Help me be an SMS Master
January 28, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Can you guide me to some SMS messaging services and monthly recurring payment systems for my new business plan?

I have come up with what seems like a really neat business idea for my local area but I need some help with the technology end. I want to basically SMS blast several groups of subscribers each week with information they request. I know how to build my subscriber list, and I know how to get the information they require but there are two steps I need your advice on:

1. Text blasting -- I need a free/low cost service that will let me send text messages to large groups of subscribers without injecting their own ads on my messages. Any recommendations?
2. Taking payments -- I need a way to automate people paying either a 1 time fee or a monthly recurring charge to join the service. Is there a service out there that will automate the billing so my database is always up to date with subscribers who have paid?

My plan is to do this:
Potential subscribers send a text message containing their email address to a number, then the system automatically sends them an email with a link to sign up for the service (how do I acquire a phone number specifically for receiving texts? Especially one of those shorter ones)
Subscriber goes online, fills out their profile and is categorized into groups in my database
The database automatically removes customers who's subscriptions have expired
Each day I want to send the messages, I open up my online database and pull out the numbers for each group. Then I blast the message to each group.
As customers subscriptions are close to expiring, they start getting messages that its time to renew

Can anyone give me any advice/recommendations for services to use?

posted by ZackTM to Work & Money (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I've never used a service like this (developing for a bank means we have our own built-in charging mechanism), but am reasonably close enough to the technology to give you a few pointers.

Internet-based sending software is (from what I've seen) only set up to pass the cost of sending a message back to the person that sent it (i.e. you). Basically, you'll need to set up premium pricing on the numbers you purchase/rent (which means you define the price that the carrier charges to their customers for receiving your messages - you take a cut of this amount), which means you'll either be dealing directly with carriers, or a service intermediary (expec them to clip the ticket of each message).

A service intermediary might have an management console you can use to do this, or you might be happy building one yourself (SQL with web services interaction). Building the management framework yourself means you can do what you like (within the law of course), but you'll obviously have to invest the time in doing so - if you don't have skills in this area, ask around for a management console for sms subscription management.

One last piece of advice - make sure your subscribe & unsubscribe mechanism is robust.
posted by MatJ at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2009

It sounds like what you're asking about is "common short codes"--those 5-6 digit numbers that let you vote on American Idol, get directory info from Google, and so on.

These are administered by a company called Neustar on behalf of the US mobile operators and their industry association, the CTIA.

The good news is that this is a solved problem, the bad news is that this is far from no cost--there are non-trivial setup fees ($1000s) and an approval process if you want your own. Another option is to work with a "messaging aggregator" such as MBlox or Singlepoint (Google them) who have already obtained CSCs and can key your service to that CSC + key words. Again, money is involved.

There maybe other, more underground options, but note that if you go down that path you're at the risk of having your service shut down by the carriers.

Note that one of the big issues Twitter has faced from a business model POV is that texting costs money--they've just been absorbing these costs to provide a free service.

The Mobile Marketing Association has a bunch of info on CSC usage, case studies, best practices, etc that you probably want to look at.
posted by donovan at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2009

There are companies that can help you do this (as well as than the aggregators donovan mentioned above), I work with one. MeMail me if you want to talk offline.

Money will almost certainly be involved.
posted by nkknkk at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2009

Sorry, to clarify. Money will not be involved if you MeMail me, but if you pursue your project.
posted by nkknkk at 3:20 PM on January 28, 2009

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