two contact methods in your response (such as a phone number and a website).
- For the STOP response, include the service name. Also include a confirmation that the customer is unsubscribed, and that they won’t receive any additional messages.
On the next page, you provide your message templates. It’s fine to include variables for content that will be substituted in the actual messages that you send to customers. Include examples of all of the messages that you plan to send. If you send message
After you provide your message templates, you’re done! Save the completed application and proceed to the next section.
Step 3: Submit the application and supporting documents
In step 1 of this post, you created a case in the AWS Support Center. Now that you’ve completed the short code application, open that case again. In the case, attach your completed application. Also include your opt-in mockup images and a copy of your SMS Terms & Conditions document.
Step 4: Resolve follow-up issues
After you submit your completed application and supporting material, we send that information out for approval. It’s important to note that AWS doesn’t control this part of the process. Short codes aren’t a type of universal infrastructure like IP addresses, for example. Rather, each of the mobile carriers has to configure their networks to allow your messages to be sent from your short code. In the United States, this means coordinating with the major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile/Sprint), plus dozens of smaller regional carriers. The result of this effort will be a common short code that you can use to send messages to all of your customers, regardless of which carrier they use.
At the same time, each carrier has slightly different rules around what is an acceptable short code use case. The carriers don’t implement these rules in a standardized way. Some carriers might review your application and identify parts of the application that don’t comply with their requirements. Others might ask you to clarify certain aspects of your use case.
For this reason, this step is the most critical part of the entire application process. If there are any questions or concerns about your use case, the AWS Support team will present them in your support case. It’s critical that you respond to these questions or concerns. Not responding will delay your request. I recommend that you check your short code request case a few times a week during this process.
The provisioning process
After all of the concerns, questions, and issues related to your short code application have been resolved, the mobile carriers begin setting up (“provisioning”) your short code on their networks. Some carriers complete this provisioning process quickly, while others take longer. Generally, this stage requires around 10 weeks to complete on all of the US carrier networks. However, the carriers don’t make any commitments to meeting this timeline.
Once the provisioning process is complete, the AWS Support team updates your short code request case. At this point, the short code is live in your account and ready to use.
Short codes can send SMS messages at a high frequency, and with high deliverability rates. At the same time, the mobile carriers have an obligation to protect their customers from spam and abuse. For these reasons, the bar for obtaining a short code is purposely high. The carriers work hard to ensure that only approved use cases are given short codes on their networks.
Many of the customers that I work with aren’t aware of these strict carrier requirements, and assume that short codes can be easily handed out like some other types of resources. As you’ve seen in this post and the post before it, that statement isn’t accurate. My intention in writing these blog posts was to help you understand what makes a short code use case compliant with the expectations of the carriers. Following all of the recommendations in these posts should help you get a short code in the shortest amount of time possible.