Monday, April 12, 2010

Text-Messaging Opt-in/Opt-out Regulations

Recent discussions about e-mail marketing best practices at HBR prompted a discussion here at Unwired Appeal about text-message alert best practices. It was a short discussion seeing as the world of text messaging is a bit more black and white than the world of e-mail. In e-mail, the CAN-SPAM act allows some latitude for ESPs to differentiate themselves by creating their own policies. Some ESPs are very strict, others not. In the text messaging world, service providers aren't given the choice. The regulations are clear. Neglect to follow the rules and you run the risk of having a your network connections severed overnight and possibly being hauled into court (read about several real cases).

Who regulates text message service providers, and why should our customer care? Text-messaging (SMS) service providers are strictly regulated by the wireless carriers. All services must be reviewed and approved by the carriers before launch. When running, the services are continually monitored and audited by each of the wireless carriers for compliance. Our customers care because they know that if they partner with an unscrupulous SMS service provider, they run the risk of having their alerts or marketing campaigns shut down mid-stream.

One of the most important aspects of compliance is following the opt-in/opt-out and database management standards of the carriers. These can be complex as they vary somewhat carrier. Fortunately, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has been working with the carriers to create a uniform set of standards. The latest version can be found at MMA Best Practices.

Following is a overview of the current regulations for Text-Messaging “Alerts”. This only covers “standard rate” services. “Premium rate” services (additional monthly subscription fees charged) use a stricter set of regulations.

Single Opt-in versus Double Opt-in

Single opt-in is now allowed by all carriers when the opt-in is initiated by the end-user sending a text-message to the service (MO opt-in). For example, “Text JOIN to 47647 to sign-up up for JellyBean Alerts”.

You can also ask an end-user to subscribe by entering his/her cell phone number on a website (Web opt-in). But when you use this method, T-Mobile requires that you perform a double opt-in. The second opt-in is in the form of a text-message sent to the subscriber asking for a reply of “YES” to confirm the opt-in. A pin-code verification method is also acceptable.

WAP and IVR opt-in methods are also possible but they are outside the scope of this post (send me an email if you would like an overview of WAP/IVR).

Call-to-action (CTA) and Messaging Requirements (MMA id=CCS-EG-03)

Most audit violations from the carriers are relatively minor and revolve around the wording in the opt-in messaging flow.

Information required in the CTA: program sponsor, description of service, frequency of messaging, how to get help, how to opt-out, “message and data rates may apply”.

Information required in the “welcome message” (sent at opt-in): description of service, frequency of messaging, how to get help, how to opt-out, “message and data rates may apply” (the carriers like repetition).

Opt-out, subscription reminders, and database management

STOP: Subscribers must be able to text the word STOP from their cell phones and be removed from the opt-in list.

Reminders: Individual alerts to users or text MT must include opt-out information (STOP) if a monthly service reminder MT is not supplied separately (T-Mobile TMO-124).

Disconnect lists: Each carrier routinely distributes a list of cell phone numbers that have been disconnected (recycled, ported to another carrier, etc. ). These numbers must be immediately removed from all opt-in lists.

Record keeping: Opt-in and opt-out records should be retained from the time the subscriber opts-in until a minimum of six months after the subscriber has opted-out of the program (minimum opt-in archiving period is one calendar year). These records should be made available to the carrier upon request (CCS-107).

That's it in a nutshell. Keep in mind that these regulations are a work in progress and are modified on a regular basis. For the most current set visit http://mmaglobal.com.

-Steve Nye

P.S. If you are receiving unsolicited messages on your cell phone - here are some tips.

11 comments:

  1. Steve -

    I'm the guy from Blue Sky Factory who wrote that post dinging the HBR article. Your colleague, Daniel, wrote a detailed reply in the comments section (I just replied):

    http://idek.net/1HIQ

    After reading this post about MMS/Text Messaging being strictly opt-in, I wonder why email marketing would/should be any different.

    Love to hear your thoughts ... and Daniel's. Let's talk!

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

    ReplyDelete
  2. @djwaldow thanks for visiting and commenting! W/o speaking for Steve I'll add my $.02 -- the main reason SMS is more heavily regulated is that the recipient is charged for receiving messages. That's not to say that E-mail shouldn't be more heavily regulated, it's just to say that there is a big difference in pricing models.

    ReplyDelete
  3. PS sorry that was me, Dan, logged in as Unwired Appeal above :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Unwired Appeal / Dan: That's a fair answer. Very fair. The interesting point is that email is regulated (CAN-SPAM). It's just that the regulations are really the baseline and not necessarily best practices. Good discussion either way!

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the comment DJ – I tend to agree, although I was I was probably a little off base in comparing SMS to email. SMS communications are all about time-sensitive “actionable” events. Email can also be used to send more “informational” type communications. That doesn't mean that email should have a more “open” opt-in policy.

    Taking this thought one step further, shouldn't all direct communications (SMS, email, mail, and voice calls) – all have strict opt-in policies?

    -Steve Nye

    ReplyDelete
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    If you are interested, please check out 0900-numbers website.

    ReplyDelete
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