SMS messaging—we all know it, we all use it, we all love it. To clarify, Short Message Service (SMS) is the data service that powers our thumbs’ favorite hobby: texting. While we know texting is massively popular (65% of the world’s population sends and receives text messages), texting isn’t just being used for communication between friends and family. Because SMS messaging creates an open line of communication with the recipient, brands are now jumping on the SMS bandwagon as well.
Here’s the thing though: brands have strict rules they need to follow when implementing SMS marketing. As consumers, we’ve all experienced SPAM in some capacity or another. Whether it’s an irrelevant email or a door-to-door salesman, no one likes receiving unsolicited messages. Same applies for texting. Therefore, brands need to follow strict SMS marketing compliance guidelines or they risk getting charged hefty fines or—even worse—losing customers.
4 Focus Areas of SMS Marketing Compliance
To make SMS marketing compliance even more complicated, there isn’t just one item to check off to make sure your program is compliant—there are many. Okay, maybe not many…but at least four. That’s still a lot of items to check off your compliance to-do list, so let’s review the four buckets of SMS marketing compliance.
1. Get Explicit Opt-Ins
Like we said before, no one likes receiving unsolicited messages. When it comes to SMS marketing compliance, brands are required by law to ensure their customers have explicitly said they want to receive future marketing messages via SMS.
“It shall be unlawful for any person within the United States, or any person outside the United States if the recipient is within the United States to use any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement to a telephone facsimile machine.”
In this very long-winded, old-timey phrasing, the law continues by saying businesses can’t send unsolicited texts to recipients in the US unless “the sender obtained the number of the telephone facsimile machine through the voluntary communication of such number, within the context of such established business relationship, from the recipient of the unsolicited advertisement.”
What’s important to note is that brands can’t text customers to get the initial opt-in—the first SMS opt-in has to come before the brand sends their first text message or the first message has to be sent by the recipient to the brand.
2. Set Text-pectations
Customers need to know what they are getting themselves into. Once recipients have opted in, the second requirement for SMS marketing compliance is informing recipients of the program details. These voluntary principles, recommended by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), “are intended to reflect the wireless industry’s efforts to preserve the trust in and utility of Wireless Providers’ messaging services.”
The CTIA recommends that businesses confirm recipients have opted in to receive promotional messaging. (This can be sent via text since the consumer has already opted in.) They suggest the confirmation message contains the following:
- The program name or product description
- Customer care contact information (e.g., a toll-free number, 10-digit telephone number, or HELP command instructions)
- How to opt-out
- A disclosure that the messages are recurring and the frequency of the messaging (if texts frequency is more than stated in the disclosure, it’s a TCPA violation)
- Clear and conspicuous language about any associated fees or charges and how those charges will be billed.
It may seem like a lot to get customers to opt-in and then confirm they want to receive the types of messages your brand plans to send, but setting expectations can not only build trust, but ensure customers aren’t immediately opting out.
3. Respect Opt-Outs
Speaking of opting out, not only do brands need to provide an easy way for customers to opt out of SMS messages, but to truly follow SMS marketing compliance regulations, brands need to fully respect the opt-out and end communications via that channel once the opt-out has been initiated.
Think about when you unsubscribe from a brand’s marketing emails, they confirm you’ve unsubscribed but then send you a follow-up email asking why you unsubscribed…frustrating right? That’s exactly what the CAN-SPAM Act is trying to prevent.
According to the CAN-SPAM Act:
“Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request.”
While it’s hard to see customers opt-out, they’re doing so for a reason. If nothing else, treat opt-outs as a learning experience to see what your brand could improve on to retain customers in the future.
4. Pay Attention to Quiet Hours
Shhh! We’re going to cover quiet hours so as you read this section, bring the voice in your head down to a whisper. Quiet hours are certain windows of time when businesses cannot send marketing messages to customers.
The TCPA restricts businesses from sending marketing text messages before 8:00AM and after 9:00PM, in the recipient’s local time zone. But some states have even stricter laws. New York, for example, applied the same do not call (DNC) restrictions they have for telemarketing phone calls to marketing text messages.
While it may be tempting to be the first brand to send a promotional message during a holiday, it’s best you don’t run the risk of both breaking the law, racking up expensive fines (up to $1,500 per message, per recipient!) and losing customers’ trust.
That’s a Lot to Remember
There’s a lot to keep track of to make sure you’re following SMS marketing compliance regulations. On top of the four focus areas above, SMS messages from your brand should also include:
- How to opt-out (a process that should be easy)
- How to get help
- Disclose possible carrier costs and fees
- A coupon or value proposition
- Mention your company name
Luckily, you don’t need to manually apply all of these guidelines. With the right marketing tools in place, you can easily ensure you’re adhering to all of the regulations while still creating an individualized, cross-channel customer experience.
With functionality like automated opt-in requests, triggered compliant messages, fast opt-out processing, and the ability to suspend SMS messages based on individual customers’ time zones, modern marketing communication platforms do the heavy lifting for you. Take advantage of the technology that’s out there—your brand could be the text best thing.
For more information on how Iterable’s Smart Compliance functionality can benefit your SMS marketing program, schedule a demo today.