Staying Out Of Trouble with SMS Marketing

Sms marketing rules

It’s important for a business to understand the compliance issues regarding SMS marketing. With a 98% open rate, SMS has now become the go-to marketing channel for both big and small businesses. However, SMS marketing comes with a bunch of SMS compliance laws and practices that you should know about.

Compliance isn’t that complex, but it’s absolutely required. If you don’t follow the compliance law, it can have some dire consequences. For instance, big companies like Papa John’s and Jiffy Lube got bombarded with multimillion-dollar lawsuits just because they sent text messages to people without having a proper consent. In fact, Papa John’s had to pay over 16 million dollars in order to settle a class action lawsuit which was brought against them in 2012 for this issue.

To prevent such legal action and upset consumers, companies need to comply with the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) that gives basic customer protections in terms of SMS marketing. While getting SMS compliance may seem like a hard task, it really doesn’t need to be.

In today’s article, we’re going to cover all the important areas of SMS compliance and opt-in text messaging. Make sure your SMS campaign checks all the legal boxes using our compliance checklist. So, without further ado let’s get started!

Why You Need To Follow Rules

SMS marketing rules

Not all marketers are created equal and it can’t be assumed that all marketers will provide a valuable and positive experience. Some may replace custom-made messages with unnecessary campaigns and spam recipients with irrelevant information. As a result, wireless carriers founded the CTIA group in order to protect customers from these black hat marketers.

The CTIA is in charge of administering sms/text marketing practices. They set the legal guidelines that are meant to be in the customer’s best interest. This group inspects SMS marketing programs regularly. If a service fails an audit by the CTIA, they will be suspended until the problem has been solved and, in many cases, will be served with a fine.

Who Enforces the SMS Compliance Rules?

SMS compliance rules

Compliance is enforced to keep marketers in line. There are several organizations involved and it’s common to get the CTIA, TCPA, MMA, and FCC confused. SMS compliance rules are developed on a foundation carried out by the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act).

These organizations are in charge of the SMS marketing laws. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the differences between these organizations in order to remain compliant and avoid any kind of consequences.



As previously mentioned, the CTIA organization was founded by wireless carriers to help protect users from getting irrelevant and bothersome SMS campaign messages. The CTIA doesn’t leave much wiggle room when it comes to SMS marketing. However, they provide all the information necessary to stay above-board. Beyond explaining the classification of different types of sms marketing and best practices, they offer clear guidelines regarding information to add in your SMS marketing messages such as:

  • SMS & Data Rates
  • SMS Frequency
  • HELP & STOP commands
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Privacy Policy

Apart from these, they also give you an idea of what should and shouldn’t be added in messages. These are guidelines that are meant to protect consumers and aren’t necessarily official law. That said, violation of any of these guidelines increases your risk of getting shut down. Make sure to follow the CTIA compliance to avoid such risks.


TCPA fines and lawsuits

As opposed to CTIA guidelines, the TCPA operates under federal law, meaning it has standards which, if broken, may result in a slew of legal troubles. No business ever had to go to court for avoiding CTIA guidelines. However, as mentioned earlier, big companies like Papa John’s have been sued under the TCPA.

There aren’t any SMS marketing specifics addressed in TCPA law. In fact, there isn’t even any mention of best practices or SMS marketing in the TCPA. There’s no specific rule stating whether or not to add the standard SMS and data rates statement, or the risks to breaking a frequency promise.

Although the TCPA does not specifically address how to be compliant with SMS marketing campaigns, the TCPA sets standards for permission-based marketing. They outline what actions regulate when permission has been granted and what’s allowed once a user has given consent to be marketed to.


Mobile Marketing Association
Mobile Marketing Association

The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has released its own best practices literature that is similar to the Mobile Commerce Handbook released by CTIA.

Just like the CTIA, the MMA guidelines aren’t technically the law. Therefore, they cannot be enforced legally. The TCPA is the only organization out of the three that abides by a set of legal standards and has the power to enforce such guidelines. If you’re wondering how this relates to you and your SMS marketing account, then continue reading to find out what can be done to remain TCPA, CTIA, and MMA compliant.

SMS Compliance Checklist

Now that you’re all caught up with the legal standards of SMS marketing, it’s time to learn how to send effecting SMS marketing campaigns and keep your subscribers happy. This ultimate SMS compliance checklist will help you reach your goals.

Opt-In Messaging Requirements

Image result for opt-in messaging

The first part of the SMS compliance checklist includes opt-in requirements and sending confirmation text.

Following the Opt-In Requirements

According to the TCPA, a business must receive “express written consent” from contacts beforehand to start sending SMS marketing messages. The consent shouldn’t be in a lengthy form with a bunch of terms and conditions but it does need to be clear and straightforward.

Opt-ins are probably the most critical part of SMS compliance. You can face legal repercussions if you start texting people without their clear permission. It’s considered spam, and therefore you need to keep that in mind.

In addition to written consent, your consumers can opt-in to your SMS marketing campaigns using a number of different methods. The most common one is mobile opt-in, in which customers can use their phone to send a Keyword to a short code number. You can promote your Keyword and the code on emails or ads in order to encourage people so they’d subscribe to your list.

Sending a Confirmation Text

The first to-do after a subscriber opts-in to your SMS marketing campaign is to send a confirmation message. This message should include the following things:

  • The name of the program: Add the name of your business so your customers can tell who is it exactly contacting them. For example: [Your Business Name] SMS Alerts.
  • The purpose of your campaign: What kinds of messages will your customers receive? Are you going to be sending special offers, announcements or tips? For example: Sales, specials, and updates.
  • Estimated frequency of your text: Make sure to add the approximate number of texts your customers will receive in a week or month. For example: Up to 6 messages/month.
  • SMS and data rates notice: While unlimited texting is becoming more common these days, some users may incur fees for getting text messages. Make sure to inform consumers that standard SMS and data rates may apply. For example: SMS & Data rates may apply.
  • Opt-Out instructions: Add instructions on how to unsubscribe. Some of the words that your subscribers may use to opt-out are: CANCEL, END, UNSUBSCRIBE, or STOP. When a user responds to your message with any of these words, you’re required to remove them immediately from your SMS marketing list. For example: SMS “STOP” to cancel.
  • Help instructions: Allow your subscribers to know that they can respond to any of your text messages with the keyword “HELP” to receive the important information. When a user sends “HELP,” you need to reply to them with a phone number or maybe a link which they can use to learn all about your business campaign. For example: SMS “HELP” for more info.

With all these elements combined, your confirmation message might look something like this:

[Your Business Name] SMS Alerts: Sales, specials, and updates. Up to 6 messages/month. SMS & Data rates may apply. SMS “STOP” to cancel. SMS “HELP” for more info.

Your consumers can also opt-in to your SMS marketing campaigns using web-based opt-in, in which case your subscribers opt-in through a website form or landing page. Keep in mind that you still have to be clear and careful when it comes to requesting/receiving consent. Remember that consumers providing you with their phone numbers is not the same as giving you permission to send them text messages. Consider including the campaign details as listed above or other disclaimers/disclosure if you use an opt-in form.

What Are The Requirements for Recurring SMS Programs?

Image result for sms compliance

The second part of the SMS compliance checklist includes rules and requirements for recurring text programs.

Terms and Conditions

Ensure that the terms and conditions are written clearly and easily available/discoverable on your website. Customers sometimes forget that they’ve signed up for SMS marketing lists, which occasionally causes complaints. This issue can be avoided by promoting your SMS marketing terms and conditions as well as its privacy policy in as many areas as possible. This includes:

  • In your business physically
  • Landing pages on which you gather opt-ins
  • The footer of your website

Set Appropriate SMS Message Send Times

If your plan is to send your coupon codes at 4 in the morning, chances are you’ll end up with a bunch of angry consumers and they’ll likely unsubscribe. Avoid sending text messages during odd hours.

Inform Customers

Inform your subscribers when your campaign has changed. If you plan to change your terms and conditions, it’s recommended that you inform all of your subscribers. Ask them to reply with keywords like “YES” or “CONTINUE” to confirm their continued consent.

State the Program Name

Include your campaign name in every SMS. Each SMS you send to your customers should have your campaign or business name. Also, you should include STOP instructions in those messages to remind users how to opt-out whenever they want to.

Privacy Policy

The CTIA allows you to add the complete, comprehensive privacy policy within your terms and conditions page. However, we recommend linking to it separately instead. If you give a shortened version, it’ll give your subscriber an easy reading experience.

According to CTIA, it should be the mobile carriers’ utmost priority to protect the privacy of their customers. The CTIA insists on everyone’s right to privacy. Hence, all programs should have a privacy policy where you can elaborate on the need to collect phone numbers, with who you are going to share them, etc.

Other Requirements

You cannot promote services using the word “free” unless they’re free across all supported carriers to the end user. Also, make sure your product descriptions are consistent, and the content is as advertised.

Avoid Using Prohibited Language

Your SMS marketing campaign cannot have any of the following things:

  • Adult content
  • Illegal or illicit drugs
  • Hate speech or profanity
  • Any kind of endorsements or depictions of illegal behavior or violence

Even if your message gets delivered, chances are you’ll get caught and reprimanded eventually, and your account may also get suspended (among other potential consequences).

SMS Message Length Limitations

Individual SMS messages are limited to 160 characters. While it is possible to send a text message up to 918 characters (this is the maximum length), once you’ve surpassed 160 characters, your message will be broken down in to chunks of 153 characters before being sent to the recipient’s handset. Sending a longer, chunked message increases the risk of some carriers delivering these chunks out of order and resulting in a confusing messaging experience for the recipient.

SMS Marketing Abbreviations

Because of the text length limitations, abbreviations are essential in the world of text communication. Typing out full words increases your character count, which may limit you from adding other important information. The CTIA details multiple acceptable abbreviations, and we recommend using the shortened version as it improves the reading experience. Here are some suggested and acceptable abbreviations for SMS marketing:

  • Use “/” instead of “Per.”
  • Use “Msg” instead of “Message.”
  • Use “Txt” instead of “Text.”
  • Use “mo, ea, mo. or /mth” instead of “Per Month.”
  • Use “SMS & Data Rates May Apply” instead of “Message and Data Rates May Apply.”

Final Words

SMS is an incredible effective marketing channel but it is important to abide by the TCPA guidelines once your customers have opted-in. We have tried to cover everything you need to know about SMS Marketing Compliance in this article.

Congrats on making it through our complete guide on SMS marketing compliance! Compliance is important for marketers to understand and apply in order to be successful. Comment below and let us know your thoughts and questions.

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