In recent years, text messaging for businesses has emerged to be one of the most powerful channels to communicate with customers. Promising open rates of over 95%, this “800 pound gorrilla” is multiple folds more effective in outreach than email or any channel, for that matter, including personally knocking on your customers’ doors. However, with great power comes great responsibility. To avoid misuse of this channel, the United States Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”) has laid down ground rules that govern commercial or marketing messages, whether SMS, MMS or chat. Let’s review best practices for utilizing text message engagement for your business while remaining compliant.

Consent

TCPA requires that messages are sent only with the consent of the message recipient. Additionally, it’s imperative that messages comply with the local laws and measures of fairness & decency. Before you send your first text message, you must obtain an agreement from your members to communicate with them. You must make it clear that they are agreeing to receiving the type of messages you are planning to send.  

The most effective way is to include this agreement as a part of your membership contract. However you need to ensure that your contract clearly states that agreeing to receiving text messages is not a pre-requisite to signing up with your business. 

Existing members who have not consented yet may be contacted via email with clear details of your texting program with an option to opt-in should they choose to do so. 

While consent is always required and the method above is generally the safest route, there are two exceptions wherein consent can be received differently.

  • Contact Initiated by the Member – If a member or prospect first messages you, you are free to respond in exchange. Remember the consent here is limited to that conversation only and you cannot send additional messages outside the realm of that conversation unless you obtain explicit consent.
  • Transactional Messages as part of the Member Account – You can send transactional messages that provide information requested by the member or that can be reasonably expected by the member based on your relationship. Examples of such transactional messages may include: appointment reminders, receipts, one-time passwords, order confirmations, payment dues etc. You cannot use this to promote special offers to your member.

Double Opt-In

Double opt-in is required in certain limited cases, however it’s always good practice to implement double opt-in as part of your opt-in process.

This is a two-step process –

  1. First obtain consent from your member through the consent agreement as described above.
  2. Second send them a confirmation message identifying your business and requesting them to respond back to confirm their consent. This can be as simple as a “YES” response back.

Hours & Days 

Text messages can be seen as intrusive when sent at the wrong time. Therefore it is best practice to send messages only during business hours of 8am – 8pm in the timezone of the member. You should stick to messaging your members Mon – Sat only.

Supporting HELP & STOP Keywords 

It’s important to give your members an easy and clear way to opt out of receiving text messages. This means adding a simple “Text STOP to opt out” line at the end of every message you send out. Any member that replies “STOP” should be opted out & never be sent a message again unless he or she chooses to opt back in again. You should keep a record of all opt in and opt out requests. The “HELP” keyword should provide details of the texting program with a link to terms & conditions.

Cancelled Members 

If a member cancels his or her membership with your club, it is best practice to avoid sending any text messages to him going forward. 

Identifying Yourself as the Sender

As a best practice, you should always include your brand name within the text messages to identify yourself as the sender. This excludes any follow-up messages in an ongoing conversation.

Age & Geographic Gating

In addition to obtaining consent from your members, you should also ensure that no message recipient is younger than the legal age of consent based on where the recipient is located. You should refrain from sending any content that is offensive, inappropriate, pornographic, obscene, illegal or otherwise objectionable, even if the content is permissible by law and appropriate age restrictions are in place. 

You must be able to provide proof that you have measures in place to ensure compliance with these restrictions.

The above rules are just best practices as seen in the industry and should not be considered as a legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel as needed when implementing a compliant texting program.