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Blackboard Help

Text Messaging

Watch the video and then complete the to-do list.

Video Transcript

One of the most popular modalities in Blackboard Connect is text messaging, also known as SMS. There are two ways Connect 5 can deliver texts to your contacts: one is via email servers, using a protocol known as SMTP; the other is via a short code, using a protocol known as SMPP.

The default method Connect uses is SMTP. What does that mean? Every cell phone number has a corresponding text message email address. For instance, for Verizon customers, you add to the number. For AT&T customers, you add after the number.

If right now you logged in to your personal email account and sent an email to, the owner of that number would receive your email as a text message on their phone. It would have a FROM field and a SUBJECT field like regular email, but it would come through the texting app.

So how does Connect 5 know the carrier for every mobile number? When you upload or enter an SMS number into Connect 5, the system searches a database to determine which carrier that number belongs to, and appends the corresponding email domain. It's a backend process that runs about every 5 minutes.

Nowadays, people can port their mobile numbers to a different carrier when they switch their service. This can sometimes cause the database Connect references to be inaccurate. For example, Connect may append the Verizon domain to the number, but if last week the owner ported the number to Sprint, as a result they will not receive the texts sent from Connect until the carrier is updated in our database.

Another downside of sending texts via SMTP is speed. You have probably experienced a delay in receiving an email. Usually they arrive seconds after being sent, but sometimes there are delays of up to several hours, caused by circumstances beyond Blackboard's control.

Furthermore, this type of text message is not traceable. Once it leaves Blackboard's servers, it's at the mercy of the internet to be delivered in a timely fashion. Alas, text message emails are the lowest priority for carriers and thus can be victim to delays more than occasionally.

Lastly, you may know that text messages are limited to 160 characters. If you go over that, it counts as 2 texts or more. When you send a text via SMTP, even if the body of the message is under 160, remember that the from address and subject line are also included--and those characters count toward your allotment of 160. Some carriers will send through the whole message--so your recipient will receive two texts--while other carriers truncate the message at 160--so your recipient will receive a partial message.

For these reasons, Blackboard recommends activating SMPP. This method of delivering text messages utilizes a standard protocol recognized by nearly all cellular carriers.

SMS messages sent via SMPP transit through an aggregator, which is basically a gateway, allowing the message to be tracked at several points: time sent, time delivered to carrier, and time delivered to handset. Texts sent from Connect 5 via SMPP will be from a five-digit short code instead of an email address.

Upgrading to SMPP is free, and will result in a higher percentage of successful deliveries. You may be asking yourself, if this is the better method, why isn't it the default? Anytime a mobile number is opted in to a short code messaging service, that service is required to send a text to that number advising them that they've been opted in, with instructions on how to opt out--even if that service is free to the recipient.

While Connect 5 does not charge recipients anything for the texts they receive, standard messaging rates apply based on the person's cellular contract. Many people have unlimited messaging these days, but many still pay their carrier a fee per message.

We have found that it is best to notify your contacts ahead of time that the opt-in text message is coming, explain what it means, and encourage them not to opt out. If the text arrives unannounced, there's a bigger chance people will not read it closely enough to know who it's from, and will choose to opt out. For this reason, we leave it up to you to determine when you would like to activate SMPP.

There are two things that you will need to provide your Customer Success Advocate or Customer Support to set up SMPP before activating it. First, is an abbreviated account name. This can be up to 20 characters long. This will be inserted into the opt-in message to let the recipient know what institution is sending them the message. Second, is a 7-character key code that someone would reply with if they wanted to opt out. This must be unique system-wide, so your first choice may be taken. Once those two items have been set up, your SMPP can be activated any time Monday-Friday during business hours.

What short codes will the text messages be from? Standard setup includes two short codes: 23177 and 63079. These are not customizable, and are used interchangeably, regardless of whether the text is an outreach or emergency messages.

If you prefer to have different short codes for emergency and non-emergency texts, you need to request that feature be activated in your account. It does not cost extra. Once turned on, all outreach texts will be from 53291, while 23177 and 63079 will be reserved for emergency messages only.

The To-do List

  1. If you want to turn on SMPP text messaging, reference the SMS FAQ and SMS Implementation Overview document.
  2. Email and provide:
    • An abbreviated account name (20 characters max)
    • A key code (2-7 characters)
    • An activation day and time. This will be when the confirmation text messages are sent to your recipients.
    • Whether you want different shortcodes for emergency and non-emergency text messages.