If you’re planning on using text messaging as a way to reach your customers, and your business operates in or sends messages to people in the United States, it’s important to be aware of the relevant business text messaging laws in the US. The US government along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have put forth a number of guidelines and regulations (including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the CAN-SPAM Act) that businesses must follow when sending SMS messages to consumers – in order to protect them from unwanted messages, or spam.
While you may not have malicious intent when starting your first SMS marketing campaign, it can be easy to overlook some of these key rules. Avoid fines and unhappy customers by carefully understanding the laws governing business to consumer SMS messages. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Laws for Business SMS
- CAN-SPAM Act Rules for Text Messaging
- 10 DLC A2P Messaging Regulations
- Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Guidelines
- SMS Best Practices to Follow
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Laws for Business SMS
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a piece of federal legislation that was introduced in 1991 to address the increase in marketing telephone calls to consumers. Enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it has been updated as recently as 2012 to restrict the ways in which telemarketers can get in touch with customers. Amendments continue to be made to protect the privacy of consumers.
Specifically, the TCPA prohibits robocalling. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes robocalling as a phone call that has “a recorded message instead of a live person” when you answer. All robocalling is illegal, unless the business has express permission from the recipient to contact them. The TCPA also requires that an existing business relationship be established between a business and a consumer before reaching out.
What are the TCPA SMS Rules?
For businesses getting in contact with a prospect or customer via SMS, the TCPA text message rules state:
- The business must have prior express consent to contact the individual,
- the prior express consent must be written for advertising messages,
- a person is able to opt-out of receiving text messages at any time by any reasonable method, and
- the business must honor the opt-out, even if they previously gave consent to be contacted.
While not explicitly stated in the TCPA SMS rules, it’s also good practice to:
- Clearly communicate the identity of the business and the reason for the message,
- reach out to customers within normal business hours according to their time zone, and
- provide a way to opt-out of text messages such as “text STOP to stop.”
Additionally, the TCPA was amended in 2003 to include the creation of a National Do Not Call Registry. As the name implies, it is illegal to text or call numbers on this registry unless the person has given you express written consent to contact them.
If a business violates any of the TCPA’s regulations, they may be fined up to $1,500 per occurrence, especially if laws were knowingly and willfully disregarded.
CAN-SPAM Act Rules for Text Messaging
The CAN-SPAM Act is a set of laws that govern commercial email messages, and it was enacted in 2003. The acronym stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. These rules were put in place to protect consumers from spam emails, but they are not limited to email and can be applied to business text messages as well.
The CAN-SPAM Act has a number of requirements for businesses that send text messages, specifically marketing messages, including:
- The identity and location of the business must be clearly stated in the message
- The message must include a way to opt-out of future messages
- The business cannot use false or misleading header information
- The business cannot use deceptive subject lines
- The business must disclose that the communication is an advertisement
A2P 10DLC Messaging Regulations
The A2P 10DLC standard, which stands for Application to Person 10 Digit Long Code, is a recent communications regulation in the United States that specifically applies to SMS messaging from businesses to individuals.
A2P or “Application to Person” is a common way to send text messages in bulk, often from a business to its customers (or potential customers). It’s a great way for a business to save time, however, most phone numbers are not formatted to handle large volumes of SMS messages. To work around this, most businesses choose from toll-free long codes, short codes, or local long codes to send text messages in bulk. Each of these phone number options have their drawbacks, which is why 10DLC was introduced.
In order to meet 10DLC compliance, commercial telephone service providers must offer 10-digit local calling services that comply with the 10DLC requirements. These requirements are designed to ensure that customers can receive 10-digit local calls from other 10-digit local callers.
Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Guidelines
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) is a trade organization that represents the wireless communications industry in the United States. They have put forth a set of best practices for business text messaging to help ensure a positive customer experience and to prevent SMS abuse.
Some of these best practices include:
- Get explicit opt-in consent from customers before adding them to your text messaging list
- Inform consumers that standard messaging and data rates will apply
- Do not text customers more than they have opted-in to receive
- Do not share customer information with third parties without consent
- Allow customers to easily opt-out of future messages
- Include your business name and contact information in every message
SMS Best Practices to Follow
There are a handful of laws and regulations put forth by the US government and applicable industry organizations, and there are a number of best practices that businesses should follow from when sending text messages to consumers.
In summary, here are 7 best practices to follow when communicating with consumers:
- Get opt-in consent (ideally in the form of express written consent) from customers before adding them to your text messaging list, and only send them messages about the topic you agreed on (i.e. don’t send promotional messages when someone signed up for order status updates).
- Inform consumers that standard messaging and data rates will apply, and give them an opportunity to opt-out of future messages if they are not interested. Do not text customers more often than they have opted-in to receive, and be mindful of the frequency of your messages so as not to become a nuisance.
- Do not use deceptive or misleading language when communicating with consumers, and be sure to disclose that the message is an advertisement when applicable.
- Share your business' name and contact information in each message, and let the consumer know why you are reaching out to them.
- Respect opt-out requests promptly and in perpetuity. Do not re-engage with them after a few months or share customer information with third parties without consent. Ideally, avoid sharing customer data with other parties or businesses whenever possible.
- If sending text messages in bulk, make sure to register your 10DLC phone number. Your phone provider should give you assistance to complete this registration.
- Check on appropriate state specific and international legislation that may apply to your business SMS communication with consumers, and be sure to follow any relevant rules.