This blog highlights some critical changes that are affecting churches who use texting, explains why it’s happening, discusses the implications for the future, and lets you know how PastorsLine is adjusting to minimize the impact.
We are going to talk about:
Importance of Church Texting
There’s little doubt that texting/SMS (Short Message Service) which doesn’t require a data plan has influenced communication in the years since its inception. Once seen as a rarity or even rude, texting is frequently the first choice for communication for 75% of cell phone owners. The potential to use texting in ministry to reach more people for Christ is huge.
Even though most mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T offer unlimited Peer-to-Peer (P2P) texting (sending a text from one mobile device to another), this solution doesn’t scale for churches. Churches require an Application-to-Person (A2P) texting solution.
Truthfully, bulk texting or A2P texting on a standard 10-digit number (long code) was initially overlooked by the mobile carriers, but this has changed swiftly due to some pressure from their users to prevent “spam texting”.
SMSs are considered spam when they look unusual or resemble a spammer’s phishing attempt. We have discovered that a big red flag is URL shorteners and things such as ‘bit.ly’ or ‘goo.gl’. An even bigger red flag is if the message contains ‘http/https’. Check this article for more information.
Filtering has always been in place, but after the 2018 midterm elections and with an increase in spam texts, mobile carriers began implementing more checks that affected the good and bad players. Additionally, this aggressive filtering increased after the FCC stepped in and reclassified text messages as ‘information’ instead of ‘telecommunication’. This “empowers wireless providers to stop unwanted text messages”.
Now the situation is similar to the recent changes to email spam filters—at times your text messages make it through and sometimes they don’t. Except in this case, you don’t have a text spam/junk box to check.
The mobile carriers employ different algorithms powered by machine learning which may allow a message to go through for one client on say, Sprint, but cause the same message to be blocked on Verizon. Carriers don’t share the criteria but typically send an error code back to us to let us know.
Some filtering has been happening for years, but PastorsLine has always created workarounds like throttling your messages, limiting MMS, allowing you to use multiple numbers, and other best practice tactics to allow your messages through. It’s one of the reasons churches have left the bigger church texting companies to come over to us.
While the filtering logic makes sense a lot of the time, it does not apply to your church texts which have a link to an online newsletter, giving page, or prayer request form. The filtering algorithm does not check where the text came from, only what it contains (we hope this changes soon).
The Bad News
Sprint and T-Mobile, in particular, have recently (Q2 2019) started aggressively filtering your messages, but they are not letting us know that the message was filtered. In other words, they are not sending a “blocked for carrier violation” error response to our servers.
Your message shows as delivered to Sprint and T-Mobile phones but you or your subscribers didn’t actually receive it. Our “delivered” status log is reported in real time, and hence, we are only reporting what Sprint and T-Mobile are sending or not sending.
This false reporting by T-Mobile and Sprint is a crude way to trick spammers into thinking they are being successful and to limit their ability to game the system. However, this is bad as we can’t accurately report the message status. You may think someone received a message as it shows as ‘delivered’ when, in fact, it wasn’t.
More importantly, one of our recent workarounds requires us to know if a message was being blocked in order to reprocess it.
So far, it seems Verizon and AT&T are likely to send back a response which allows us to reprocess those messages (see the “Our Current Workarounds” section).
Silver Lining – A2P Long Codes
Reminder: PastorsLine was initially developed to be a tool used to scale personalized interactions via text and voice. The focus was on natural, human communication and not necessarily bulk, promotional texting, including links. That has been what short codes (5-6 digit numbers) were designed for and where they shined, though we had adapted to allow you to send bulk messages as discussed above.
The fact is short codes are spammy-looking; expensive so the costs are shared by dozens of organizations; and don’t support the ideology of personalized, bulk communication. And for companies that offer shared short codes to hundreds of churches, there is discussion that mobile carriers are going to begin filtering those this year (2019). In fact, AT&T announced recently they are not going to sell Shared Short Codes and would stop supporting them some time towards the end of 2019.
The solution that is likely to be developed due to the recent changes is a true A2P long code to have the power of short codes but the personalization of local numbers. In other words, a local P2P number that is provisioned to send bulk messages for commercial purposes by default.
This has been proposed by Verizon and was set to go live last May, 2019 but has been postponed until late 2019 or possibly early 2020. Other carriers are likely to follow. This would see a slight increase in our costs per text to cover the fee but would be a welcome solution that would continue to power the Gospel using text.
Our Current Workarounds
Toll-free numbers (newest and most promising)
Toll-free numbers is our latest solution on offer. Toll-free numbers are usually used when you need a vanity number, e.g. 1-800-flowers, and might be great for branding. The bigger value here is they offer the power and flexibility of dedicated short codes but at a fraction of the cost.
The cost of a toll-free number is equal to 250 messaging credits. This works out to be about $4-$6/ number depending on your plan. Compare this to a dedicated short code that costs $15k/year—and we’ve already discussed how shared short codes are not great, even if you are splitting the costs with hundreds of users.
One of our workarounds currently allows us to reprocess failed messages using a 1-way, toll-free number we auto-assign to your account for free. However, this new option goes beyond this.
A few churches had previous bought toll-free, 2-way, vanity numbers from an external vendor and ported them over to PastorsLine.
That’s still an option, but we have made adding a toll-free number easy for you to do.
You can now purchase a toll-free number via our system. Get started here.
If you are sending bulk messages to say, 100 or more people, we highly recommend using our co-pilot, smart secondary numbers feature.
This is even more critical when sending out bulk messages using links. The cost of a regular, secondary number is equal to 125 messaging credits. This works out to be about $2-$3/ number depending on your plan. Again, compare this to a dedicated short code that costs $15k/year—and the fact that shared short codes are not great, even if you are splitting the costs with hundreds of users.
Secondary numbers allow you to distribute the messages on different numbers, which helps bypass the known restrictions of no more than 200 texts per P2P number per day and no more than 20 messages per minute before being blocked.
When you don’t use secondary numbers and you send to a large list, we throttle the sending rate.
Using secondary numbers will send your messages in much less time. It will also highly increase the chances that all your messages will be sent and not flagged by the mobile carriers.
As we mentioned before, the cost of using a secondary number is not much—about $3/month (depending on the plan you’re on and the cost per credit for that plan)
Redundancy – Multiple domain masking
Since links are one of the main red flags, PastorsLine has integrated Rebrandly into our platform. Seamless for you, Rebrandly ‘translates’ regular URLs to different, custom URLs. The way it works is if you send one link, we would create say, 15 versions using 15 different domain names but have them linked to the original URL. Ideally, this would increase the number of messages that get past the mobile carrier algorithms. Some of our new domain names are chh.fyi, chch.one, and chn4.pl. It has helped more than it has hurt, but it isn’t a perfect solution. Find out more.
Redundancy – Carrier reprocessing
Another of our PastorsLine workarounds is automatically resending failed texts due to carrier violations. Of course, this only works when the text is flagged as ‘failed’ or undelivered (which is why the mobile carriers not sending a response prevents this option from being a better solution).
However, when an SMS is returned with an error code, we automatically reprocess that text message.
This is done via a toll-free number and is free of charge to you. To minimize the chances of your recipient getting confused at this ‘unknown’ number, we include your original sender’s number in the message.
NOTE: This toll-free number is not your toll-free number. So, anyone texting or calling in to this number will not be processed.
Alternative options to using links
Unlike some of the other top church texting platforms that rely heavily on links to collect data, PastorsLine allows you to collect data using a data capture workflow (no links). For example, instead of an SMS with a link to an online ‘Collect your first-time guest information’ form, use a keyword-triggered, automated data capture to do the same thing. More help desk info about autoresponders.
We have always prioritized deliverability over marketing hype and know that if only one person doesn’t get your message, that’s potentially one lost person who may not return to church. We have chosen to use non-spammy, local numbers. The market has changed, and this may be a good thing if a new framework is created to send bulk commercial messages through local numbers (A2P long codes).
However, in the meantime, between our use of local numbers and the variety of workarounds and best practices we have, you have been in good hands with our PastorsLine team.
Our best recommendation now is along the secondary number route discussed above combined with a toll-free number. We think this is your best opportunity to send non-spammy, personalized bulk messages that would see the highest likelihood of making it through the current mobile carrier filtering changes.
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