Skip to main content

SMS Compliance Made Easy: Tips for Business Owners

Learn how to stay compliant with SMS marketing regulations and avoid costly fines. Our easy tips will help business owners maintain SMS compliance.

SMS marketing, also known as text message marketing, continues gaining popularity as more brands realize they can reach their customers anywhere, anytime. SMS marketing allows your brand to send promotions to customers' smartphones in the form of a text message and can increase web traffic and sales.

SMS is a regulated marketing channel with federal laws in place to protect consumers. For example, sending someone a text message from your business is illegal unless they've given you explicit permission.

Before you upload your contacts to an SMS marketing software, you should be aware of the legal implications of SMS marketing. This article will discuss everything you need to know about SMS compliance to avoid penalties that can cost your business.

What is SMS compliance?

SMS compliance refers to rules or laws for businesses that want to send marketing text messages to their customers. SMS compliance laws protect consumers from spam text messages and privacy issues.

One such regulation is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which restricts telemarketing communications. One major implication of sending marketing text messages is privacy. Certain laws are in place to protect customers' privacy that dictate how you can communicate with them and what you can do with their personal information, like phone numbers.

In general, SMS compliance consists of ensuring you have a customer's permission to text them and that they understand the types of messages they'll receive when they provide you with their personal information.

In addition, you must respect when a customer opts out of receiving your business text messages. If you use email marketing to connect with customers, these rules aren't new. You should already know that your subscribers must opt-in to comply with various rules and regulations.

While SMS marketing and email are similar, they have several key differences, including the types of fonts and graphics used, character counts, and compliance. SMS compliance differs in one key aspect: when you can send text messages.

With SMS compliance, there are federal and state laws that determine when you can send marketing text messages to customers because their smartphones are typically with them any time of day, and your texts could interfere with their daily lives.

For example, you can't text someone at midnight when they're most likely sleeping.

Importance of SMS compliance for business owners

SMS compliance is crucial for business owners because it protects the consumer and the business. With rules in place dictating who you can text and when, you can ensure your SMS marketing efforts are effectively reaching the right people at the right times.

However, these laws are in place primarily to protect the consumer. Maintaining SMS compliance is crucial because it can affect your reputation and result in fines if you fail to comply.

In addition to avoiding fines, SMS compliance ensures that your business won't end up on any blacklists affecting its ability to send SMS marketing campaigns to customers. Phone carriers are cracking down to help eliminate spam in their customers' text apps, which can result in your business getting blacklisted.

SMS compliance benefits businesses because it can protect individuals from receiving text messages they don't open or take action on. Instead, you can ensure you're reaching the right customer at the right time.

What are TCPA and CTIA guidelines?

Cold texting is illegal, so it's never a good idea to send marketing texts to customers who haven't agreed to receive them.

In addition, SMS compliance prohibits the use of purchased contact lists from a third party, finding customers' phone numbers online, and obtaining someone's phone number using methods they haven't approved of.

Several regulatory bodies determine SMS compliance guidelines, but two of the most important to understand are TCPA and CTIA. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a decades-old legislation ensuring telemarketing compliance.

As the Act was written in 1991, it doesn't contain any language specifically about SMS marketing, but texts are treated as calls to protect individuals from receiving unsolicited messages.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) is a group of wireless carriers and other industry businesses that maintains guidelines for SMS marketing to protect consumers from receiving unsolicited text messages.

The CTIA takes their guidelines a bit further to provide marketers with instructions to improve their customer experience when using SMS marketing, with rules such as:

  • Displaying a clear call to action to ensure customers understand what they're signing up for (marketing communications via text)
  • Having a clear opt-out process
  • All texts to customers must include your brand's name

Guidelines from both governing bodies should be followed to ensure you're compliant when sending marketing messages to your customers. TCPA is a federal law that requires you to obtain express written consent from customers before sending them marketing text messages. If you fail to comply, you can be sued and receive penalties in the form of fines per text sent.

Common mistakes to avoid

SMS compliance is fairly easy as long as you understand how to obtain consent. However, new business owners or those trying SMS marketing for the first time are prone to make mistakes.

Unfortunately, any mistake you make can result in fines that can affect your business's bottom line, so it's crucial to know what they are and how to avoid them. Common mistakes to avoid include the following:

Age-restricted products

Brands must verify their subscribers' ages if they plan to send promotions about age-restricted products. For example, if you're an alcohol company, you must verify that a subscriber is 21 years of age in the US before sending them promotional texts.

Shopping cart recovery texts

Shopping cart recovery emails are a crucial part of any digital marketing strategy for eCommerce businesses because they remind your customers they've left something behind and encourage them to return to your site and finish checking out, ultimately increasing your sales.

Unfortunately, you can't use this same strategy with texts. Many wireless carriers have rules about shopping cart recovery texts. For example, you may not comply if you don't mention that these types of texts can be sent during the opt-in process.

Customers may not be willing to receive these reminders via text, so it's crucial to be clear about the types of text messages they might receive when they opt in.

Not offering an opt-out option

According to all current SMS compliance guidelines, your text messages must provide an opt-out for subscribers that allows them to cease communication with your brand.

Your opt-out requests process might be asking them to reply "STOP" to stop receiving messages, or you might send them hyperlinks to opt out of text messages while personalizing other settings like determining the types of texts or emails they want to receive from your business.

Not getting consent

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes most businesses new to SMS marketing make. Email and SMS compliance are relatively new concepts. Just a few years ago, businesses could purchase emails and phone numbers from third parties, and there wouldn't be any consequences, even though this practice is technically prohibited.

However, as mobile carriers, email providers, and the federal government crack down on consumer privacy, not getting consent before communicating directly with your customers is considered illegal.

You must get express written consent that ensures customers understand what they're opting into. If your policy isn't clear, you may be fined for sending the wrong types of texts without getting your subscribers' consent.

For example, you can get consent to send marketing text messages to your customers only to find out that certain types of marketing messages are prohibited because you didn't include them in the opt-in call-to-action or description.

Collect consent for SMS marketing

As we've mentioned, one of the most crucial components of SMS compliance is ensuring you have express written consent to send your subscribers promotional or transactional text messages. Again, as we've mentioned numerous times (because we can't highlight the importance enough), you should never send SMS campaigns to anyone without their express permission.

Just because you have a customer's phone number doesn't mean you can add it to your text message marketing contacts list. Customers often provide businesses with their mobile phone numbers for a variety of reasons.

Maybe you require a phone number as part of the checkout process, or maybe your customer has called your business before. Regardless of how you've obtained it, if you haven't explicitly told your customer that providing your business with their personal information gives you permission to text them, you can't do it.

Consider your opt-in process, form, and various policies on your website as contracts. These contracts protect both you and the subscriber by ensuring both parties agree to the terms and conditions. For example, if a customer has not agreed in writing to allow your business to text them, it's illegal to do so.

Your subscribers' consent must be obtained in writing, but that doesn't mean they have to sign an agreement like a contract. Instead, you can create an opt-in process with a form that describes the types of text messages subscribers may receive from the brand.

Forms are typically the easiest way to obtain consent, and most SMS marketing platforms allow you to create forms you can embed on your website with automation enabled that add the new contact directly to your lists. Here are some tips to ensure SMS compliance when obtaining consent from subscribers:

Use clear language

TCPA text message compliance requires an opt-in process, whether it's a form or a page on your site, to explain what subscribers agree to.

For instance, you can list the types of texts they might receive, such as abandoned cart texts, promotional, and company news texts. You should also include the text message frequency, data rate messaging, and opt-out instructions according to CTIA guidelines.

Provide a checkbox that is unchecked by default

The easiest way to ensure you have a customer's express consent to send them promotional texts is to provide a checkbox that's unchecked by default. Making the customer check the box ensures they've read everything on the page and have made the conscious decision to agree to it.

It might be tempting to make the box checked by default to grow your subscriber list, but this can leave you open to penalties because it doesn't follow compliance guidelines. Ultimately, your customers must be the ones to check the box, which is an action of agreeing to the terms set forth by the opt-in page or form.

Offer an easy opt-out

Consent doesn't just focus on opt-ins; you must provide an easy method for opting out of SMS communications. This is a legal requirement of any brand using SMS marketing, so ensuring your customers can opt-out at any time is crucial. You can include information on how to opt-out on your form and in your text messages.

For example, many brands allow certain language for opt-outs, such as STOP, CANCEL, and UNSUBSCRIBE. You can choose which of these you want to use and inform your customers of the right word to use when they no longer want to receive your text messages.

Then, you should include this information in every text you send. For example, you can end every promotional text with "Reply STOP to unsubscribe from marketing communications."

Once a customer opts out, you should ensure they're actually opted out and will no longer receive text messages. If you're using a reliable SMS marketing platform, this option should be enabled for you, which will remove customers who have unsubscribed from any active contact lists.

Use a double opt-in process

A double opt-in process will protect your business from any compliance issues. For example, it's possible for someone not to realize they're signing up for text message marketing if they're not paying attention while filling out a form on your site. Someone might enter any random phone number, so you might be texting someone who didn't actually opt-in to receive text messaging.

To avoid these issues, you should always use a double opt-in process, which consists of sending a text to the phone number that opted in and confirming that they want to receive your texts.

Keep records of consent

Keeping records of consent will ensure you remain in compliance at all times. Since the penalties for noncompliance are steep and can open your business up to a class-action lawsuit, obtaining proof is crucial. Therefore, your SMS marketing platform should keep a record of everyone who has consented to receive your texts and how they consented.

If you collect phone numbers for marketing purposes using another method, you should keep written records. For example, if you talk to your customers on the phone regularly, you should make a note of any that have agreed in person or via phone.

In those cases, it's especially crucial to use a double opt-in process to obtain written documentation of their consent.

Create compliant SMS campaigns

While consent is one of the most significant components of remaining SMS compliant, the content within your text messages can be non-compliant. Even if you obtain consent, your actual SMS campaigns must also remain in compliance to ensure customer privacy, avoid prohibited content, and ensure you're avoiding "quiet times" determined by regulatory bodies.

Content guidelines for SMS messages

There are several types of messages you can send your customers: transactional, conversational, and promotional texts.

Transactional text messages communicate important information about a customer's relationship with the business and recent actions taken. They may include things like reminders, order confirmations, and shipping notifications.

It's crucial to ensure subscribers understand that by providing you with their phone numbers, they may receive these types of texts, so you should have some language on the opt-in form or page and the double opt-in text message.

Conversational texts are messages between customers and the business. For example, customers can start conversations by texting the business, and the business can reply. This type of communication is often used for customer service. In these instances, since the customer initiates the text, they've given consent for the business to text them back.

Promotional messages are regular marketing messages that promote the brand, its products and services, and deals. They typically have a call to action (CTA) with a hyperlink that guides subscribers to the desired website page.

Promotional texts require written consent, so describing this type of messaging in your opt-in process is crucial so subscribers know what to expect.

In addition to obtaining consent for the various types of content you might send your subscribers, you should be aware of content that is prohibited under various wireless carrier guidelines. For example, you can't legally send subscribers under the age of 21 promotional text messages about alcohol. Other prohibited content includes things like sex, hate messages, firearms, tobacco, cannabis, loans, and gambling.

Frequency and timing of SMS messages

As we've mentioned, you're restricted to the times you can send SMS campaigns. Unlike emails, which you can send any time of day, the TCPA has guidelines for quiet hours. Ultimately, you can send messages between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm.

Anything before or after that is illegal, so it's crucial to determine your subscribers' time zones. If you have customers throughout the nation or world, you should consider segmenting them based on where they're located.

Opt-out options for recipients

As we've mentioned, having opt-out options is just as crucial as having consent. Your subscribers must be allowed to opt out of text messaging at any time, and you should have clear instructions for how they can do this. You should continuously provide these instructions throughout your SMS campaigns and have information about opting out on your website.

Stay up-to-date with SMS regulations

SMS compliance laws can help businesses stay compliant and ensure their customers receive their texts and have the best experiences with their brands. It's crucial to stay up to date with SMS compliance regulations to review changes to TCPA and CTIA guidelines and understand the consequences of noncompliance.

Ensure text message compliance with Mailchimp. Create opt-in forms, terms and conditions, privacy policies, and more with our website and form builders. Then use our text messaging options to communicate with your customers.

Share This Article