We’ll open by saying that text marketing compliance has a few moving parts to it. We won’t cover all of them in this piece (for that you’ll need to read our comprehensive compliance guide).
However, we can at the very least introduce this concept to you on a surface level. Because when done properly, SMS marketing campaigns leave both customers and businesses happy. But when done improperly, texting campaigns can become intrusive or spammy. To prevent this, you need to comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The TCPA is the holy grail of text law— in it you’ll find the do’s and don’ts for using cell phone numbers to market goods and services.
To give you an idea of some of the limitations we’re talking about, here are five of the most important text law takeaways.
The 5 Must-Know Elements Of SMS Compliance
If you’re going to read anything about compliance, read this before getting started with text marketing.
1. You Must Secure Express Written Consent
This is the most important aspect of compliance. The TCPA requires that you get “express written consent” from your recipients before you add them to your text marketing campaigns. Customers can express consent and opt in to your program by texting in a keyword, submitting a form on your website, or filling out a paper form. Failure to get consent from recipients before sending them text market messages is a TCPA violation.
It’s important to note that this written consent can’t be buried in a pages-long consent form full of legalese. Consent must be clear and conspicuous, so the recipient knows what they’re signing up for.
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. Even those that you import. Just because a customer has given you their phone number in the past (before you began text marketing) it doesn’t mean that they automatically consent to receiving texts now.
So before you import a list, be sure that each and every phone number has given you permission to send them messages.
3. Call-to-Action (CTA) Requirements
A call-to-action is the message that prompts the individual to opt in to your SMS campaign. The TCPA has some requirements as to what needs to be included in each CTA in order for it to be compliant:
SMS Campaign Purpose Let your subscribers 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 Include the approximate number of messages the customer should expect to receive in a given week or month. This will prevent any unexpected or intrusive texts.
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. You have to inform your subscribers 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)
4. Confirmation Message
Regardless of how users signed up, your very first text must be a compliance message confirming opt-in. It should reiterate some important information, including:
- Validation: You should confirm that the user has successfully subscribed to your text marketing program.
- Your Identity: The business or organization’s name should be in the confirmation text to prevent any possible confusion.
- Message Frequency: Include the approximate number of messages the customer should expect to receive in a given week or month. This will prevent any unexpected or intrusive texts.
- Opt-Out Language: This information is critical. You must include the keyword a customer can use to unsubscribe from your text marketing list. This usually takes the form “Text STOP to stop.”
- Help Language: If a customer is confused, they should be able to get help by texting the appropriate keyword (usually “HELP”) to receive additional ways of contacting the business, such as an email address or a phone number.
- Message And Data Rates: Even though unlimited texting is becoming more common, many users may not have unlimited texting or data, so you must inform your subscribers that these charges may be incurred.
To help you get started as smoothly as possible, we made this process automatic. Anytime a new user subscribes to one of your lists, we send out the required disclosures in a compliance text that comes at no extra cost to you.
Here’s what our free, automatic compliance message looks like:
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 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.
Text Marketing Industry Experts
In addition to the TCPA, there are a few other governing bodies who make the rules. When it comes to understanding compliance, it’s important to be aware of the roles they play in enforcing compliance rules.
A service that relays a text message from an SMS software platform to individual wireless carriers.
SMS Software Platform
An online program that a business uses to manage their text marketing campaigns.
The mobile phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T that deliver SMS messages to their subscribers.
The company that creates and manages all 5 or 6 digit phone numbers (SMS short codes) in the United States.
Originally the “Cellular Telephone Industries Association” and now known as “The Wireless Association”, this trade group enforces certain industry rules via audits.
The Federal Communications Commission, charged with enforcing federal law and TCPA regulations.
The Mobile Marketing Association, an organization of text marketing firms that publishes industry best practices for text marketers.
Now that we’ve covered industry standards and best practices, it’s time to dive into what you can do to make your campaigns stand out to your customers.
Previously: Text Marketing Basics
Up Next: Tips For Text Marketing Success