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SMS Compliance Overview Guide
SMS Compliance Overview Guide

Everything you need to know

Tips avatar
Written by Tips
Updated over a week ago

SMS marketing gives you great channels to communicate with your customers. But sending a text message to the wrong person at the wrong time may put your business at risk of legal action. At EngageMessage, compliance is out top priority. This guide is put together to help you understand the details of SMS compliance.

Note: Text messaging laws vary by country. The laws covered in this guide are specifically around US laws. If your business is located in another country, or you have customers in other countries, follow all SMS laws and legal requirements in the areas where you do business.


You may already heard of the buzzwords like opt-in, opt-out, TCPA and CTIA, but don't really understand the meaning of them.

  • Opt-in: your customers must willingly give you permission to text them. So your SMS opt-in is anything that prompts a customer to give you written permission to send them SMS messages. Normally, when you collect customer's phone number, you'll want to ask customers to text an opt-in keyword to get their permission. For example, "Reply Y to confirm your opt-in". That's the text opt-in.

  • Opt-out: you are required to provide your customers clear instructions and an easy method for opting out of receiving text messages. You may have received a commercial text message that said something like "Reply STOP to this message to stop receiving text messages." That's the text opt-out.

  • TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act): that is the laws that regulate how companies can use SMS and MMS text messaging services to reach out to their consumers.

  • CTIA ( Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association): that's an association of mobile carriers that sets rules and standards for the SMS marketing industry.

Simply stated, the underlying purpose of both the U.S. regulatory and telecommunication industry rules that govern businesses’ and organizations’ use of SMS to communicate with users is to ensure that people do not receive SMS communications that they do not want to receive. Put another way, people should only receive SMS communications they want to receive from businesses or organizations.

The 5 Most Important Things to Know About SMS Compliance

#1 Express Written Consent

According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), customers must give businesses “express written consent” before the business sends them automated promotional text messages. This written consent can’t be buried in a pages-long form full of legalese. It must be clear and conspicuous, so the customers knows what they’re signing up for. Failure to adhere to this guideline is one of many possible TCPA violations.

You must get consent before you send the first text message to a customer, or the customer must request to get text messages from you by sending you a text message. Just to be clear, you cannot text a customer to ask for permission to text them. Don't worry, EngageMessage have different ways for you to receive consent from your customers, such as:

  • Send a keyword to your number based on an ad that includes the required terms

  • Enter a phone number into a web form online with the required terms

Please also note that even if they have opted into your email list and you have their phone number from a signup form, this does not mean they consent to receive text messages from you. This means that express written consent isn't just for new contacts. It's for all contacts. Even those contacts that you imported to EngageMessage.

#2 Clear and Easy Opt-out

It's important to provide an automated way for customers to opt out at any time. This can be as simple as replying "stop" to a text message that you sent them. Think of this as a way to "unsubscribe" from text marketing. Opt-out instructions should be provided at regular intervals and at least once per month.

#3 Confirmation Message

Once you have consent to send text messages to a customer, here’s what you must include in your first text message to new SMS subscribers:

  1. Your company name.

  2. Message frequency. Typically this is the number of messages you plan to send every month.

  3. Provide your campaign purpose. Let your subscribers know what they’re signing up for. Are they getting reminders? Coupons? Tips? Specify what you’re offering so there aren’t any surprises.

  4. Outline possible SMS carrier costs and fees.

  5. Provide instructions to opt-out or get more information.

To help you get started as smoothly as possible, EngageMessage made this process automatic for you. Anytime a new user subscribes to one of your lists, the system will send out the required disclosures in a text.

Here’s what your automatic confirmation message looks like:

#4 Time of Day Restrictions

The TCPA prohibits any telephone solicitation (including text messages) anytime before 8 am and after 9 pm in the recipient's time zone (known as "quiet hours"), but certain states have more restrictive rules.

To be safe, you should only send texts during normal hours (9 am to 8 pm in the recipient's time zone). If you have customers in different time zones, you’ll need to take multiple time zones into consideration.

EngageMessage builds in the quiet hours rules for all SMS broadcast automatically, preventing broadcast SMS from sending before 9 am and after 8 pm.

#5 What You Can't Text

The CTIA also sets rules to regulate the content of your messages. One of these rules is known as SHAFT—sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco. Including content related to any of these topics in your call-to-action or any of your messages is considered one of the highest violations, and may result in an immediate ban.

Companies that sell alcohol or tobacco can still message their audience about deals and specials but must include an age gate so only people above the legally permitted age can sign up to receive texts.

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