The immediacy of SMS marketing creates a unique sense of urgency that can make for a very effective campaign. But SMS compliance mistakes can cost your business a bundle, so it pays to be cautious when crafting your SMS strategy.
Note: This article is for educational purposes only, and it focuses on U.S. law. Make sure to consult your legal team about specific considerations for your jurisdiction.
SMS laws vary regionally, from Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) to the U.K.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and many more. In the U.S., marketers must follow the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also issues SMS regulations.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), while not a government agency, conducts regular audits and reports noncompliant businesses to phone carriers, which can block your number if you break the rules.
Sending noncompliant messages is a sure-fire way to get your number blocked, both by individual customers and by phone carriers. You lose the ability to reach all your customers, as well as the revenue campaigns could have generated.
Being out of compliance can also lead to hefty fines. Domino’s Pizza racked up almost $10M in fines for sending unsolicited messages. Papa John’s was sued for $250M; they settled for $16.5M. Dish Network paid over $300M for violations.
These cases aren’t uncommon. Businesses can be fined $500-$1,500 for each noncompliant message. Imagine if you sent a noncompliant campaign to even 1,000 recipients; the penalties would add up fast.
Fortunately, compliance is straightforward when you know the rules. With a little care, you can design a compliant campaign and send SMS messages with confidence.
Here are four common methods:
Once you have consent, honor it strictly. Imagine you invite people to text “PLANTPOWER!” to your pizzeria to get marketing messages about vegan products. If you them send discount codes for pepperoni pies, you’re out of compliance, because the consent only covers messages about vegan products.
Whatever consent method you use, you must share the following with the subscriber:
Each new text subscriber should receive a confirmation message, like this example:
AstraBelle: Thank you for signing up! Use code SMSAstra for 10% off your next order. Msg&Data rates may apply, up to 4 msgs/month. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.
You must include:
Make opting out easy. If it’s too difficult, you’re not only violating the law, you’re encouraging people to report your texts as spam, which can lead to phone carriers blocking your number.
Post these documents prominently on your website, marketing materials, and other digital and print documents. You want to make it easy for your customers, CTIA auditors, and phone carriers to see that your business is in compliance.
SHAFT stands for the top five prohibited SMS topics: sex, hate (including threats of violence, hate speech, or graphic violence), alcohol, firearms, and tobacco. Texting about these topics could result in an immediate ban, if not legal action, from phone carriers. There are some exceptions for alcohol and tobacco if you do appropriate age verification and tracking.
You also shouldn’t text about confidential information, cannabis (even if it’s legal in your area), loans or other financial solicitations, and betting or gambling. If you’re marketing for a casino, it’s okay to message about non-gambling services, like an adjoining hotel.
Special rules apply to sweepstakes. In addition to age requirements, which vary from state to state, you must have a separate terms and conditions disclosure on your website for every sweepstakes.
Once you have consent, you must honor it to remain in compliance, as well as to maintain good relationships with your customers. In addition avoiding prohibited content, keep these tips in mind as you’re creating campaigns and managing your subscriber lists:
SMS marketing compliance is a vital business practice for avoiding fines and lawsuits. But it supports customer engagement and retention too. Every customer wants to receive messages that appeal to them, to be treated fairly, and to keep their private information safe. When you build compliance into your sending practices, you’ll reap the benefits of better relationships without the risk of legal problems.
Compliance is the starting point for SMS marketing. Take engagement to the next level with our best practices for SMS content, coming soon!