Insights & Resources8 min read

Complete Guide to SMS Opt-In & Sending Compliant Texts

As the critical first step in all your future communication, learn what you need to know about SMS opt-in and how to be compliant.

Brian Segal
Consumer selecting SMS opt-in option
Believe it or not, your SMS opt-in message is probably the most valuable SMS marketing asset you can create. Sending an SMS opt-in is a matter of compliance. But it’s also a critical moment in the conversation with your customers, where you establish trust and open the door to further contact.
As such, it’s vital that your SMS opt-in is perfect.

What is SMS Opt-In?

From a compliance standpoint, your customers must willingly give you permission to text them. Your text opt-in is anything that prompts a customer to give you written permission to send them SMS messages. It’s best to get this written permission when you get a customer’s phone number.
Also, you cannot text a customer to ask for permission to continue texting them. If you want to use SMS for your text opt-in, ask customers to text an opt-in keyword to your SMS marketing number. But, regardless of how you ask customers for permission to text them, make sure that you get some form of written documentation that a customer willingly chose to let you text them.

Why Opt-In Texting is Important

Legal compliance is the big reason why sending an opt-in text is important. The TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) explicitly states that you must get consent—in writing—before sending commercial text messages to any customer. The TCPA helps protect consumers from robotexts and spam.
Fines for texting customers without permission can be as high as $18,936 per violation. Each non-compliant text is considered a separate violation. So these fines can stack up fast.
But your SMS opt-in isn’t just a matter of TCPA compliance. It’s also bad marketing practice to send texts to customers who don’t want to hear from you.
If a customer doesn’t want to receive text messages from your business, it’s unlikely that your text messages will compel them to make a purchase. And your unwanted text messages could do more harm than good if people complain to their friends and colleagues about your unwanted texts.
Customer referrals are some of your best sales assets. But things can go badly if people recommend against buying from your business. Getting permission to text customers is a matter of TCPA compliance. But it’s also good for business.

What about Opting Out?

In addition to requiring customers to opt-in to receive text messages, the TCPA also requires that you provide clear instructions and an easy method for opting out of receiving text messages.
If you’ve ever received a commercial text message, you probably also received a message that said something like, “Reply STOP to this message to stop receiving text messages.” That’s the text opt-out.
Now, do you need to include opt-out language in every message? Technically, no. However, It’s best to include these opt-out instructions at the end of every text interaction. That way you can be reasonably sure that you’re meeting the requirements for clear opt-out instructions and easy opt-out.
Also, you should consider it an opt-out by default if you send an opt-in email or otherwise ask a customer for permission to text them (just never text customers to ask permission to text them).

TCPA Opt-In Guidelines

In addition to requiring that businesses never send SMS messages to anyone without their permission, the TCPA also has specific guidelines for what makes an opt-in compliant.
First, 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.
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 value proposition. If you offered any sort of discount or reward for opting in to receive text messages, you must deliver that offer in this first message.
  4. Outline possible SMS carrier costs and fees.
  5. Provide instructions to opt-out or get more information.
Also, even though it’s not a compliance requirement, it’s a good idea to prompt customers to send a text confirming that they want to continue receiving text messages. Use a simple message like, “Reply YES to this message to continue receiving texts.” This can be the second message you send. If the customer doesn’t respond or replies with something other than “YES,” you should consider it an opt-out.
This is known as a double opt-in. It’s the best way to ensure that you have permission to text a customer. Obviously, compliance is crucial. But there are other aspects of a successful SMS opt-in.

Opt-In Tips for Success

The TCPA outlines the information that you must provide in your SMS opt-in. But text is a conversational channel. So it’s important that your SMS opt-in comes across as friendly, and not too transactional.
The first and most important step is to get consent to send text messages to customers. The simplest, most streamlined way to get permission to send SMS messages is to give customers the opportunity to opt-in when they give you their phone number.
You can also use your other marketing channels to get customers to opt-in to getting SMS messages from you. Send a quick email to collect phone numbers and get consent to text.
Or you can create an automated system, where customers can text a keyword to your system and request to get texts from you. Once customers have texted you, then you can send a message to confirm they’ve given you permission to text them.
But, no matter how you obtain it, make sure to get consent before you send any text messages.

Introduce Yourself

It’s vital to let people know who’s texting them. Otherwise customers may immediately opt-out because they have no idea who your texts are from.
The first line of your text messages should include a quick introduction. Use personalization to make your introduction more friendly. Your introduction can be a simple greeting—using the customer’s name, if you have it—followed by a few words that tells them who’s texting them.
Obviously, it’s especially important to introduce yourself in your first message. But it’s also wise to remind people who’s texting them each time you start a new text conversation with a customer. That way people always know who’s texting them. And, if you send good text messages, your customers will be happy to hear from you.

Offer Value

If you offer a reward for opting into receiving your text messages, you must send that reward in your first text. That’s required for TCPA compliance.
However, customers should get some benefit from receiving your texts. Discounts are a fairly standard incentive. But you can also give your SMS subscribers early access to sales or new products, or use your SMS channel to give customers a simple way to place orders.
You can probably think up other ways to offer value in your SMS messages. But the important part is that customers get some benefit from receiving your texts, and that you always deliver the value you offer.

Use Clear and Concise Language

Text messages over 160 characters get split into multiple text messages. If you send a very long text message, the recipient’s phone is going to explode with a string of incoming messages.
Therefore, it’s best to keep your messages short. 160 characters or less is ideal. But always communicate your message in the shortest space possible. Also, keep your language simple. SMS messaging isn’t the place to get fancy with your words.
Short, simple, and clear text messages always work best. Get in, deliver value, and get out before your text ends up being several texts that blow up customers’ phones.

Disclose Important Information

Texting isn’t free. And, some customers are on plans that require them to pay for incoming text messages. People also have a tendency to forget how their phone service is billed. So they might be surprised when they get their phone bill and see that receiving your texts costs them money.
That’s why it’s important to include a little snippet of text that reminds customers of the possible SMS costs and fees. It’s required for TCPA compliance. But it also reduces your opt-out rate, since it saves your customers from unexpected SMS costs.
You can use a boilerplate statement to disclose this information, to streamline your SMS creation process. There’s no way to know the exact costs for each customer. You just need to remind them that there may be additional charges.

Include Options for Help and to Opt Out

Lastly, texting is super easy. People prefer texting over calling. So you should keep your SMS channel open for two-way communication. That way customers can text you to get quick answers. And you can generate automated responses to common questions, using keywords to reduce strain on your customer service teams.
But customers won’t know that they can text you for help if you don’t let them know. You also must include opt-out instructions in each text conversation as part of TCPA compliance. So you may as well offer customer service, as well. Offering customer service will also reduce opt-out rates, since people can ask for help rather than opting out.
Above all, keep your SMS opt-in messages (and all your text conversations) as conversational as possible. Be friendly, not too transactional, and your SMS marketing will pay dividends.
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