It's not too late to plan your Black Friday and Cyber Monday SMS strategy!Get the guide

SMS Compliance Guide

The Complete Guide to SMS Compliance


Understanding the details of SMS compliance and text message laws and regulations is crucial for businesses and organizations before gathering contacts or sending text messages. While the requirements of compliance may appear difficult at first, we’ve compiled a helpful guide to the most important things you need to know about SMS compliance.

Understanding SMS and Text Message Compliance

If you’re here, it’s probably because you want to use text messages to reach your audience. Good idea! Thanks to their high open rate, texts are the ideal channel if you want to ensure your messages get read. Before you get started, it’s essential that you know how to comply with regulations surrounding text marketing.

The good news is that compliance isn’t complicated! But it is absolutely mandatory. We don’t want to scare you too much, but failing to follow the law can have consequences. For example, in 2012 Papa John’s agreed to pay over $16 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought against them for failure to get proper user consent.

In this guide, we’ll start with an overview of the most important parts of SMS compliance, then take a detailed look at opt-in methods, promotion requirements, laws and more. By the end, you’ll have the confidence you need to send texts without worrying about breaking any rules.

The 5 Most Important Things to Know About SMS Compliance

Ready? Let’s jump in to the five rules you absolutely need to know. If you’re going to read anything about compliance, read this.

1. Express Written Consent

According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), customers must give businesses “express written consent” before the business sends them automated promotional text messages. This written consent can’t be buried in a pages-long form full of legalese. It must be clear and conspicuous, so the recipient knows what they’re signing up for. Failure to adhere to this guideline is one of many possible TCPA violations.

Even text messages that are merely informational require consent. In our section about opt-in methods, we’ll cover the ways customers can give consent to receive text messages from you. But in short, they can consent to receive your messages in a number of ways, such as:

  • Send a keyword to your number based on an ad that includes the required terms
  • Enter a phone number into a web form online with the required terms
  • Sign up in-person at a physical location using a form with required terms

It’s important to note that you’re not allowed to require a user to opt in to your text program as a condition to purchase property, goods, or services. However you decide to get consent, you should have a clear call-to-action associated with your opt-in method.

2. Rules When Importing Contacts

Express written consent isn’t just for new contacts. It’s for all contacts. Yes, even those that you import. Although we may manually review import requests to ensure your messages can be sent, only you know whether your contact list that you’re importing was gathered in a compliant way. So before you import a list, be sure that each and every contact who has provided you with a phone number has given you permission to send them messages.

3. Call-to-Action Requirements

A call-to-action is the message that prompts the individual to opt in to your SMS campaign. It should consist of the following:

Automated Marketing Messages
The federal rules for “express written consent” require consumers to agree to receive automated marketing messages, so be sure to make that clear in your CTA. Also, as noted above, advise them that they don’t have to agree to receive the texts as a condition of buying anything from you.

SMS Campaign Purpose
Let your contacts know what they’re signing up for. Are they getting reminders? Coupons? Tips? Specify what you’re offering so there aren’t any surprises.

Message Frequency
Let them know if they’ll only receive one message (like a coupon) or if they’re agreeing to sign up for a recurring message campaign, like weekly alerts or deals. You can include the approximate number of messages the customer should expect to receive in a given week or month.

Message and Data Rates
Even though unlimited texting has become more common, some users may have to pay a small fee to receive text messages. The wireless carriers require you to inform your contacts that these charges may be incurred if they sign up to your program.

Terms and Conditions
List all the terms and conditions in full beneath the CTA, or provide a link nearby. This list should contain:

  • The identity of your company/brand/program
  • Customer care contact information
  • Description of the product people are signing up for
  • Opt-out instructions in bold type (e.g., Reply STOP to unsubscribe)

Privacy Policy
List the privacy policy in full beneath the CTA, or provide a link nearby.

All this information may seem overwhelming, but it’s actually quite simple. Check out this example of a compliant call-to-action:

Jump ahead to our chapter on promotion requirements to see more call-to-action examples.

4. Confirmation Message

Regardless of how users signed up, your very first text must be a carrier compliance message confirming opt-in. It should reiterate some important information, including:

  • Your identity
  • Message frequency
  • The fact that message and data rates may apply
  • How to opt out

To help you get started as smoothly as possible, we made this process automatic for you. Anytime a new user subscribes to one of your lists, your campaign sends out the required disclosures in a text that comes at no extra cost to you.

Here’s what your free, automatic confirmation message looks like:

Today 1:04 PM
878-883-1306: SimpleJava Deal Alerts! Msg&Data rates may apply. 1msg/wk. Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel.

5. What You Can’t Text – SHAFT

The CTIA is an association of mobile carriers who set rules and best practices for the text marketing industry. One of these rules is known as SHAFT—sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco. Including content related to any of these topics in your call-to-action or any of your messages is considered one of the highest violations, and may result in an immediate ban.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. If, for example, you operate a bar you may still be able to send messages about happy hour specials. However, it is crucial that you operate on a dedicated, verified toll-free number and have an age gate preventing under the age of 21 from signing up for your texts. If you plan on sending texts about alcohol or tobacco, check with our support team first so that we can help ensure you’re remaining compliant.

Compliance Is Important, and Easy

SMS or text blasts are an effective marketing tool, as long as you follow the TCPA and continue to implement them after customers have legally opted-in for your messages. The five tips above will help you prevent any headaches in the future. In the following section, we’ll take a deeper dive into express written consent.

💡 Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important to understand compliance before you send a message.
  • Express written consent from your contacts is mandatory.
  • Your call-to-action must include your campaign purpose, frequency, terms and conditions, privacy policy, and info about message and data rates.
  • Your first message to new contacts must be a confirmation message. SimpleTexting makes this automatic.

Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.

Up Next: