A Guide To SMS Opt-In & Opt-Out Messages

A look at the history of SMS and why it matters.

The SMS relationship between a customer and a business should always begin with an opt-in message. The obligatory nature of this first compliance text message might not leave much creative freedom to impress your audience. Since it is the first SMS interaction they will receive from your brand, this initial message must fulfill legal requirements and set the tone for future communications. In this guide, learn why compliance matters and how to create a first message that leaves a lasting impression. 

First, what is compliance?

A brand must receive consent from the message recipient to send text messages. There are several ways for a recipient to opt-in to messaging, and the level of consent needed plays a factor—more on that in a minute. Compliance is more than a simple affirmation from consumers to allow communication through this channel. Texting campaigns must also follow carrier compliance requirements, industry standards, and applicable laws to be compliant. Regulations by the CTIA, TCPA, and wireless carriers play a significant role in keeping SMS a spam-free communication channel.

Note: This guide will be focusing on compliance for short codes, but if you have questions on rules, regulations, or practices for 10DLC compliance, reach out to our team for guidance.

Who are the CTIA & TCPA?

The CTIA is an organization created by wireless carriers to provide specific guidelines for SMS marketing and enforce those practices through audits. The CTIA has provided detailed guidelines relating to message and data rates, message frequency, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and more, all with the consumer’s best interests in mind. These practices are guidelines, not laws, but still, carry heavy consequences if violations occur. Violators of the CTIA guidelines face account suspensions until the violation is resolved or improved.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), on the other hand, is a federal law. Enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the TCPA was enacted to address the growing number of unwanted marketing “robocalls.” The TCPA restricts automated calling and messaging by requiring consent to make calls to a consumer, and violators face significant fines per violation instance.

CTIA’s Four Guiding Principles of SMS Marketing

The CTIA has four guiding principles that serve as the baseline for all messaging requirements. As you begin building a plan for communicating with your customers via SMS, follow these principles as a road map.

  1. Clear Calls-To-Action: When asking consumers to opt-in to your messaging, they must be made aware of what they are signing up to receive in clear language. Let them know if they are signing up for deals and promotions, news and updates, account alerts, etc.
  2. Applicable Consent Mechanism: Consumer consent requirements must be met, and recipients must have control over the messages they receive.
  3. Send Opt-In Confirmation Messages: As stated earlier, the first message received must be the opt-in confirmation message.
  4. Acknowledge and honor opt-out requests: When a recipient opts out of your communication, send a message confirming their removal from your list.

Refer to the CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook for more details on these principles.

Foundations For Creating Opt-In & Opt-Out Messaging

The consumer’s ability to control who they receive messages from, how often, and to stop at any time makes texting a reliable tool for all parties involved. The guidelines and regulations around choice and consent are why SMS is trusted and preferred by consumers. Consumers should be made aware of the nature of the message they are receiving, truly desire it, and only receive text messages they have opted in to.

“The opt-in for all Short Code programs must comply with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements, including for example those established under the TCPA; the CAN-SPAM Act; the Communications Act of 1934, as amended; the Federal Trade Commission Act; and implementing regulations and decisions adopted by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission. “– CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook

An opt-out is the recipient’s choice to end communication from the sender, regardless of consent. Opt-out language should be included in the initial call-to-action, terms and conditions, and opt-in confirmation.

While STOP is the standard word for opt-out requests, other words should be recognized, such as end, stop, quit, opt me out, opt-out, unsubscribe. It’s important to honor these requests in a timely fashion. Regardless of opt-in status, if a customer care request is made via the HELP keyword, the sender should respond with information on how to further communicate with customer care.

CTIA’s Opt-Out Guidelines:

  1. Sender ensures that consumers can opt out at any time.
  2. Sender should support multiple methods for opt-out (phone call, email, text).
  3. Sender should acknowledge all opt-out requests by sending a final confirmation message.

Types of Messaging & Consent Required:

Conversational (Implied Consent) – A back-and-forth interaction over text message between a consumer and business is considered Conversational messaging. If a consumer initiates this message and the business only responds to each request with relevant information, consent is implied, and no verbal or written permission is needed.

Informational (Express Consent) – Information messaging is when consumers give their phone number to a business and ask to be contacted in the future with content such as appointment reminders, alerts, or welcome texts. Capture express permission over text, form, written communication, websites, or verbally before sending informational text messages.

Promotional (Express Written Consent) – Sales and marketing promotions fall into Promotional messaging. If a call-to-action, like a coupon code, is included in the message, it may fall into this category. Express written consent is needed for promotional messaging and can be captured by signing a form, checking a box online, or other written consent forms. Express written consent can be caught on other sign-up forms, contracts, or instances of information requests collected by the business.

Establish For Your Future

There are many guidelines and regulations that need to be considered before a texting relationship can begin between a business and consumer. Establishing a foundation for SMS campaigns that follow TCPA rules and CTIA guidelines allow for healthy, positive, long-term interactions. In part two, we will look at creating the first text message that needs to be sent to recipients. If you have questions about SMS opt-in and opt-out, our team can help.

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