Opt-In and Opt-Out Text Messages: Definition, Examples, and Guidelines
Time to read: 4 minutes
SMS, or text messaging, is an increasingly popular channel for businesses to engage customers, thanks to its high open rate and timely nature. After all, we touch our smartphones more than 2,600 times a day, so customers will likely see your message shortly after you send it.
However, as a business, you must follow certain guidelines when adding and removing customers from your text message lists to ensure you only send messages customers want and comply with SMS regulations.
These are text message opt-in and opt-out guidelines, and this post will explain everything you need to know about them.
An opt-in SMS is a text message where a customer gives a business explicit consent to send them marketing messages. In many countries, including the U.S., there’s a legal requirement for businesses to obtain written consent before sending customers promotional text messages (more on this in a moment).
It's also best practice to use a double opt-in method to confirm the recipient wants to receive promotional messages from your business. A double opt-in process might look like this:
- The customer provides their phone number on a form on a business’ website in exchange for a discount on their first purchase (first opt-in).
- The business sends them a text message that includes the instruction “Reply YES to receive promotional messages.”
- The customer replies “YES” (second opt-in).
- The business now has explicit written consent to send the customer promotional messages.
In the opt-in text message example below, I entered my phone number on a sign-up form on the Sugardoh website. Then, Sugardoh sent me a text message asking for my consent to receive promotional messages.
Another common way to grow your SMS marketing list is to encourage customers to text a keyword to your number, such as “Text JAMS to 12345 to receive weekly concert ticket deals.” Similar to the example above, the business would then send a message asking the recipient to confirm they want to join the list.
An opt-out SMS is a text message a customer sends to tell a business they no longer want to receive promotional messages.
Businesses have a legal obligation to tell customers how to opt out of promotional messages when they first subscribe to an SMS list. For example, your welcome message may include “Reply STOP to unsubscribe.”
Once the customer replies with the opt-out keyword, businesses typically send a reply that confirms the customer won’t receive further promotional text messages. Additionally, the message may offer instructions on how to resubscribe to text messages at any time.
In this opt-out text message example, I replied “STOP” to the Victoria Beckham Beauty promotional messages. Then, I received a message confirming my opt-out and instructing me how to resubscribe.
This information does not constitute legal advice. Every company has different policies, business needs, and compliance risks. We recommend seeking specific legal advice before adopting any of the compliance practices listed below.
Before we dive into the regulations that apply to promotional text messages, let’s define the difference between transactional and promotional messages.
- Transactional messages contain information the customer needs, and the customer triggers these by taking an action like making a purchase. These messages are usually automated and include order confirmations, two-factor authentication, and password resets. Generally, businesses don’t need to provide a double opt-in text message for transactional SMS. The customer can give the appropriate consent when they provide their phone number, such as during the checkout process when placing an order online. Regardless of how the customer opts in, the business should be clear that if the customer provides their phone number, it'll only use it to send them relevant transactional text messages.
- Promotional messages prompt the recipient to make a purchase or take another action. This includes messages about discounts, flash sales, and promotions. However, before a business sends a promotional SMS, it needs express written consent from the recipient. That’s because there are regulations to protect consumers from unwanted promotional messages.
Different governments and carriers have requirements for businesses sending promotional messages. As a sender, you need to understand which regulations apply to you or risk negatively impacting your deliverability. For example, carriers will filter fraudulent, spam, or otherwise unwanted messages. Additionally, regulatory agencies may impose fines or penalties on businesses that don’t comply with the appropriate regulations.
The main U.S. regulations businesses should be aware of are:
- Senders must collect consent before sending recipients SMS messages. U.S. senders should follow the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association voluntary best practices, including:
- Obtaining a consumer’s express consent to receive transactional messages
- Obtaining a consumer’s express written consent to receive promotional messages
- Giving consumers the ability to revoke consent
- Senders must give recipients the ability to opt out with clear instructions and honor unsubscribes. In the U.S., this means adhering to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Additionally, the TCPA stipulates that senders must disclose the terms of the business’ marketing communications, including:
- Messaging purpose
- Messaging frequency
- Applicable data rates
- Instructions to request help (such as “Reply HELP for help”)
- Senders using 10-digit local phone numbers to send SMS must register under A2P 10DLC.
Additionally, there are country-specific requirements businesses should be aware of when messaging customers in those countries. For example, France and India limit the time of day when you can send promotional messages.
Businesses must comply with the regulations we just discussed, but manually keeping track of who you can and can’t text leaves room for human error. The most effective way to manage your SMS subscriber list is by using a business messaging platform with native tools that help you remain compliant.
Twilio MessagingX has your back with all the tools you need to send messages customers want, including default opt-out keywords and resubscribe keywords. Learn more about how we ensure businesses send wanted messages in the Twilio Messaging Policy.
We also offer resources to help you grow your messaging list and send promotional text messages, starting with our complete guide to SMS Marketing for Beginners.
Ready to start sending? Sign up for a free Twilio account to try it today.
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