The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently made some major changes to its rules regarding telemarketing. If your business (like most small companies) doesn’t have the budget for telemarketing, you may not have bothered to learn about the new rules. But what you may not realize as a small business owner is that these rules also affect text message marketing and could lead to your business being named as part of a class-action lawsuit if you’re not careful.
So what do you need to know? The new rules drastically restrict businesses’ ability to use automated systems to send text messages. Prior to October 16, 2013, you simply had to get a customer’s consent (which could be oral or written) to send them automated text messages. Now, however, you must get express permission to send text messages or make telemarketing calls in writing (either on paper or electronically).
For example, if you used to ask customers to join your mailing list and then send them text messages, that’s no longer kosher. Nor can you send messages and just offer an option to opt out. Consumers must provide a cell phone number, expressly consent in writing to receive calls or text messages, and expressly consent to do so using an automated dialer or text system.
Considering ignoring the new rules? Don’t. If you don’t comply and get hit by a lawsuit, you could face fines ranging from $500 to $1,500 per message.
One way to simplify gathering written consent is to make it part of the sign-up process when customers join your business’s loyalty or rewards program. Incorporate wording into the sign-up form that specifies customers are giving you express permission to send automated text message to their cell phones. Provide an option for them to opt out.
To protect yourself, you should stop using customer lists collected before October 16, 2013, until you update them. You can update electronic permissions by sending an email marketing message to customers who were previously on your list; use the new language to gather their express consent.
You can read more about the new FCC rules here; the FCC website also provides a phone number you can use to call and speak to an attorney to get further clarification about the new rules.
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