Best Practices in SMS Marketing

As mentioned in our guidelines for mobile couponing post, we strongly encourage all marketers to follow sms marketing guidelines from the Mobile Marketing Association. These best of practice recommendations were developed to ensure the best mobile user experience and protect consumers’ privacy rights. The MMA has published a Global Code of Conduct to help maintain privacy protection standards, important for preserving the integrity of the mobile marketing industry, as well as a Consumer Best Practices (CBP) Guidelines document, which compiles in one place accepted industry practices, wireless carrier policies, and regulatory guidance.

Unfortunately, not everyone involved with sms marketing may take the time to read and understand these documents — the CBP document is currently 144 pages long. While your mobile marketing agency/partners should be well versed in these practices — especially if they’re certified members of the Mobile Marketing Association (TextBoard’s Justin Rockwell was South Carolina’s first certified MMA member), it’s still a good idea to understand the basics of these mobile guidelines. Below are some important highlights to help get you started.

Why The Standards Matter

SMS marketing is still a relatively new field. Establishing strong consumer privacy standards at the onset can help “protect the mobile channel from abuses by unethical marketers, and limit consumer backlash and regulatory scrutiny,” according to the MMA. Text message marketing and other types of mobile marketing are effective now and trusted by consumers because, unlike email marketing and telemarketing, spam issues are largely absent in mobile marketing. Strong industry support of consumer privacy standards will help marketers continue to reap the benefits from mobile marketing.

Mobile Marketing Code of Conduct

There are five categories in the MMA Code of Conduct:

  1. Notice: provides consumers with the information they need to make choices about a marketing program.
    • Marketers must provide information about the products/services offered and the terms and conditions of the program. If you have a web page for users to join your mobile marketing list, for example, the page should specify what types of communications the user will get, how often, and other important details.
  2. Choice & Consent: enables consumers to control which mobile messages they receive.
    • Marketers must implement an opt-in and opt-out process to obtain consent from the user for all mobile messaging. This can be via SMS opt-in, a web form, or other method, as long as the opt-in and opt-out mechanisms are clear and easily discoverable. Program messaging should include opt-out instructions on a regular basis.
  3. Customization & Constraint: provides relevant and responsibly tailored messages.
    • Marketers should use information collected about users to customize marketing to their needs and interests, and any user information that’s collected must be sensitively and responsibly handled. Mobile marketing messages should also provide value to the user (i.e., avoid sending irrelevant or unwanted messages).
  4. Security: procedures and policies that protect consumers’ information.
    • Marketers need to implement “reasonable technical, administrative, and physical procedures” to protect all user information collected. If you gather information like cell phone numbers and names, that data needs to be safeguarded so that only those who need to access that information do, and that the information is not transferred, changed, or disclosed for unauthorized purposes.
  5. Enforcement & Accountability: requires MMA members to comply with the Code.
    • The Code is included in the MMA’s Consumer Best of Practice Guidelines. As of now, there’s no third-party enforcement of these guidelines, so it’s the responsibility of marketers to ensure that their programs are compliant with the standards above.
    • All programs must comply with federal and state laws, as applicable
    • “Msg & Data Rates may apply” must be clearly added on promotion/advertising
    • Cost of premium or other fees must be clearly stated as well
    • Advertising must note that participation requires users to be 18 years or older or have parental/guardian permission
    • Selling mobile opt-in lists is prohibited
    • The STOP and HELP keywords (not case-sensitive) should be featured in advertising and messaging to offer subscribers the opportunity to cancel or get more information about the program at any time.

Consumer Best Practice Guidelines

The CBP Guidelines are for mobile content programs or mobile value added services that aren’t specific to a wireless carrier network. Its purpose is to simplify the different rules between all the wireless carriers (or at least the Big 4) in the U.S. There are a lot of details in the CBP, but, in addition to the Code guidelines above, some of the most important principles for mobile marketers to know include:

There are additional guidelines for premium rate charges (where the users’ wireless bill will have an extra charge) or subscriptions (ongoing charges on their bill), sweepstakes and contests, chat programs, and charitable giving programs in the CBP document. Partnering with marketing experts who are members of the Mobile Marketing Association and uphold these consumer-focused privacy standards will help make sure your mobile marketing campaigns are user-friendly and free of complications.