What Shortcodes Are and How to Use Them

If You Want to Enter Text Sweepstakes, You'll Need This Skill

Man working at desk
Texting to shortcodes is easy. Here's how:. Roberto Westbrook / Getty Images

Have you ever seen an invitation to enter a text message sweepstakes, get a great discount, or receive a free offer by texting a keyword to a shortcode? The invitations usually look something like this: "For a chance to win, text the keyword ENTER to shortcode 22222."

But what is a shortcode? And what do you have to be aware of before you use them? Find out all the answers below!

What Are Shortcodes? How Are They Used?

A shortcode, also known as a common short code or CSC, is an abbreviated telephone number that companies use to invite consumers to participate in mobile marketing campaigns.

These marketing campaigns include sweepstakes, freebies, coupons, discount offers, and more.

Shortcodes are useful because they're easier to type on a small smartphone keypad than a full telephone number. They're usually much easier to remember, too, which helps both marketers and texters.

In the United States and Canada, standard shortcodes are five or six digits long, except for some special exceptions. Shorter shortcodes are usually managed by mobile providers. Shortcodes in the United States are not allowed to start with the number "1".

Special Types of Shortcodes

Shortcodes are usually randomly assigned, though companies can choose vanity shortcodes for an extra fee. Vanity shortcodes are similar to vanity license plates: They're customized to suit the company's needs.

Vanity shortcodes are usually especially easy to remember, like "567890," which was used in AT&T's now-expired "Where Legends Live" sweepstakes. As with vanity phone numbers, some vanity shortcodes spell out memorable words, such as Walt Disney's DISNEY shortcode or GQ's GQMAG shortcode.

To send a text to a shortcode that consists of letters, such as DISNEY, simply look at your phone's keypad and use the numbers that correspond to each letter.

Cell phone keypad with letters and numbers
The letters underneath the numbers on your keypad spell out short codes that use letters.

Getty Images / Spyros Arsenis / EyeEm

Shortcodes can be either dedicated or shared. Dedicated shortcodes are assigned to a single company, while shared shortcodes are used by several different companies simultaneously.

How Mobile Keywords Work With Shortcodes

Most mobile marketing campaigns instruct you to send a text message containing a keyword to a shortcode to participate.

For example, a 7-Eleven campaign asked customers to text the keyword "PROMOS" to a shortcode to receive digital coupons by text message. In another example, a Dove campaign asked people to vote on whether an unconventionally beautiful model was "WRINKLED" or "WONDERFUL".

Mobile keywords are important because they tell the company which campaign you're responding to and how you want to interact with that campaign. If you text "STOP" to a short code, you're requesting to unsubscribe from text messages, while texting "ENTER" to the same shortcode could give you a sweepstakes entry.

When multiple companies share a shortcode, the mobile keyword is even more critical because it indicates which company you want to interact with. Texting "DINNER" might connect you with a restaurant while texting "GLITTER" to the same shortcode could send your text to a jewelry store. So always be sure to take note of the mobile keyword that you need to use to enroll in an offer.

How to Send Texts to Shortcodes

Many companies ask you to text shortcodes to enter text message sweepstakes or receive coupons and special offers. So how do you text shortcodes?

1. Navigate to the Text Message Section of Your Phone or Mobile Device

To start, open your "Messages" or "Messaging" app on your phone, just as you would if you were sending any other text message.

2. Compose Your Text Message

Check the sweepstakes' rules or the marketing campaign's instructions to see which information your text message needs to contain. Often, the mobile keyword is all you'll need to send.

3. Send the Text to the Short Code Number

After you've composed your text message, navigate to the area where you can enter the phone number to send the text message. Enter the shortcode number and press Send. If the shortcode is a word, like DISNEY, use your keypad to figure out which numbers go with which letters.

4. Unsubscribe From Unwanted Text Messages

Many times, sending a text message to a shortcode will automatically subscribe you to marketing messages from the sponsor. Sometimes, these messages are valuable, including coupons or free products.

Keep in mind, however, that if your mobile phone provider charges you per text message received, you'll have to pay for these ads. So if that's the case, or if you simply don't want to receive the texts for any other reason, you'll need to unsubscribe.

Usually, texting "STOP" to the same short code will unsubscribe you. If that doesn't work, try texting "HELP" to the shortcode to see options. If that doesn't work, either, check the sweepstakes rules or the advertisement that listed the shortcode for information about how to unsubscribe.

Stay Safe When Using Short Codes

One problem with shortcodes is that scammers can misuse them. It's not always easy to tell which company owns a code or what, exactly, you're agreeing to when you send that text.

It's a good idea to double-check which companies are associated with which shortcodes before you sign up. You can do this by using a shortcode lookup site like Shortcodes.org.

Scammers rarely use registered shortcodes, since registration costs money and isn't anonymous. Therefore, registered codes tend to be safer.

It's illegal to send spam through text messages. If companies are sending more text messages than you agreed to or if they won't unsubscribe you upon request, you can report the spam texts to the FTC.

It's also a good idea to keep in mind that sending text messages might not be free. Your service plan might charge a per-text fee, or you may have a limited number of texts that you can send per month. It's a good idea to know what your personal plan includes before using any shortcode offers.

Additionally, some companies may charge you a premium fee for entering sweepstakes by text. Check out standard vs. premium text message charges for more information.