SMS Required Language

When do you need to include that now-familiar phrase, “Message and data rates may apply”? Who makes the rules and who enforces them? What happens if you don’t follow them? If the rules are so strict, why am I getting text spam? Read on for the answers to these fascinating questions and more.

Who makes the rules? The rules governing SMS messaging are drafted and agreed on by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), a non-profit organization that brings together all the players in mobile marketing worldwide to promote the medium and agree on the standards. Requirements are published by the MMA for all senders worldwide and can be found here. U.S. standards are contained in U.S. Consumer Best Practices.

Who enforces them? The standards are enforced by the Consumer Telecommunications Industry Association. It monitors SMS programs for compliance with the MMA requirements and issues violation notices to offenders. (Actually, it issues the violation to the aggregator, who notifies the short code owner – typically a marketing intermediary – who notifies the sender.)

What happens if you don’t follow them? Violations are rated according to severity and given a deadline for compliance. Severe and unaddressed issues can result in your short code being frozen or shut down.

What are the rules? SMS promotions must include seven things:

  1. Sender: The company responsible for the messages
  2. Content: A description of the types of messages that will be sent
  3. Cost: “Message and data rates may apply”
  4. Frequency: “Get X messages per day/week/month”
  5. How to opt out: “Text stop to opt out”
  6. Where to go to get more information: “Text help/go to 800-555-1212 for more information”
  7. Terms and conditions: A link to the terms and conditions page

If the promotion media is a web or print form rather than a text-to-join, the customer must “confirm ownership of the handset,” which means they must confirm the opt-in. In the email biz, we would call this a double opt-in. Once the form is processed (the sooner, the better, but not during quiet hours*), the customer must receive a message asking for a confirmation: “Thank you for your interest in text messages from Company A. Please reply ‘yes’ to confirm.” *Quiet hours recommended: 9 p.m. to 11 a.m. by time zone.

(Note: language in italics is acceptable but not the only acceptable form.)

Following the opt-in, the marketer must send a text that includes items 1-6 above. Significant changes in the content or frequency of the program must be updated in the terms and conditions and may require approval from the carriers.

SMS Messages

For recurring message programs, you do not need to have this information in every message you send, but you do need to occasionally remind consumers about the terms of their subscriptions by sending a message with items 1-6. When asking a consumer to respond to a message, you must always include the “Message and data rates may apply” copy. When a consumer opts out of a program, you must confirm that the message was received and state that the consumer will receive no further messages from you. See the MMA Best Practices Guidelines for complete information.

Why do I get text spam? Text messages are actually emails sent to your phone. Your phone has an email address in roughly this format: Spammers can use dictionary attacks to send to likely mobile numbers and succeed in sending spam to your phone. There are ways to block them, described by Lifehacker here, but unless it’s a significant problem, just delete them.

I am attending the MMA Forum in New York at this moment, and there is a meeting tomorrow to discuss messaging guidelines, so I’ll comment if there are any changes.

Until then, follow the rules and provide great consumer value!

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