SMS marketing is the biggest mobile marketing trend of 2018 and will continue to grow in 2019. Texting services are one of the favorite marketing channels of businesses. However, with text message marketing, there’s always a high risk that customers can opt-out from receiving messages from you. That’s why you should always manage your SMS unsubscribe rate. However, there’s another more important risk involved in SMS marketing. Companies must be very cautious and carefully follow all text message laws for businesses. In this article, we will learn about the text message regulations that businesses have to comply with both in the US and EU.
Although SMS marketing is a great way for businesses to communicate their offers to consumers efficiently. However, not all businesses that engage with customers are considerate. Some companies, perhaps without even realizing it, will end up spamming their target audience with texts that contain irrelevant information, or promote a campaign, a product or a service that has nothing to do with the customers’ interest, needs, or is completely irrelevant to the company’s original intent, product or service. There might also be companies out there that are interested in simply collecting personal data for other purposes, rather than in engaging with customers. Due to all these cases, as well as for the purposes of privacy, protection of personal information, and other scenarios, the Wireless Association has founded CTIA, which is a group responsible for imposing best text marketing practices. For successful operation without issues and collisions with the law, any company that engages in text marketing, utilizes SMS and MMS to communicate with its target audience, whether using long code or shortcode, must comply with the regulations of the CTIA. Besides CTIA, the FCC and the MMA are also organizations governing text message marketing law.
Text Message Regulations in the US
Electronic communications in the United States are closely regulated and the laws are very strict. As mentioned above, there are 3 main organizations that deal with wireless device regulations, including texting services, in the US:
The CTIA is a trade association that represents the wireless communications industry, while the MMA urges to accelerate the transformation and innovation of marketing through mobile devices. Both of these organizations’ mission is to establish the best marketing practices for mass SMS texting. The FCC, on the other hand, has a different goal. It is an independent agency of the government that aims to regulate interstate electronic communications by wire, satellite, cable, TV, and radio. It has legislative power to enact laws and regulations that businesses have to comply with.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (US)
The telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has been enacted by the FCC and is the main anti-telemarketing law, thus, the leading regulator of SMS marketing as well. According to TCPA, businesses may not send any messages to consumers unless they give their consent. Even if an individual has given his/her phone number or has a long-term relationship with the business, the business has no right to text the individual if he/she has not granted a written consent. It’s essential to obtain explicit written consent and not verbal, in order to add the number to the subscription list. In this case, written doesn’t refer to any type of written (e.g. - on paper), but written in a way that it’s documented and saved. To get the consumer opt-in to your SMS marketing campaigns and stay in compliance with TCPA, he or she must receive clear and conspicuous disclosure of the text messages they will receive. And that must agree to receive these messages to their mobile device. Consider the following ways for an individual to join your subscription database:
- Keyword texting - customers text a keyword from their mobile device and join your SMS database.
- Paper form - they fill out a paper form which clearly explains that they are opting-in to receiving text campaigns from the business to their personal phone number. The company is responsible to include all the legal copies in the sample ad.
- Online form - similar to the paper form, the same process happens online. The form has to explicitly describe that the person will subscribe to receiving text messages from the company, once they provide their phone number.
You have to be very clear and define your mass SMS texting strategies so that the customer knows what they are going to receive from you. With your first message, you want to fully explain to the subscriber what they should expect from you:
- Disclose the description of the program they have subscribed for.
- Tell them how frequently they should expect messages from you, i.e. the maximum and the minimum number of text messages they will receive in a defined time period such as week or month.
- Explain how they can opt-out from receiving messages (STOP instructions), as well as how they can get help information (HELP instructions). You can input a URL that will direct them to a landing page that contains detailed information about HELP and STOP instructions.
In order to avoid spam messages, a 5 or 6 digit phone numbers have been created, called shortcodes. They ensure that businesses can send commercial text messages to consumers that are regulated by the guidelines of wireless carriers, mainly enforced by the CTIA.
CAN-SPAM ACT (US)
The CAN-SPAM Act works together with TCPA. It requires the FCC to issue rules with regard to commercial texts sent to wireless devices, such as mobile phones, to protect consumers from unwanted mobile service commercial messages. The CAN-SPAM act forbids businesses to send commercial text messages to cell phones and requires that any commercial message be easily identifiable as an advertisement by the receiver. The subscriber must be able to easily unsubscribe from receiving such messages. This act doesn’t relate to messages that contain information regarding an existing transaction or relationship, such as delivery notification, or to non-commercial messages.
Text Message Laws For Businesses in the European Union
The European Union (EU) has also established laws and regulations regarding electronic communications. The main regulation in this region is implemented by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
General Data Protection Regulation
GDPR applies to all countries that want to do business with the EU or to use EU citizens’ personal data. So the main aim of this law is to perfect the data security, in terms of the storing, using and transporting of the data. The regulation was approved by the parliament in 2016 and came into effect in May of 2018. GDPR outlines data privacy guidelines and a failure to comply with the laws would result in huge fines. The regulation works on changing the way sensitive consumer data is handled and distributed, as well as establishes new rules in regard to consumer consent, breach response and data privacy. The GDPR regulations relate to commercial text messages and to data security in general. Thereby, it may affect all aspects of your organization. So make sure that your business complies with all GDPR regulations, as non-compliance will result in a costly mistake.
Now that you know all the important text message regulations, you can confidently create your SMS marketing campaigns and win the hearts of your customers.
How to Leverage SMS Marketing Legally?
With all the strict regulations out there, you want to be attentive and careful with how you go about your SMS marketing strategy. It’s an amazing tool to use for leveraging more sales for your business. To ensure that the benefits are not hindered because of contradictions with the law, here are some guidelines to follow to ensure you’re implementing your SMS campaign the right way with compliancy.
This is one of the most important aspects of compliance. For your business to be involved in an SMS marketing campaign, your customers must first give you their written consent. You can get this consent from your customers, for example, by asking them to send a keyword to a short code number, or provide you with their phone number by filling in a physical (or an online) form. The written consent has to be clear, not be hidden and has to offer all the information that your customers need in order for them to agree to it. Moreover, it is not allowed to ask your customers to purchase a product or a service as a condition of the written consent.
Note that web opt-ins are double opt-ins. It is CTIA requirement to provide double consent by both a web form and a confirmation text message from the subscriber. This is why it might be easier to get consent through a keyword.
Another compliance requirement is that you should send your subscribers a confirmation as soon as they opt-in for your campaign. This confirmation has to contain all the useful information regarding what they have subscribed for, which might include, but is not limited to:
- Validation of a successful subscription
- Your campaign’s purpose
- Your organization’s identity
- An approximate frequency of the messages your subscribers will get from you
- Information about opting-out if needed
- Information about data required by the text messages, and charges, if applicable
- A keyword your subscribers can send in case they need assistance or information regarding your campaign
The CTIA also allows abbreviations of both your terms and conditions, as well as your privacy policies. All you have to do is comply with these requirements:
- Abbreviations must be clear
- Abbreviations must not be blocked by any kind of pop-up message
- Abbreviations shouldn’t have pre-checked confirmation boxes
- Abbreviations have to always be accessible
The truth is, SMS marketing compliance guidelines and regulations are quite easy to follow and implement. The core of these regulations revolves around basic customer needs that you might already be familiar with. The main principles of these regulations are your customers’ right to be informed about what they are subscribing to, the right to have their personal data handled with respect, care and have it protected, and the right to receive messages and be communicated only in relevance to what they were informed about when opting-in. Be attentive and keep up with these guidelines, and you will be good to go. Go on and make the most out of your SMS marketing campaign, the right way!
Need guidance on your SMS campaign compliance? Have questions about the regulations? Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Textedly team believes in the importance of customer experience and aims to provide easy-to-integrate solutions for your business. Get started with Textedly’s free trial to kickstart your SMS marketing campaign.