SMS text compliance: 9 tips to keep your business out of trouble

While text messaging can be an effective tool to reach your customers (and new leads), there are important rules to follow for SMS text compliance.

Specifically, SMS text messages have a 98 percent open rate, which easily beats email marketing at 22 percent, according to Salesforce.

But with great power comes great responsibility. It’s crucial to understand the laws surrounding SMS text message marketing so that you can stay out of trouble. 

Here are nine tips to stay within SMS text compliance. It’s important to note that the following tips are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel.

Get familiar with the two governing frameworks

Text compliance begins with understanding the two primary governing frameworks regarding text messaging consumers in the U.S.

First, there is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which is a federal statute that was enacted in 1991. Its intent is to safeguard consumer privacy by empowering consumers to “decide which auto-dialed calls and text messages they receive and to prevent receipt of unwanted auto-dialed calls and text messages,” according to Twilio.

The TCPA does come with hefty fines for violators, up to $1,500 per call or text if the violation is deemed knowing or willful.

Learn more about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) TCPA.

Also, it’s good to be familiar with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which is a trade association that represents the wireless communications industry in the U.S. This includes wireless carriers, suppliers, manufacturers and more.

Primarily, the CTIA advocates for legislative and regulatory policies, as well as industry-wide standards for messaging in general.

It’s a good idea to follow guidelines from the CTIA even though they are not legally binding because they do reflect TCPA standards. In other words, staying in compliance with what the CTIA suggests helps keep you in good legal standing with the TCPA. You’ll also be delivering a better user experience to those you’re messaging. 

Find out more about the CTIA.

‘Express Written Consent’ is critical

According to the TCPA, customers must give businesses “express written consent” before that business sends them a text message.

While this consent does not have to be complicated (no legal contracts with signatures needed), it should be clear and straightforward for text compliance.

A couple of examples include:

  • Sending a keyword to your phone number
  • Entering a phone number into a web form submission

When in doubt, make sure there is a call-to-action included in the opt-in method. Essentially, the recipient needs to know what he or she is signing up for. That’s the key.

Audit your existing contacts

It’s important to confirm that you have “express written consent” for all of your contacts, not just new contacts.

Do your due diligence to verify the opt-in method of your existing database to avoid violating federal law. It’s not wise to import old contacts without a second thought for text compliance.

Call-to-action requirements and more

First, a call-to-action (CTA) is a message that prompts your leads to do an action (such as opt into an SMS campaign, for example).

Your CTA is expected to include:

  • The campaign purpose. Are subscribers getting discounts, coupons, updates, something else? Be specific.
  • The message frequency. How many messages should the recipient expect to receive in a certain period of time? One text per week? One text per month?
  • The potential for message and data rates. Unlimited texting is increasingly more common, some recipients may have to pay a fee to receive texts. It’s imperative to notify subscribers that this cost could be incurred if they sign up for your campaign.

Terms and conditions should also be readily available either below the CTA or linked to near the CTA (not hidden). In those terms and conditions, you’ll want to include:

  • The name of your company, brand and/or program
  • Contact information
  • The description of the product or service users are signing up for
  • Opt-out instructions

Of course, if you change your terms and conditions in any way, you’ll need to let your subscribers know and ask them to reply CONTINUE or YES to confirm their continued consent.

Your privacy policy should also be readily available, whether below your CTA or through a nearby link (also not hidden). Consider including in your privacy policy:

  • The types of information being collected
  • The purpose for collecting the information
  • Data storage, security and access
  • Details of data transfers
  • Affiliated websites or organizations (third parties included)
  • Use of cookies

Check out these text message campaign examples to get a sense of how these elements can come together for text compliance.

Your first text should be a confirmation

No matter how a recipient signs up, your first text message to him or her must be a message confirming the opt-in.

That confirmation text message should reiterate who you are, how frequently you’ll be texting, the fact that message and data rates could apply, how to opt-out and also how to get more information (by replying with HELP, for example). This is key for text compliance.

Always identify yourself

Every text message that you send should include your business or program name. 

It’s an SMS text compliance guideline but also a best practice to ensure a better user experience that doesn’t spur confusion from a possibly unknown number.

Remember: SHAFT

Per the CTIA, there is a major rule commonly referred to as SHAFT. It means that content related to sex, hate, alcohol, firearms and/or tobacco in any message is one of the top violations and could cause an immediate ban.

While that sounds fairly absolute, there are a few exceptions to the SHAFT rule. For example, a bar owner could still send text messages about happy hour specials, but those must be sent on a dedicated toll-free number with an age-gate that prevents anyone younger than 21 years old from signing up.

Learn more about restricted content in SMS text messaging campaigns for text compliance.

Be aware of timing

While not necessarily a legal requirement for text compliance, being sensitive to what time of day you’re messaging your contacts is important to prevent complaints and a spike in opt-outs.

Avoid anything too early or too late.

Honor your opt-outs

It is imperative to respect and acknowledge all opt-out requests. If you do not, your business runs the risk of legal action against it.

A common example is the text reply of STOP to your message.

Many systems, like DailyStory, can help coordinate automatic opt-outs once a request is received.

It’s crucial that every business is mindful of SMS text compliance to not only deliver a sound user experience for recipients, but also to avoid any legal complications.

Learn more about how you can specifically avoid text carrier violations as well.