Every industry has bad actors who abuse their tools and systems. To protect consumers against these businesses and enforce SMS marketing practices for the best interests of the consumer, wireless carriers established the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). The CTIA carries out audits on SMS marketing programs, and if an SMS marketing program is found to be in violation, it’s suspended until the violation is resolved and the situation has improved. To make sure your SMS marketing program passes a CTIA audit, make sure you’re in compliance with their CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook.
Different Organizations, Different Goals
There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation in SMS marketing about laws, compliance, and best practices. In our experience, most of the confusion comes from businesses not knowing the difference between the CTIA, the FCC, and the MMA and the role each of them plays in SMS marketing.
As mentioned, the CTIA is an organization created by the wireless carriers to enforce proper SMS marketing practices to ensure they’re in the consumer’s best interests. The CTIA guidelines are very specific about text message marketing. They outline exactly what needs to be included in an advertisement for an SMS program (such as message and data rates, help and stop commands, message frequency, links to terms and conditions, and privacy policies) as well as what can’t be included.
Since the CTIA guidelines aren’t law, you can’t be sued for violating them, but you do risk having your SMS program shut down.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the most important organization when it comes to SMS marketing, almost entirely because of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). While the CTIA guidelines aren’t law, the TCPA (developed by the FCC) is federal law. No business has ever been sued for not following CTIA guidelines, but countless brands have been sued under the TCPA, including large brands such as Jiffy Lube and Papa John’s.
Unlike the CTIA, which is very specific, nothing in the TCPA specifically targets text message marketing. The TCPA instead focuses on automated calling and messaging and aims to reduce the amount of spam sent to consumers. There’s no mention in the TCPA of message and data rates or what must be included in a text message when a consumer texts the word “HELP” to your short code. The TCPA has other concerns.
The TCPA focuses on consumer consent. For a brand to legally send messages to a consumer, that brand needs to get the consumer’s explicit consent. The TCPA outlines the specifics of how this permission is obtained and what ‘s allowed after a consumer grants their permission.
MMA (Mobile Marketing Association)
The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has its own SMS marketing best practices document which is very similar to the Mobile Commerce Compliance Handbook from the CTIA. The MMA best practices for SMS marketing aren’t law like the TCPA, and they aren’t enforced by anyone, like the CTIA’s best practices are, so these best practices add more confusion than clarification to the industry. Refer to them as you please.
We hope this article was helpful to you. If you have any further questions about short codes or SMS marketing, visit our Learning Center where you’ll find our collection of FAQ’s, informational articles, and more.