Your guide to SMS opt-ins in the US and beyond: requirements, examples, and campaign creation

The most important aspect of your messaging communications strategy is having a solid SMS opt-ins plan. Read this blog to know more about the best practices for SMS opt-ins and opt-outs to stay legally compliant, protect brand reputation and build a healthy customer base.

Content Marketing Team Lead

Zoha Tapia

Content Marketing Team Lead

It’s never been easier for businesses to connect with their customers than it is in today’s digital age. Channels from SMS and MMS all the way to WhatsApp and RCS are the most powerful tools in your arsenal to directly communicate with your customers, that too in real-time.

And you know your customers want to hear from you when they opt in to receiving messages from you. It’s no small wonder why SMS open rates are 98%, much higher than competing channels of engagement. This makes SMS a highly effective channel for direct customer engagement. But only when your customers actually opt-in.

What is SMS opt-in

SMS opt-in refers to the explicit consent customer recipients grant to businesses which allows a business to send customers messages by text of a promotional nature.

However, the importance of obtaining explicit consent for SMS opt-ins cannot be emphasized enough. Failure to adhere to the strict regulations surrounding SMS opt-ins can lead to severe consequences, as some businesses have learned the hard way. In fact, a recent ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court in the US has emphasized the significance of SMS compliance, stating that even one unsolicited text message can constitute sufficient grounds for a lawsuit.

And it’s not just about obtaining consent just for legal compliance but to build trust, foster strong customer relationships, and maximize the potential of SMS marketing campaigns.

Picture this:

Scenario 1: A retailers costly oversightScenario 2: An event organizers misstep
A thriving retail chain is eager to expand its reach and boost sales through SMS marketing. Focused on rapid growth, the retailer decided to skip the opt-in process and sent promotional messages to a vast list of mobile numbers without explicit consent. While this move initially seemed like a shortcut to success, it turned into a nightmare when they faced legal repercussions.
The authorities penalized the retailer heavily for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which safeguards consumers from unsolicited SMS messages. The fines and legal fees imposed not only caused significant financial losses but also severely damaged their brand reputation. Customers expressed dissatisfaction, leading to decreased trust and a decline in overall sales.
An event management company planned to host a series of exciting events throughout the year. In a bid to fill seats quickly, they obtained a list of mobile numbers and assumed that recipients would appreciate receiving event updates. However, the absence of explicit opt-in consent proved disastrous for their SMS campaign.
Several recipients filed complaints, as they felt their privacy had been compromised. The regulatory authorities intervened, and the event organizer faced steep penalties for violating SMS marketing regulations. The negative publicity resulting from this incident tarnished their image as a reliable and customer-focused organization, affecting ticket sales and future event attendance.

But none of these scenarios need to apply to you and your business. Just deep dive into our blog as we will delve into the significance of SMS opt-ins.

Understanding SMS opt-in requirements

Before you begin your SMS marketing journey, it’s essential to understand the opt-in requirements set by the United States regulations. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) have established specific rules to safeguard consumers from unsolicited messages. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Express written consent: To legally send SMS messages (promotional or transactional), you must obtain express written consent from your recipients. This means they must knowingly and voluntarily agree to receive your SMS communications. Written consent can be gathered through web forms, mobile apps, or text-to-join campaigns.
  • Clarity and transparency: Your opt-in process should be clear, concise, and transparent. Inform users about the frequency and type of messages they can expect to receive and provide an easy way to opt-out at any time.
  • Keep records: Maintain records of opt-ins, including timestamps and IP addresses, as evidence of consent in case of any disputes.

Beyond opt-ins, there are several other elements of SMS compliance that businesses should be aware of. These include:

  • Opt-outs: Customers should be able to easily opt-out of receiving messages. This is usually facilitated through a simple keyword, like “STOP”, which when sent by the customer, should immediately cease all messages. Regular reminders of this option should also be provided to customers.
  • Message content: The content of SMS marketing messages should not be misleading or deceptive. For instance, if a message contains a promotional offer, it must clearly state all terms and conditions.
  • Data protection: Businesses must ensure the secure handling of customer data, in line with laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. This includes not sharing the data with third parties without explicit consent and implementing robust security measures to prevent data breaches.
  • Timing restrictions: Certain jurisdictions have rules regarding the timing of promotional messages. In some regions, businesses are prohibited from sending marketing messages during certain hours.
  • Frequency of messages: The frequency of messaging should also be considered. Overloading customers with too many messages can be seen as intrusive and lead to complaints.

The importance of SMS opt-ins

The above scenarios serve as stark reminders of the importance of SMS opt-ins. Implementing a proper opt-in process not only protects businesses from legal repercussions but also offers numerous benefits:

  • Legal compliance: Adhering to SMS opt-in regulations, such as the TCPA in the United States, ensures that your marketing efforts are above board, safeguarding both your business and your customers.
  • Enhanced customer trust: Requesting explicit consent shows respect for your customers’ privacy and preferences. By gaining their trust, you foster positive relationships and increase the likelihood of customer loyalty.
  • Targeted marketing: With an opted-in audience, you can tailor your SMS campaigns to specific customer segments, delivering personalized content that resonates with their interests and needs.
  • Improved ROI: SMS marketing to a receptive audience typically yields higher engagement rates and, consequently, improved Return on Investment (ROI) compared to unsolicited messaging.

SMS opt-in examples

Now that you understand the requirements, let’s take a look at some SMS opt-in examples:

Examples across industries

How to create an opt-in SMS campaign

Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and get practical! Follow these steps to create a successful opt-in SMS campaign:

  • Define your objectives:
    Set clear and achievable goals for your campaign, such as increasing sales, driving website traffic, or promoting a new product.
  • Build an engaging CTA:
    Craft a compelling call-to-action (CTA) that incentivizes users to opt-in. Highlight the benefits they’ll receive by subscribing to your SMS updates.
  • Choose the right platform:
    Select a reliable SMS service provider like Infobip to ensure smooth delivery and manage opt-ins efficiently.
  • Segment your audience:
    Personalize your messages by segmenting your audience based on their preferences and behavior. This ensures relevant content reaches the right people.
  • Timing matters:
    Be mindful of the time zone and frequency of your messages. Avoid sending messages during odd hours and respect your subscribers’ preferences.
  • Track and analyze results:
    Monitor the performance of your campaign regularly. Analyze open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to identify areas for improvement.

Difference between single opt-in and double opt-in

When setting up an opt-in process for your SMS or marketing campaigns, you have two primary options: single opt-in and double opt-in. Each method has its advantages and considerations.

Single opt-in

  • Requires users to provide their contact information (e.g., mobile number or email) once to opt-in to your communication.
  • The opt-in process is quick and straightforward, as users only need to take one action to subscribe.
  • Immediate access to your marketing messages or content, as there’s no additional confirmation needed from the end user post this.
  • Simplicity can result in a higher initial opt-in rate, as there are fewer steps for users to complete.
  • Offers faster list building, as subscribers are added immediately after providing their information.
  • However, single opt-in might lead to a higher risk of receiving fake or mistyped information.

Double opt-in

  • Requires users to take two actions:
    – (1) provide their contact information and,
    – (2) confirm their subscription via a confirmation link or code.
  • Provides an extra layer of verification, ensuring that subscribers genuinely want to receive your communications.
  • Reduces the risk of fake or mistyped information, as users must verify their email address or mobile number.
  • Builds a more engaged and qualified audience, as only those genuinely interested will complete the verification process.
  • Enhances data accuracy and deliverability, as confirmed subscribers are more likely to provide valid contact details.
  • Slightly lower initial opt-in rate compared to single opt-in, as some users might not complete the confirmation step.
  • Double opt-in might take longer to grow your subscriber list due to the additional verification step.

Choosing between single opt-in and double opt-in:

Single opt-inDouble opt-in

Single opt-in is ideal for rapidly growing your subscriber list and when immediate access to your content is essential.
Double opt-in is recommended when maintaining data accuracy and building a highly engaged audience is a priority and is mandatory for certain use cases such as cart abandonment reminders.

Soft opt-in exists as a third method of receiving customer consent. You can advertise supplemental channel options over existing communications – i.e. via an email newsletter – to introduce the option of opting in to receiving SMS updates, as well.

Note: Consider the potential impact on your marketing goals, legal requirements, and the level of user consent you desire.

Opt-ins across various communication channels

While we have primarily focused on SMS opt-ins, it’s essential to understand that opt-in requirements apply to various communication channels beyond SMS. Let’s explore the opt-in requirements for other popular channels like WhatsApp, R

CS, Email, Google’s Business Messages, and Apple Messages for Business:

WhatsApp Business Platform: WhatsApp is a widely used messaging platform with a massive user base. To use WhatsApp for business communication, you need explicit opt-in consent from your recipients. WhatsApp Business Platform requires users to initiate conversations with businesses first, and only then can businesses respond with promotional messages or updates. This means you cannot send unsolicited messages on WhatsApp, and all communications must be user-initiated or fall within the scope of customer support.

Rich Communication Services (RCS): RCS is an enhanced messaging service that offers more interactive and engaging features compared to traditional SMS. Like WhatsApp, RCS messaging requires explicit consent from recipients before businesses can send marketing messages. RCS also supports messaging templates, allowing businesses to provide structured content, but they must still adhere to opt-in requirements.

Email: Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses to reach their target audience. While there are no explicit opt-in requirements for email marketing in the United States, it’s essential to comply with anti-spam laws like the CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act mandates that emails must include a clear and conspicuous way for recipients to opt-out from further communications.

Google’s Business Messages: Google’s Business Messages is a platform that enables businesses to interact with customers directly through Google Search and Maps. It allows users to initiate conversations with businesses, making it a user-driven communication channel. Businesses must comply with opt-in requirements, ensuring that they only respond to messages initiated by users or those related to customer support inquiries.

Apple Messages for Business: Apple Messages for Business allows businesses to communicate with customers using Apple’s Messages app. Like other messaging channels, opt-in consent is essential for sending promotional or marketing messages. Businesses can offer customer support, share product information, and even facilitate purchases through Business Chat.

Viber: Viber is a popular messaging app that supports business communication through Viber Business Messages. Businesses can only initiate a conversation and build a deeper connection with the end customer if the recipient of their messages provided their consent (opt-in) before. Therefore, businesses must obtain explicit consent for sending promotional content, providing support or marketing messages. If a customer initiates a conversation with a chatbot via Viber Bots, then they will automatically considered as opted-in.

Zalo Notification Service: Zalo is the most popular chat app in Vietnam. For businesses trying to expand their presence in the region they would need to create a Zalo Official Account. Even if a customer doesn’t subscribe to the account, you can contact them only if they have consented or provided their phone number, or the business notifies the customer in advance about the purpose and conditions of sending notifications.

In today’s digital landscape, businesses have various communication channels at their disposal to engage with customers. While SMS opt-ins are crucial for complying with regulations like the TCPA, similar principles of explicit consent apply to other popular channels such as WhatsApp, RCS, Email, Google, and Apple. Whether it’s instant messaging, email marketing, or targeted advertising, obtaining user consent is a fundamental practice that demonstrates respect for user privacy and preferences.

As you plan your marketing strategies across different communication channels, remember that building trust and fostering positive relationships with your audience are paramount. By respecting opt-in requirements and providing valuable, relevant content, you can create successful marketing campaigns that resonate with your customers and drive long-term success for your business.

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Feb 8th, 2024
10 min read
Content Marketing Team Lead

Zoha Tapia

Content Marketing Team Lead