Understanding SMS guidelines in the USA
Thanks to high open rates and powerful engagement, SMS delivery is the ideal channel if you want to ensure your messages are read. But it's also crucial for businesses and organizations to understand the laws and regulations before gathering contacts or sending SMSs.
While the requirements may seem complicated at first, we've compiled a helpful guide to assist you in understanding how to easily follow these guidelines while using the Mobiz platform to supercharge your SMS marketing.
Where do these requirements come from?
First off, it's good to know who created these requirements and where to find more information. The CTIA, TCPA and the MMA govern the majority of SMS marketing law and regulation in the US - we know, why so many acronyms, right?
We'll cover the specifics later but in order to understand them better, we've created a simple list for you.
The CTIA: an organisation created by wireless carriers and mobile organizations in order to help businesses in the mobile messaging industry understand the related laws and protect users from receiving unwanted or illegal communications. The CTIA Messaging Principles and Best Practices guidelines tell you what information to include in your messages. The CTIA publishes new guidelines periodically, so make sure you have the latest copy.
The TCPA: legislation and regulations intended to protect consumers from unwanted communication. While not specific to SMS marketing, it does set the standard on how to get permission to send bulk promotional text messages. In other words, when you are allowed to send marketing SMSs and what permissions are needed to do so.
The MMA: the Mobile Marketing Association has their own best practice literature that ties in closely with similar material released by the CTIA.
Now, let's look at what you can do to follow the guidelines set out by the CTIA, TCPA, and MMA.
Contacts and consent
The types of consent: Promotional vs informational
It’s important to understand the difference between promotional and informational consent as the rules for these differ slightly.
Informational consent is when a customer is added to your database through a transaction. For example, when you log in to your account, you get an OTP via SMS.
Promotional consent is given when a customer actively agrees in writing to receive what you, as a business, are offering them. For example, when you subscribe to a newsletter on your favorite website by clicking the ‘I accept’ button.
Consider your contact source or database
Your contacts usually come from an existing customer database through data-capturing sources such website landing pages, over the phone, or a point-of-sale system. However, it's important to make sure your contacts, no matter the source, have provided the correct consent for what you intend to do.
How to acquire the proper consent
For starters, you should be clear and have to be honest with your wording and explain to the customer what you intend to use their information for. For example, if a customer signs up for your newsletters only, you shouldn't send them other marketing or promotional material.
The same applies to delivery channels, if they have specially opted-in for email marketing, you will need them to consent to receive advertising through SMS as well. If you think your customer consented to all channels but you're unsure, then you should follow best practice and double check by sending an SMS that allows them to opt-in again.
Opt-in and opt-out mechanisms
Opt-in and double opt-in
As discussed above, you need express written consent to send marketing messages to your customers. Once received, this is considered the first opt-in consent, but the opt-in isn’t always done over SMS. If you receive the opt-in using a different method, we suggest sending a confirmation message or obtaining a "double opt-in".
To make this even easier to understand, we'll outline the process for you:
1. Your customer knowingly provides consent prior to receiving the initial SMS via a sign up such as a form on your website (Opt-in 1).
2. The first SMS received by the customer should identify your company and prompt to confirm consent (Opt-in 2).
For example: "This is Mobiz, you signed up to receive updates about our interactive demo. Reply YES to confirm. Msg&data rates may apply"
What about opt-outs?
Opt-outs can take different forms, but you must provide the customer with an easy method to stop receiving your promotional communications. An opt-out method must be included in every marketing or promotional message but is generally not needed for informational text messages.
To easily follow this rule, you can use “Reply STOP to opt-out” or a known variation like END, UNSUBSCRIBE or CANCEL in your SMS copy.
How long do I have to honor opt-out requests?
Opt-outs happen, no one likes to lose a customer from their database, but they must always be honored. However, there are a few additional details to be aware of.
1. If your customer opts-out of your promotional text messages, you may send one final message to confirm their decision.
2. Your customer may re-opt-in to the same campaign in the future.
3. They may also remain opted-in to different campaigns or campaign categories, depending on the type of consent you received.
The SMS content
The content of your SMS should state who it is from, provide a clear call-to-action or message, include clear opt-out instructions, and provide any terms and conditions.
Because not all customers have unlimited plans and may be charged for incoming text messages, you must also include copy such as "data&msg rates may apply".
We suggest focusing on highly targeted, relevant content that aligns with the customer's opt-in consent. As this consent is not transferable, it's important to understand the goal of your SMS content and which category of consent it falls within. Additionally, don't spam or send unlawful, misleading or deceptive messaging.
It's also important to understand the SMS marketing rules that relate to your own industry. Certain industries, such as financial services and the medical industry, have specific inclusions and rules that need to be followed in addition to the SMS laws and regulations.
Sending your SMSs
Respect your customer's engagement habits and be considerate with your messaging schedule. You don't want them feeling neglected or spammed.
The timing of your SMS is important too. Don't send messages before 9am or after 9pm, and remember if your audience spans time zones, you need to consider where your customer is located.
Using area codes to identify time zones can be a good starting point but isn't always a true indication of where your customer resides, you may want to confirm a customer's location through a confirmation SMS. Mobiz can schedule the send of your campaign to find the best time to reach your customer base, no matter where they are in the US.
Remember, if you're sending text messages outside of the United States, make sure you know the rules in that country!
Now that you understand where these rules and guidelines come from and how they apply to your SMS marketing strategy, it’s time to get started with SMS marketing.
Please remember, this blog is for informational purposes only, does not explain all US requirements and is not to be considered legal advice. As each business and message is different, it’s important to seek legal advice if you don’t understand any terms or are unsure of your responsibilities.
This information may be updated or changed without notice as laws and regulations are updated.