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How to Text Customers Without Getting Sued — Your SMS Marketing Compliance Guide SMS marketing is a growing channel, but you've got to stay compliant with regulations. Here's what to know and do.

By Kenneth Burke Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • SMS marketing must comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and FCC regulations.
  • To get rid of spam, mobile carriers have enforced 10DLC registration, which is a fancy term for registering your business phone numbers so you can text through their networks.
  • Successful SMS campaigns should be relevant, timely and clear to create a better customer experience and ensure compliance.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

SMS marketing is one of the fastest ways to increase customer engagement, with 80% of consumers reading and responding to texts within 30 minutes. But you can't just buy a contact list and start texting everyone. There are processes you have to follow to send compliant SMS marketing messages. Done right, you'll be able to ensure that customers and regulators alike love the messages you send. This article will help you do it.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but I have worked with tens of thousands of businesses on this over the last decade.

Related: 5 Ways to Use Texting to Grow Your Sales and Marketing

TCPA and the FCC: What they mean to you

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implements and enforces communications law in America. They passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991 to prohibit businesses from using automated dialing machines to call random consumers. They've since passed updates and clarifications about how organizations can — or can't — text with consumers. The main takeaways are:

  • Contacts must explicitly opt in to receive texts from your organization

  • You must instruct contacts how to opt out of receiving texts from your organization

  • If they do opt out, you must stop texting them

You might get a pass on opt-ins if the contacts have had a previous commercial relationship with you (they bought something or reached out about buying), but it's best that you require contacts to specifically opt into SMS marketing messages.

Mobile carriers and 10DLC registration

Mobile carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, and their telecommunications partners, want to make sure that their customers only get text messages they want to receive and that come from legitimate organizations (i.e., carriers are trying to get rid of spam). It's a tall order, but they've done a lot to get there. The most significant step they've taken is enforcing "10DLC registration." That's a fancy term for registering your business phone numbers so you can text through their networks. To do so, you'll need:

  • Your company info, including employer ID

  • The phone number you'll use to send and receive texts

  • Your use case for texting

  • Examples of text messages you'll send

  • Proof of how contacts opt in

You'll need to submit this info to The Campaign Registry and wait for approval to begin texting. Once approved, you're welcome to start sending SMS campaigns. (A texting service should handle 10DLC registration for you).

Related: 5 SMS Marketing Best Practices to Help You Sell More Stuff

Get contacts to opt in

The two easiest ways to get contacts to opt into SMS messages are:

  • Get them to text you first

  • Have them submit a contact form

To get contacts to text you, you'll typically want to use a keyword and a promotion. For instance, you might promote "Subscribe to SMS messages for 20% off your next purchase. Text DEAL to [our number] to subscribe." Your texting service should enable an autoresponse to confirm they have opted in and to share the discount code, and add them to a keyword-specific contact list. You can also get contacts to text you by replacing "Call us…" with "Text or call us…" on your website.

On your contact forms, make sure you have a form field for their mobile number. Then add opt-in language to your form, such as: "By submitting this form, you give [company] permission to contact you through the information provided, including SMS marketing messages and updates."

Send SMS campaigns that contacts actually like

You need to make sure people actually like the messages you send them. This creates a better customer experience and keeps them from opting out. Successful SMS marketing campaigns are:

  • Relevant — based on what subscribers have opted into

  • Timely — seasonal promotions, last-minute opportunities or reminders

  • Clear and compelling — they tell you what to get and how to get it

Stick to that, and your SMS marketing campaigns should be compliant (and boost revenue).

Avoid carrier spam filters

Just like email, mobile carriers have spam filters, looking for things that are common in messages they've previously labeled spam. Things that trigger carrier spam filters include:

  • Excessive emojis (one or two tend to be fine)

  • Using the dollar sign ($), especially multiple

  • Sending shortened or Bitly links (customers can't see where the link goes)

  • Ending a message in a URL (have some text after it)

  • Messages the length of emails

  • Excessive typos

  • ALL CAPS

It's possible you can get away with any of these, but the more you've got, and the higher your sending volume, the more likely you are to be flagged as a spammer and potentially blocked. You want to avoid that.

Related: 3 SMS Trends Businesses Must Know to Succeed in 2024

Grow and prune your contact list

To see the most success, you need to be continually gathering new SMS subscribers, and you also need to remove — for lack of a better term — bad subscribers. Occasionally, someone will enter a wrong number or a phone number that can't receive texts (like a landline). Those messages won't be delivered, and that hurts your reputation with carriers, so remove them.

You'll also inevitably have someone try to opt out by replying something like "leave me alone" or "stop texting me." These responses won't trigger unsubscribe automations, but you still need to remove them. That creates a better customer experience, and it also proves to mobile carriers that the messages you're sending are good and wanted, which improves delivery rates.

The best time to start anything that helps your business is sooner rather than later. SMS marketing is no exception. And by following the advice in this article, you can send compliant SMS marketing campaigns that create a boon for your business.

Kenneth Burke

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Vice President of Marketing

Kenneth Burke has written over 1,000 articles on business growth and helped companies from pre-launch startups to billion-dollar businesses achieve their goals. He's also a champion for Chattanooga, TN and always open to a new book recommendation.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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