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SMS messaging has been around for over twenty years and is well regulated, more so in some countries than others. It might seem like a daunting task to ensure you’re compliant with your regional regulations and codes of best practices when communicating via SMS, but it really doesn’t have to be.
Regional Regulations Contact Support Download PDF Version
In this guide, we take you through the five best practices that the messaging industry associations and regional regulations expect you to follow when sending SMS communications.
If you’d like more information specifically on the regulations pertaining to your country, see our Regional Regulations page, or email us if you have any questions.
Before sending your very first message to a customer make sure you have their consent. There are various ways that your customers can opt-in: they may give permission via SMS, fill in an online form, or they may verbally give consent, allowing you to make contact with them. When it comes to promotional messaging there needs to be a record of their consent. A tick box on a website, electronic acceptance or written consent must be collected and stored.
The table below indicates what type of consent is required when sending SMS messages, whether transactional or promotional messages. It also recommends best practice relating to the content of the messages that you might want to send.
Source: Adapted from the CTIA Messaging Principles and Best Practice
When sending SMS messages make sure that the message recipient (your contact) knows who it is coming from. You can do this by adding your company name at the beginning of your message and contact details at the end of your message, or, if the mobile networks allow it, you can identify your company or campaign name using a Sender ID. Note though that when using a Sender ID your messages are not repliable. You will then need to provide contact details in the SMS message to help your customers get hold of you.
If you are sending an informational or transactional message, for example, an OTP or confirmation of a transaction, you should still include your company name. If space is an issue be sure that your customers can recognize that the SMS they have received is related to, or as a result of an action they have just taken on your website or interface, or as part of an ongoing process. For example, when someone purchases a product online, the initial SMS message, confirming the order would be as a result of the initial action taken. The SMS messages regarding delivery dates and times would be as part of the process.
Your customers need to know how to opt-out or revoke their consent to receive your SMS communications, at any time, especially if they are marketing messages. The MEF A2P SMS Code of Conduct states that you should include opt-out guidance at the point when and where your customers opt-in to receive your communications. It is your responsibility to tell them the process they need to follow to opt-out. Most of the time a simple “Reply STOP to opt-out” in the body of your SMS message will do. However, some countries have more stringent opt-out requirements so it is best to check your Regional Regulations for the applicable rules. Opt-outs must be actioned as soon as technically possible.
Remember, if you are sending your messages with a Sender ID your customers cannot reply directly to your messages, so you will need to tell them how to opt-out in the SMS message. One way to do this is to get them to send their opt-out request to an incoming number, which you would include in your outgoing SMS message. Another way is to include your telephone contact details or a link to your website in your SMS message.
When it comes to promotional SMS messages it is extremely important that a customer knows how to opt-out from receiving your communications. Many countries have regulations in place that aim to protect consumers from receiving unwanted marketing messages. It is important to consult your country regulator on their specific opt-out requirements.
For example, the Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals) has a section in their Direct Marketing guidebook that relates specifically to a customer’s right to opt-out. They state that “The right to object to marketing is absolute and you must stop processing for these purposes when someone objects.”
Another good example is given by the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) of South Africa. They’re a self-regulatory body with quite a strict code of conduct and, when it comes to the sending of marketing or promotional SMS messages, they state that clear instructions for opting-out must be included in the body of each SMS message. A recipient must be able to opt-out of any further direct marketing messages sent via SMS by replying with the word “STOP”.
We can give you a few more examples from different regulatory authorities from all over the world, but they will all say something very similar: You need to stop contacting the customers who have opted-out of your marketing and promotional messages. You need to keep a record of who these customers are so that you do not contact them again. This is best practice.
We know that there is an increased focus on data protection due to many countries implementing regulatory frameworks for data privacy. As a company, we have met GDPR compliance obligations and as we are a signatory of the MEF A2P SMS Code of Conduct, we promise to adhere to the best data privacy practices when collecting, processing, and transmitting customers’ personal data (as covered under section 10.4 of the MEF A2P SMS Code of Conduct). This means that we advocate for and comply with industry best practices and data protection regulations. We expect you to do the same for your customers as per the data protection laws and regulations that apply to your organisation.
There are different rules that apply when it comes to the nature of your SMS message. We’ve touched earlier on the two types of messages, namely, promotional (or marketing) messages and transactional messages, and we’ll go through these in a bit more detail under this section.
It should be noted that your SMS message content must not:
• Violate any laws or regulations.
• Be deliberately deceptive.
• Contain obscene or pornographic content.
• Be harmful to minors
• Be defamatory in nature.
Some countries have regulations around the registering of SMS message content and Sender IDs. In these instances, you will need to register your message template and Sender ID with countries authorities and/or service providers before you can actually send promotional or transactional SMS messages. This is a good thing. It means that when sending SMS messages to these countries the delivery of your registered messages will take priority over other SMS traffic.
Now, let’s look at Promotional Messaging Content:
Some countries have regulations in place to limit perceived nuisance related to the sending of marketing and promotional messages. If you are unsure, the MEF A2P SMS Code of Conduct recommends you use common sense and best judgement (for example, only send promotional messages during waking hours during the business/office work week, avoid public holidays and days of religious observance).
Make sure you have a clear and concise call-to-action in your message. Identify who the message is coming from and guide your contact on what you want them to do next and on what channel they should respond. In some instances, a reply to your SMS messages may cost more than a standard message in your country would cost. We have local replies in this list of countries, but if you're expecting a reply from countries outside of this list, we recommend you test the reply costs on each network. And don’t forget your opt-out instructions.
Let’s look at Transactional Messaging Content:
The rules regarding transactional messaging aren’t nearly as rigorous as what they are for promotional messaging. The reason for this is that the expectation of the message recipient is different. Transactional or informational messages are typically sent because the recipient wants, or at the very least, expects the message. It is, however, still good practice to ensure that your message recipient knows who has sent the SMS message and they understand the purpose of the message that has been sent.
And there you have it, our five best practices to keep your SMS communications going strong. Apply these five best practices to your SMS communications and you’ll be sending for years to come! If we have left anything out, or you’d like more information on a certain country or region, please contact us.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this guidebook is provided as a best practice guideline to our customers and is neither intended nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and your business or organization’s regulatory compliance team.