Okay, so maybe it isn’t “illegal,” but if you’re doing SMS wrong, it could cost you as much as $1,500 in fines, per text.
Yes, you read that correctly…$1,500. Per. Text.
As of October 16, 2013, marketers who have not gained prior written consent from consumers to send them SMS marketing messages will potentially face fines of up to $1,500 per unsolicited message under the new TCPA guidelines.
In other words, if your current SMS strategy uses longer texts that may carry over to two different messages per user, this could get VERY pricey … that is, if you don’t adhere to the new rules.
Keep in mind — these guidelines impact not only every new opt-in that a marketer acquires, but also the existing names in their databases. Yes, your SMS opt-ins need to opt-in again. Otherwise, you could face a hefty class action lawsuit.
A quick look at the rules
We STRONGLY encourage you to review the updated rules, so you don’t find yourself out of compliance with the FCC. But, here’s a quick overview.
For ALL new text subscribers, you will need to adhere to the following:
- You now need express written and signed consent from all opt-ins to receive text correspondences from your company.
- Correspondence must state “consent to get texts not required OR condition of purchase.”
- Provide opt-out and help instructions.
- Indicate frequency of texts.
- Indicate that messages may come from autodialers/senders.
- Disclosure of possible carrier costs and fees.
- If directing to a landing page, any check box fields MUST be left unchecked.
- Content sent must match that requested by the initial opt-in.
Additionally, for all members of your current database, you will need to:
- Get new consent from ALL who did not do so previously.
- Share disclosure.
- Send a compliant text to re-establish opt-in.
How should you handle this?
When addressing these changes with your text recipients, it’s important to present the information in a way that conveys the point about opting in, without clouding the key messaging. In this case, it means explaining that you need their opt-in again, while reiterating your value proposition so they WANT to stay onboard.
First, let’s start out with what not to do. Take, for example, this text series from Redbox, a major video rental outlet:
It covers the opt-in (or re-opt-in), provides a link to the details of the regulation, and gives clear instruction about how to stop messaging or how to get more information and help.
So, what makes it “less than effective?”
1. Excess Length
Redbox’s mobile marketing team seemed so hellbent on getting this message out there, its creator forgot to do a little nip/tuck work on the verbiage, and instead chose to send this as a two-part message (which will likely appear to the recipient out of order).
Had they just found a way to consolidate “Texts may be sent using an automatic telephone dialing system,” or “Consent not required for any purchase,” they could have squeezed this into one, (slightly) easier-to-consume text message.
Also, if they had a link that led to a clearly defined landing page, there would be plenty of room to get the point across, instead of wasting it with numerous, confusing links.
Speaking of which…
2. Lack of Context
The message opens with “Redbox: Reply LOVE now to keep getting our texts after 10/16 (linked).” Not only can this be shortened, but why are they asking me to do my own research by clicking the obscure, unclear “10/16″ link text? If I’m curious, I may click. But, more than likely I’ll have better things to do …
… like delete this message before I read any further.
Also, what does “LOVE” have to do with a DVD rental company, or its messages? Context-specific text, like “OPT-IN,” “TEXTME,” “JOIN” or anything else more action-oriented would convey a sense of urgency and motivate the reader to take a next step.
3. Confusing Language
Now, no one is going to confuse SMS for high art — it’s a medium of efficiency and near-real-time interaction. But that’s no excuse for poor phrasing or confusing language. The end of this text message leaves a lot to the imagination — a luxury most readers won’t afford you.
The message closes with “Reply STOP to cancel,HELP for help. Up to 2 msgs/week. New Terms: [LINK].”
The awkward phrasing (and again, lack of context) begs a few questions: First, should I expect two messages per week? Or, am I allowed to send just two help request messages per week? To a marketer, this may be clear. But, can we assume this on the part of the audience? Doubtful.
Secondly, what are the new terms about? Is this Redbox’s terms for sending? Is it FCC-related? Have I just entered into a new agreement? How is this link different than the “10/16″ link from the previous message?
Chances are, this could have been solved just by making one CLEAR link, rather than two ambiguous ones.
4. Hierarchy of Messaging
While 155-170 characters doesn’t afford you much space to be gracious, your brand must continue to be represented in ALL communications, regardless of medium. The team felt it would best convey urgency by outright telling readers to reply, following it with a small incentive.
Instead of hammering readers over the head, maybe Redbox should have considered reminding them why they would WANT to keep receiving messages.
Perhaps: “Redbox Alerts: Want to keep getting exclusive deals on top DVD rentals? Reply LOVE to confirm!”
Again, it’s far from artistic, but it clearly states a promise of ongoing value, with no ambiguity.
A better example…
Yesterday, my wife signed up for text alerts and discounts from 7-11 (which still serves the best coffee in the world, without requiring fluency in fake Italian to pick a beverage size). She followed the directions and received the following:
Here’s why this is a better message. First, it opens with a clear indicator of source. Even putting just “7-11″ before the message wouldn’t be as explicit in conveying the purpose of the text. When some companies offer multiple SMS marketing options, this little step helps reassure the recipient they signed up for this offer, and that it contains information relevant to their needs.
Next, they consolidate the approval to a “Y” rather than “Yes.” With such a limited character count, every free space matters. This leads to a clearly — and cleverly — defined value proposition.
Here, by replying “Y,” the user immediately knows they will be receiving exclusive coupons and alerts — up to eight times per month. Whether intentional or not, by indicating frequency, 7-11 actually managed to boost value through word placement.
What’s better than knowing you’re getting a deal? Knowing you’re getting eight of them, that’s what.
After succinctly stating opt-out and help options, 7-11 made a smart move to offer a very legible URL. While abbreviated links help preserve space, their random, disconnected appearance could hinder clickthroughs.
Instead, 7-11 created a short, but clear vanity URL that lets the recipient know it’s connected to the company website, and directly relates to their privacy standards. Upon clicking through, recipients can see the company’s entire SMS policy.
… but is it compliant?
7-11 seemingly did everything right, but these new TCPA regulations are stringent. And one key element missing from yesterday’s 7-11 opt-in text is that it doesn’t clearly indicate “consent to get texts is not required and/or a condition of purchase.”
The devil lies in the details here, folks.
Our advice? Let a landing page do some heavy lifting for your incentives and promos. That’s not to say you shouldn’t offer calls-to-action or relevant info through your texts, but you must also be considerate of your recipients, not to mention the restrictions of the medium.
Even though you might think a promo-free text is a wasted endeavor, when space is at a premium, and FCC-mandated text at a maximum, it’s best to keep it simple:
- Clearly state the name of the sender and provide a distinct value proposition (don’t hide the opt-in)
- Provide opt-out instructions
- Indicate frequency of texts
- Disclose carrier costs and fees
- Include assistance language — “Text STOP or email XXXX or HELP for assistance”
- Include data language — “Message and data rates apply”
Yeah, that’s a mouthful. But then again, so are the pages of legal documents you’ll be forced to review if you don’t comply.
A straightforward, clearly stated text message, complicit with FCC and TCPA regulations, may be more difficult to create, but will likely pay dividends simply by keeping you in front of recipients, and out of hot water with potential spam whistle blowers.
And, not for anything, but you should reassess your members regularly – have them re-up for SMS marketing on a regular schedule to minimize the possibility of complaints, and increase the quality of your lists … and the results that come from them.
So what do you think?
If you haven’t yet, read through these regulations. Then let us know – are these new rules fair or unfair?
How do you plan to change your SMS strategies to account for these new rules, and do you think it will affect your business?
Comment below, and let’s talk about it. As a group, I bet we can come up with a healthy list of solutions and ideas…