The Ultimate SMS Compliance Guide for Business
By Matt Mesar
| 28. June 2024 |
By M. MesarMatt Mesar
| 28 Jun 2024 |
    By M. MesarMatt Mesar
    | 28 Jun 2024

    SMS Compliance:
    Complete Guide for Business

    With a 98% open rate, affordable VoIP texting rates, and messaging campaigns, SMS outreach is vital to every effective marketing and sales strategy. But it’s not without its pitfalls.

    SMS compliance is an obstacle every business needs to overcome to be able to legally message their customers. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the cornerstones of the regulation, how to handle them, and how to make the most of your marketing.

    Key Takeaways:

    • SMS compliance is the laws that regulate SMS communications and are overseen and imposed by regulatory bodies like the TCPA, CTIA, etc.
    • The goal of SMS compliance is to protect users from spam and privacy breaches by requiring explicit consent, limiting content and frequency, etc.
    • Some of the most common mistakes in SMS compliance include not re-verifying consent, using purchased contact lists, not respecting message frequency, etc.

    What Is SMS Compliance?

    SMS compliance refers to the laws and regulations businesses must follow when sending text messages to their customers. These rules are put in place by regulators such as the TCPA and CTIA to protect end users from spam and privacy breaches.

    We’ll cover the SMS compliance requirements later in this article. For now, you should know that an opt-in and the availability of an opt-out – in other words, explicitly agreeing to receive messages and the ability to “unsubscribe” – are cornerstones of good SMS compliance and trustworthy VoIP providers.

    Why Is SMS Compliance Important?

    SMS compliance is most beneficial for customers. The rules are key for spam and privacy protection, regulating who can message end users at what time and how their personal information should be managed and retained.

    These laws are more of a roadblock for business owners, but compliance is still highly important. Failure to comply with regulations can cause irreparable damage to the business’s reputation, as well as result in fines or being blacklisted from sending texts.

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    Common SMS Compliance Terms

    Legislative language can often be difficult to understand for those who aren’t familiar with it. Therefore, in this section, we’ll introduce you to some of the most important terms and acronyms you may encounter during your SMS compliance journey. These include:

    • Opt-In: Refers to a user expressing explicit consent to receive promotional messages from a business. Often submitted via a check-box, written keyword, or recorded voice message to demonstrably prove consent.
    • Opt-Out: Refers to a user explicitly requesting a business to cease all (or partial) promotional communication with them immediately. Often submitted through a CTA, written keyword, or recorded voice message.
    • Transactional Messages: Refer to messages containing information regarding order confirmations, shipping updates, etc. This type of message is typically subject to less stringent legal regulations.
    • Promotional Messages: Refer to messages containing information regarding marketing offers, discounts, and other promotions. This type of message is typically subject to more stringent legal regulations.
    • CTA: Refers to the Call to Action, such as an opt-in for promotional messages. The regulation requires that CTAs offer clear information regarding what the user’s signing up for, including message types, caveats, and ways to opt out.
    • Required Verbiage: Refers to the specific wording required in various text messages, such as including your business name, outlining details of a promotion, allowing a “STOP” opt-out option, and more.
    • Controlled Content: Refers to restricted types of content, such as some types of images, videos, and URL links that can’t be included in promotional SMS campaigns to protect the end user.
    • Short Code: Refers to the 5-6 digit number businesses use to send out bulk messages via SMS campaigns. These types of numbers are often strictly restricted and require verification to obtain.
    • 10DLC: Refers to the 10-Digit Long Code, i.e., a regular phone number used for sending SMS messages. The efficiency of these numbers is often lower, so they can be registered with the TCR to avoid spam filters and improve deliverability.
    • TCR: Refers to The Campaign Registry, an industry-sanctioned database that allows SMS service providers to verify and register 10DLC numbers to help businesses avoid spam filters and improve deliverability.

    Who Regulates SMS Compliance?

    As mentioned, commercial SMS use is regulated by several government bodies worldwide, affecting local and foreign businesses. Below, we’ll discuss some notable examples of regulators and their specific regulations.

    Telephone Consumer Protection Act

    The TCPA is a federal law in the United States that oversees telemarketing calls, auto-dialed calls, pre-recorded calls, text messages, and faxes to protect consumers from predatory marketing practices.

    Laws include:

    • Consent Requirement: Businesses must obtain express consent from recipients before sending SMS messages.
    • Do Not Call Registry: Telemarketers must honor the National Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to opt out of unsolicited marketing communications.

    Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association

    The CTIA is a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the United States, which sets guidelines and best practices for wireless carriers and service providers.

    Laws include:

    • Accessibility of Digital Communications: Ensures that SMS and other digital communications are accessible to individuals with disabilities, such as providing accommodations for those with visual or hearing impairments.
    • Non-Discriminatory Practices: Businesses are mandated not to discriminate against individuals with disabilities in their communication and service practices.

    Americans with Disabilities Act

    The ADA is a civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires businesses to provide equal access to services and communication.

    Laws include:

    • Short Code Compliance: Ensures that short codes used for SMS marketing comply with industry standards, including obtaining proper consent and providing clear opt-out instructions.
    • Message Transparency: Requires clear identification of the sender and the purpose of the message, ensuring consumers know who is contacting them and why.

    Federal Communications Commission

    The FCC is an independent agency of the U.S. government that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

    Laws include:

    • Consumer Protection Rules: Enforces regulations that protect consumers from unwanted and intrusive communications, such as requiring opt-in consent for SMS marketing.
    • Robocall and Text Blocking: Implements rules to let carriers block illegal robocalls and unwanted text messages, enhancing consumer protection against spam and fraudulent communications.

    SMS Compliance Checklist

    Want to have a smooth experience with your business outreach? Look no further than this SMS compliance checklist for the top ten most important things to check off before kicking off your texting. These include:

    1. Register Your Business Texting Number: Unverified business numbers used in SMS outreach are often subject to more scrutiny, resulting in messages sometimes not being delivered due to spam filters and blacklists.

      Key takeaway: Contact your local governing body in charge of number verification, the TCR, and get your numbers verified to maintain deliverability.
    2. Obtain Explicit Consent: Cold-texting is highly illegal in many jurisdictions, and businesses can face fines and other penalties, including outright bans on SMS outreach.

      Key takeaway: Only send commercial text messages to users who have explicitly consented to receiving them via an online form or other source.
    3. Clearly Communicate Subscription Details: Multiple SMS compliance laws require businesses to outline all aspects of their proposed communication properly to ensure the user knows what they are consenting to.

      Key takeaway: Provide subscribers with clear information about what types of messages they will receive and how frequently at the time of consent.
    4. Offer Easy Opt-Out Options: The law requires your end users to have a simple way of opting out of all your business communications, including email, phone calls, and text messages.

      Key takeaway: Ensure subscribers can easily unsubscribe from your messages anytime, typically through a simple command like texting “STOP.”
    5. Respect Privacy and Data Security: Thanks to GDPR and other privacy protection acts, how businesses acquire and store information is highly regulated and severely punishable.

      Key takeaway: Research your local regulations and ensure you only acquire and retain information obtained securely and legally.
    6. Adhere to Sending Time Restrictions: SMS compliance laws restrict when and how you can reach out to customers to prevent them from receiving undesired messages during their free time.

      Key takeaway: Send texts only during appropriate hours, usually between 8 AM and 9 PM local time, to avoid disturbing recipients during off hours.
    7. Maintain Message Content Compliance: Regulatory bodies prohibit the sharing of certain types of content within text messages, including overly promotional images or potentially harmful links.

      Key takeaway: Adhere to industry standards and regulations and avoid sending prohibited content, including anything misleading, spammy, or inappropriate.
    8. Provide Customer Support Information: SMS compliance laws require businesses to provide users with an easy way to contact customer service, clarify concerns, or complain about received communications.

      Key takeaway: Include contact information or support options in your messages to help subscribers with any questions or issues.
    9. Keep Detailed Records of Consent: Regulatory bodies may sometimes carry out routine or targeted evaluations of a business’ compliance if given a reason. It’s vital you have an accurate set of records to present if that happens.

      Key takeaway: Document how and when each subscriber consented to receive messages from your business for legal protection and audit purposes.
    10. Stay Informed on Regulatory Changes. The regulatory landscape of SMS compliance is constantly shifting in accordance with developing trends and marketing practices. Ignorance makes for a poor courtroom argument.

      Key takeaway: Regularly update your knowledge of SMS compliance and regulations to ensure ongoing compliance with laws and guidelines.

    Common SMS Compliance Mistakes to Avoid

    In the previous section, you’ve discovered the things you should always do. Now, we’ll look at the complete opposite of the spectrum and discuss the most common mistakes and pitfalls businesses tend to miss in their SMS compliance. These include:

    #1 Failing to Reconfirm Consent Periodically:

    Even if you originally obtained consent in the intended way, regulations often require businesses to re-verify that subscribers want to continue receiving messages.

    Key takeaway:
    Implement a system to periodically request reconfirmation from your subscribers, especially after a longer inactivity.

    #2 Overlooking Message Frequency Limits:

    Sending messages too often can be annoying at best and unlawful at worst, as some jurisdictions have specific rules for allowing messaging frequency.  

    Key takeaway: Establish guidelines on message frequency. You shouldn’t send promotions to the same user more than once per day or week, depending on the campaign.

    #3 Sending Unsolicited Messages to Existing Customers:

    Businesses often mistakenly assume that active customer status implies explicit consent. This often leads to sending out illegal cold texts.

    Key takeaway: Always obtain explicit consent for SMS marketing, even from existing customers, to ensure compliance.

    #4 Not Testing Messages Before Sending: 

    Sending messages without testing can result in errors such as broken links, incorrect formatting, or typos. That affects compliance and professionalism.

    Key takeaway: Test all messages on multiple devices and carriers before sending them to ensure they display correctly and contain no errors.

    #5 Using Purchased Lists:

    Sending SMS messages to contacts obtained from purchased lists can lead to high unsubscribe rates and potential legal issues, as these recipients have not provided explicit consent.

    Key takeaway: Build your contact list organically through opt-in forms and other compliant methods to ensure all recipients have given explicit consent.

    Ready To Start Your SMS Campaign?

    Although SMS compliance may be a hassle, the price you pay to ensure your business communications remain lawful is negligible compared to the benefits SMS outreach offers. 

    And after reading this article, you should be ready to make the most of it.

    Let us help you with SMS compliance.


    Is SMS GDPR compliant?

    SMS can be GDPR compliant, but it requires the following specific regulations:

    Explicit Consent: You need an unambiguous “opt-in” from the recipient before sending SMS messages. This means they must actively agree to receive SMS communications from you. Pre-checked boxes or implied consent won’t suffice.

    Opt-Out Mechanism: Make it easy for people to opt out of receiving future messages. Include clear instructions and keywords (like STOP or UNSUBSCRIBE) in your messages.

    Data Management: Store phone numbers securely and only use them for the purpose the recipient agreed to. You must also respect data subject rights, such as the right to access or delete their information.

    What is SMS consent?

    SMS consent refers to a person’s explicit agreement to receive text messages from a business or organization. This consent must be freely given, informed (they understand what they’re agreeing to), and specific (they know what type of messages they’ll receive).