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Why Not to Get Excited About Short Codes
Why Not to Get Excited About Short Codes

This final quarter of 2003 brought us many wonderful things in the world of wireless, best of all, in the U.S., common short codes (CSCs). CSCs bring the U.S. a common addressing system. They enable marketers,wireless content providers, and wireless application providers to make it easier to interact with consumers via SMS.

Previously, the use of CSCs was limited to individual carrier networks with cross-carrier functionality, achieved only through time-consuming, carrier-by-carrier negotiation. U.S. CSCs launched with a 5-digit number in the range of 20000-99999, irrespective of their serving carrier, and are inexpensive to say the least.

However, there is a but. Operators are not required to play ball. There is no binding agreement to participate for each short code or even in the infrastructure at all. The official line from the registry seems to be that the MNOs have the "option" to support any or all CSCs. The decision of whether or not to support a common short code is left to the sole discretion of each wireless service provider. This seems to be far too open ended to be reliable.

The mobile industry is renowned for making deals with much less than an informal agreement in place. If your campaign requires 100% MNO reach then you can't rely on that being the case at all. An accidental flip of a switch could suddenly strike down a campaign's reach, damage brand identity, and ruin your client list. All without any course of recompense. Call me pessimistic, but the option for MNOs to partake or not doesn't leave me with much of a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

SMS represents one of the most powerfully intrusive advertising opportunities available in the marketer's armory. However, this very pervasive medium brings with it a major responsibility for advertisers to use the technique sensitively and ethically. As an industry, it's up to us to apply some selfregulation so that mobile marketing isn't tarred with the same brush as e-mail spam.

Guidelines produced for the UK industry recommend to:
1.  Offer the target audience of your SMS campaign the opportunity to unsubscribe from receiving further SMS messages from the outset of the campaign and further remind them in every fifth message thereafter throughout the campaign period.
2.  Only send SMS messages to those mobile phones whose owners have specifically opted-in. Request that the target audience text a word (e. g.,"yes") as a clear confirmation of their opt-in status.
3.  Avoid sending unsolicited SMS messages to your target audience. Always seek an opt-in with your first SMS message before sending further SMS communications.
4.  In competitions and prize draws, provide clear and simple means to request terms and conditions. Include the identity of the promoter within the SMS competition.
5.  Verifiable parental consent should be obtained before communicating via SMS with minors, and expert legal advice should be sought beforehand.

This is all sound advice that has kept mobile marketing in the UK aboveboard and regulatory parties happy. Hopefully, some industry body or regulatory agency will take the reigns and adopt a similar stance in the U.S. sooner than later.

About Tom Dibble
Tom Dibble , a wireless entrepreneur, is a cofounder of
Global Wireless Forum, a forum dedicated to dealing with commercial, strategic,
and
technical issues on the evaluation of the wireless age in Europe and
the U.S.

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