Demystifying TCPA Compliance for SMS Marketing

illustration of mobile with sms bubbles
illustration of mobile with sms bubbles

SMS Marketing offers a better way to interact with customers. With response rates typically eight times that of email marketing, you can reach more customers and get more feedback than you typically would through other channels.

However, before you launch your first SMS campaign, you need to better understand the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and its implications on SMS marketing. In this post, you will become familiar with the TCPA so you can navigate these regulations and avoid penalties while running successful SMS campaigns.

Table of Contents

  1. What is TCPA?
  2. How Does the TCPA Apply to SMS Marketing?
  3. What are the Penalties for Violating the TCPA?
  4. Understand the Requirements of the TCPA
  5. Exceptions of the TCPA

What is TCPA?

The TCPA went into effect in 1991 to protect consumers from receiving unsolicited telephone calls and from the unregulated use of their personal information.

In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommended adding text messaging to the TCPA regulations, arguing that such messages should be viewed in the same way as telemarketing calls. This was eventually enacted in 2013, and several additions strengthening these regulations have been implemented since.

How Does the TCPA Apply to SMS Marketing?

Any person or business that markets or sells their products or services via phone calls, faxes, VoIP calls, and text messages must comply with the TCPA.

Specifically, there are two sections that all SMS marketers need to focus on which define a “telephone solicitation” and an “unsolicited advertisement.” First, a telephone solicitation is the initiation of a telephone call or message for the purpose of encouraging the purchase or rental of, or investment in, property, goods, or services, which is transmitted to any person. Second, an unsolicited advertisement is any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person’s prior express invitation or permission, in writing or otherwise.

What do these two sections mean? In simple terms, they mean that you must: 1) Obtain consent to send SMS messages, and 2) You must provide full disclosure (scope) of the messages once that person opts in.

What are the Penalties for Violating the TCPA?

If you violate the TCPA, fines range anywhere from $500 – $1,500 per text message that is sent to a person who 1) did not opt-in to receive that message, and 2) did not receive a full disclosure (scope) regarding the types of messages that would be sent, including a way for them to opt-out at any time.

Fines can easily add up. Class-action lawsuits have sometimes awarded millions of dollars in damages. The good news is that remaining compliant with the TCPA is fairly easy if you understand the requirements.

Understand the Requirements of the TCPA

How do you make sure you are TCPA-compliant? Follow these steps:

  • Obtain prior consent – Do not send any messages without getting permission first.
  • Provide a comprehensive disclosure – Describe the scope and purpose of the message every time you send one.
  • Only communicate between 8 am and 9 pm – The TCPA stipulates that all communication must occur between 8 am and 9 pm in the recipient’s time zone.
  • Identify yourself or your business in all messages – The TCPA requires that the sender provides their name or business name in every text message.
  • Provide an easy way to opt-out or unsubscribe – Create an easy way to unsubscribe at any time. Consider using a ‘STOP’ capability, where customers can text the word ‘STOP’ to cease SMS communications at any time.
  • Keep records of those who consent and those who do not – Create your own “do not call” registry, an internal list of consumers who have asked not to be texted.
  • Comply with the National Do Not Call Registry – Marketers must be in compliance with the National Do Not Call Registry. Do not text anyone on this list, or you may be subject to fines or other penalties.

Exceptions to the TCPA

For the most part, the TCPA applies to marketing text messages and promotional messages that are transactional and aim to sell. However, some non-commercial messages and urgent or emergency SMS texts can be exempt. Some examples of these messages are:

  • Utilities sending texts regarding outages or service interruptions
  • Pharmacies sending texts regarding prescription availability
  • Schools sending texts regarding closures or health risks

Stay TCPA Compliant!

Now that you understand the basics of the TCPA, ensure you include all of these provisions in your SMS marketing campaigns.

Not only will it help you to stay out of trouble, but it will greatly improve the customer experience and sales efforts by meeting the customers where they are, which is on their mobile devices.