SMS Marketing – Should You Buy a List?
Starting an SMS marketing campaign can be a daunting task. Gathering explicit opt ins can take time, as you need to make an investment in advertising. So why not just get a jumpstart and buy a list of mobile numbers from an organisation that already has the opt ins?
You could do that, but it’s probably harder than just getting people to opt in on their own.
There have been some changes, or updates, to the rules and regulations for direct marketing using electronic media. Organisations and businesses can still use a “soft” opt in if they choose to with their own customers. But when people opt in to accept third party marketing (which would be you if you bought a list from someone), they need to be expressly told who will be marketing to them (by name or specific category) before they sign up.
It’s no longer ok to just use the phrase “third party retail partners” or the like. The regulations also say that only the first third party can use this indirect consent. So you can’t buy a list from someone who bought a list. If you use such a list, you will be in violation of the regulations.
It's Already Happened
The new rules have already been used by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in one high profile case. Better for Country Ltd, the organisation behind the Leave.EU campaign, sent 501,135 SMS messages to people on a list it received “from a third party supplier” according to the ICO.
The messages were considered direct marketing because they were promoting a cause and asking people to take action. Here is the text of one message from the ICO documents:
“Hello, it’s Richard from The Know. Text YES to support our fight to leave the EU or see https://goo.gl/sOS9DU for more info. Reply STOP to opt-out”.
Over the course of the six-month campaign, the ICO received 134 complaints to their 7726 service (you can forward an SMS message to the ICO with the keyword SPAM added using the shortcode 7726 to report it as spam). Another six complaints were made directly to the commissioner.
After an investigation the ICO found that Better for Country did not have permission to send the SMS messages. The people had agreed to a more general opt in with a clause about messages from third parties, but the permission was not explicit enough to cover the messages the Leave.EU campaign sent.
Even though the Commissioner found the company hadn’t deliberately tried to violate the electronic communications regulations, they were responsible for it. In the end, Better for Country was fined £50,000.
What To Do Instead
This is just one example of what can go wrong by trying to take the easy route out by buying a list. Even though the Leave.EU organisation tried to ensure they did everything right (and if you read the full report from the ICO you’ll see they really thought they were complying with the regulations), they still ended up in trouble.
So while running an opt in campaign seems like a lot of work, it’s easier than trying to understand the legal implications of a third party list. There are still regulations for building your own list, but they are much easier to understand.
And in light of the new changes, the ICO has published two new documents. One is a guide specifically for political campaigning. Non-profits and political causes are required to follow the same rules as everyone else. But because of the activities of some organisations, the ICO created the “Guidance on political campaigning” to make the requirements placed on those groups clear.
For everyone else looking to use SMS marketing, they’ve provided the “Direct Marketing” document which outlines everything you need to know to stay compliant with privacy and communications regulations. You can download either document using the links provided or find them on the ICO website.
Late last month reports surfaced that the Trump US presidential campaign had sent unsolicited SMS messages to voters in the Chicago area. One man, Joshua Thorne, and his lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the Trump Campaign violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA, the US equivalent of the PECR).
The first thing to remember is that legally, you must give the customer the chance to both opt-in and opt-out of your SMS campaign - but the good news is people are happy to opt-in - 49% of them according to a 2014 survey. So all you need to do is stay compliant and follow some basic guidelines to grow your list.
The PECR Regulations, better known as the Privacy and Electronics Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 are one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting those involved in SMS Marketing. They exist to safeguard the privacy and use of personal information when used for direct marketing through electronic means, including communications by SMS. Parts of it crossover with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and where it does so, both pieces of legislation should be complied with. Unlike the DPA, the PECR is obligatory whether or not you process personal data in the course of your business. Read this essential guide to PECR for SMS Marketing to ensure you know everything you need to know.
The regulations about SMS marketing are quite clear. But sometimes people, and companies, can make mistakes. Find out what happened to a company that reacted poorly to the ICO’s request for information, and how it made their situation so much worse.
All businesses are subject to the law when it comes to advertising and marketing. Companies cannot make false claims or mislead consumers via advertising materials, for example. Designed to protect consumers and commercial clients, the law regulates most forms of marketing in some way. With companies carrying out various forms of marketing activity, it can be difficult to keep on top of the relevant laws and guidelines. By working with SMS marketing experts, however, you can ensure that your marketing campaigns are fully compliant with the necessary laws and that you’re able to connect with your target audience lawfully and effectively.
When conducting an SMS marketing campaign, there are a number of compliance regulations you should be aware of, to ensure that your communications are as effective as possible, without being potentially damaging to your campaign or your business. If you're marketing to a UK market, the UK Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) gives clear guidelines on what falls within the rules. Here we've highlighted some key tips to ensure your next campaign is compliant, based on common questions that arise.
The UK may be leaving the EU, but the GDPR is still coming. Find out what it means for your business, and your SMS messaging, in our post that looks ahead and reviews the ICO guidance to prepare for the new rules.