Sending SMS to multiple people
September 18, 2007 3:40 PM   Subscribe

How do I send SMS messages to multiple people at once?

I want to use SMS like an emergency broadcast system. I have a few thousand people i'd like to warn about, say a tsunami, and I need to get the message to their phone. How would I get a system like this in place?
posted by joelf to Technology (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of companies that will help you do this - google "Mobile Marketing" or "SMS marketing." It typically involves subscribing the users to a "short code" (set up and approved by the cell phone carriers) and using a technology that keys to that short code to blast out the message.
posted by nkknkk at 3:44 PM on September 18, 2007

joelf, my phone allows me to assign people to groups, and then SMS the entire group. Samsung a920 with Bell (though, i hasten to add, Bell is hideous to deal with). Can't do 1000 though.

You could create a forwarding rule in your email, and add everyone's cellphones to that (for example, my cell email address is, then just email yourself the notice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:49 PM on September 18, 2007

I've been using Skype on my computer to send text messages, and this gives you the option of sending to multiple recipients, as if it was an e-mail. You have to buy Skype credit, it costs about 11 cents per text, and this would probably be multiplied by the number of people you're sending to.
I'm sure your thousands of friends will be very grateful for the warning.
posted by Flashman at 4:02 PM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: we're talking up to 18,000 people at once in emergency situations. I have a few servers or different make and software. would that help?
posted by joelf at 4:33 PM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: what I mean is i have windows servers, linux servers of different power and speed available.
posted by joelf at 4:34 PM on September 18, 2007

My new company Foneshow does this - and lets you record a message they can call in to hear. And it's free! But, they'd have to subscribe to your series - our publishing tools are in beta, mail me and I'll set you up as a publisher.
posted by nicwolff at 4:38 PM on September 18, 2007

Most providers that I've seen have email/SMS bridges, offering addresses like {phone number}@{provider}.com that redirect to the phone's SMS. If you're happy with that, then you're just trying to send e-mail to 18,000 people, a well-documented problem. Sending actual SMS directly can apparently get expensive.
posted by migurski at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2007

As far as the companies that do this, my school recently (post Virginia Tech shooting) signed up with e2Campus. At $1.50 per user per year, it's a pretty pricey proposition on the scale you're talking about. So I'd say if you can do it yourself, or if nicwolff's service works for you, that's probably ideal.
posted by Partial Law at 4:47 PM on September 18, 2007

You may want to check out they provide this service. I think it was slightly cheaper per user when we looked at it.

disclaimer I know the company owner.
posted by imjosh at 5:25 PM on September 18, 2007

Be aware that SMS is a notoriously unreliable service in times of duress -- and messages can take hours to be delivered.
posted by bonaldi at 5:43 PM on September 18, 2007

ichat allows you to send SMS messages to US cellphones by adding an AIM buddy as +1phonenumber. I would try adding multiple numbers.
posted by krautland at 6:08 PM on September 18, 2007

Not sure of the company, but my school, Brown University, just signed up for a system similar (or probably the same system) to the one Partial Law described. It'll get you by text, email, or some other modes of communication that I can't think of.
posted by awesomebrad at 7:22 PM on September 18, 2007

I'm going to assume that you actually are doing what you say you are, just make real certain that everyone you're blasting messages out to has chosen to receive those messages.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2007

That's important; the code of conduct of the Mobile Marketing Association that assigns the short codes doesn't allow you to send SMSes via short code to anyone who hasn't opted in - and if you do, you (or your messaging vendor) can lose their short code. That's why Foneshow users have to affirmatively subscribe to get any future shows in a series.

We're working on a process by which you could add a bunch of subscribers, and they'd each get a one-time invitation to subscribe with a number to call to opt in; but for now, you'd have to set up the series, then send an e-mail out with a link to subscribe, like this: Get the Metafilter podcast on your phone.
posted by nicwolff at 11:10 PM on September 18, 2007

Seconding nickwolff on the MMA code of conduct which requires not just one opt in, but a DOUBLE opt in, in most cases. This is why it makes sense to work with a reputable mobile marketing company. Sure, you COULD set up your own short code (not cheap and not quick) and create your own technology to do this, but if you just want to offer a public service, why reinvent the wheel?

The university systems mentioned above (and many others, which sprang up after the Va Tech disaster) were designed to do exactly what you describe, and can work outside university settings, of course. Many would be happy to partner with you.

If, on the other hand, what you're really asking is how you can create a business that competes in this space (and presumably is for-profit), that's another question. I strongly encourage you, if this is your goal, to start with the MMA and make sure their guidelines are aligned with your business plan. Then do some research into short codes (here here here to get you started - may be region-specific).

If you could clarify the "get a system like this in place", we might be able to give you some more specific information...
posted by nkknkk at 5:45 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: I'm not interested in starting a company, I am interested in SPEED and a high volume of messages at one time. It's for emergency broadcast purposes. I just need the best and fastest company out there.

I'll check out the companies listed, I have to find out if they'll work in Canada on Rogers, Fido, Telus, Virgin etc.

posted by joelf at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2007

Ah, I'm not sure who you should talk to then - I believe our messaging partners are US-only.
posted by nicwolff at 2:16 PM on September 19, 2007

I forced all my friends at gunpoint to sign up for Twitter and follow my updates.

I'm only kidding about the gunpoint.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:05 PM on September 19, 2007

I know of a company called Vibes that does this for marketing, but maybe they'd try it for your purpose too.

Their website only refers to the U.S., but it might be worth an inquiry.

Due to the vagaries of SMS (it goes thru the interwebs & the airwaves, and can't be guaranteed) you may have challenges getting a business to help due to liability concerns.
posted by altcountryman at 7:37 PM on September 20, 2007

I just stumbled on this question.

I attended a presentation about something like this, & posted a recording. Go check out CellCast.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:55 AM on August 1, 2008

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