SMS marketing: Opt-In requirements & logistics

The CITA has established guidelines for SMS marketing to prevent unwanted traffic. Here's what you need to know.

Using SMS to reach customers is becoming one of the go-to channels for companies trying to get their message out to an audience that increasingly has distractions, making it hard to know if your marketing dollars are being well spent.

Compared to other channels, SMS marketing has higher open and engagement rates, making it an ideal channel to send out marketing messages. However, there are new guidelines from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) for sending messages, especially as relates to marketing, that businesses need to be aware of.

Not only do these guidelines better clarify what messages can be sent on what channels, but they give businesses more detail on the types of opt-in consent that are needed before messages can be sent to a customer.

So let’s take a look at why getting consent is important, the types of consent, and what a business needs to do to meet the guidelines for having customers opt-in to receiving their messages.

Getting consent before sending messages to consumers is about more than just the good karma that comes from not sending unwanted messages to people (though a little good karma never hurt anyone); it’s about your messages getting delivered.

Not adhering to the CTIA guidelines, especially those that pertain to opt-in consent from customers, can have consequences on your message deliverability. Following opt-in guidelines is one way to ensure that your messages actually get there, doubly important when you consider that you pay for every message you send, not only the ones that are delivered.

The CTIA specifically outlines requirements as they pertain to three (3) common messaging use cases. The three types are:

  • Conversational Use Cases
  • Informational Use Cases
  • Promotional Use Cases

1. Conversational Use Cases

Conversational use cases are exactly what you think they are: a conversation. Conversational messages require that the first message be sent by the customer to the business. 

Conversational use cases work on the principle of implied consent; the idea that since the customer initiated contact, they’re open to receiving messages from the business.

2. Informational Use Cases

An Informational message typically contains account updates or useful notifications like an appointment reminder. An informational message can be requested by the consumer (ie “text 1-800-555-INFO for an account update”) or sent directly from the business to the consumer without a text request.

These use cases require express consent before the first message may be sent from the business. Businesses can obtain express consent to receive text messages via a text initiated by the customer, verbally, through a form, or on a website with something a simple as a checked box counting as consent. While consent can be done in a written form, it’s not required so long as another approved form is obtained.

3. Promotional Use Cases

Texts that are marketing or promoting a business require the most in-depth type of consent before initiating the first message. Sending coupons, deals of the day, announcements, or any other types of texts that do not provide account-related information or updates fall under this umbrella. 

Promotional messaging requires express written consent, meaning that the user must fill out a form, check a box online, or give some other form of written consent to receiving texts from the business that the business is able to reference and pull from as opt-outs or updates to the customer’s communication preferences change. The consent request can be rolled into another form the user is filling out (such as a new customer profile) and does not have to be a separate one dedicated to text messaging preferences.

Why the CTIA has set opt-in guidelines

Text messaging, and especially text messaging from businesses, is growing faster than ever before. The CTIA is a working group of carriers, who have agreed to use these guidelines as their guiding light to define what does and does not classify as “unwanted” consumer text messaging traffic.  

They’re also looking to create predictability and reliability for businesses that are looking to take advantage of text messaging as a communications channel by creating best practices for them to abide by. Ultimately, the CTIA is looking to protect consumers like you and me from receiving unwanted messages—ones we didn’t sign up for. As a business who is sending text messages, these guidelines should be one of your best and most frequently used resources. 

Get expert advice

Partnering with a company that works closely with the CTIA gives you the best chance of being in compliance with their guidelines. Bandwidth gives you that. As a carrier ourselves, we’re working directly with the CTIA, helping to drive the future of messaging.

Our experts can help you understand the opt-in requirements for your specific use case, helping you and your users to have a positive messaging experience and to have your messages appropriately delivered. (Our ever-attentive lawyers also remind you that compliance with the CTIA requirements is your responsibility, even when we help you understand the opt-in requirements.)