Unsolicited SMS Messages Lead to Trouble…Even for Trump
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).
In the US, the electronic communications laws are stricter than the UK. The TCPA requires a specific opt in for every campaign. This means you cannot send any SMS messages to a person without their explicit consent to do so.
Thorne insists he never gave his mobile number to the Trump campaign and he never agreed to have them send him information. The legal documents of the case say Trump’s campaign rented a shortcode from the SMS messaging service Tatango, who provided them with documents on how to be compliant with the TCPA. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the messages were sent to “thousands of wireless telephone numbers or randomly generated phone numbers using a bulk messaging software by the company Tatango Inc.”
It’s not clear from the article if the lawsuit claims Tatango has any responsibility for the messages or not. I couldn’t verify if Tatango’s software actually generates random numbers as one of the articles asserts. But they clearly define an anti-spam policy stating “Tatango has a zero-tolerance policy for SMS spam, meaning that subscribers will only receive SMS messages from campaigns that they have opted into.” My take is that if the Trump campaign used random numbers, they likely got them from somewhere else. Likely they used the same “robocall” techniques they have for making automated voice calls to residents. Or they used phone numbers from donor information, possibly without getting express permission to send SMS messages. Either way, they would be in violation of the TCPA.
While Thorne filed a civil lawsuit and the outcome is unknown at this point, the FTC and FCC (US equivalents of the ICO) can still do their own investigation. If they find that the TCPA was violated they can issue a fine of up to $1,500 per message (~£1030).
The lawsuit assumes others had the same experience and that the court will assign a “class action” status which covers anyone who received an unsolicited message from Trump. They are suing for “statutory damages to all class members; to stop the text messages to wireless phones through the use of an automatic telephone dialing system without prior express consent; reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs; and any other relief the court deems reasonable and just.”
The UK law
The PECR sets out the regulations for electronic communications in the UK. You are allowed to contact someone if they are already a customer, or have made an enquiry. However, you can only send messages that relate to their prior purchase or contact.
For example, if you’re a salesman who just sold a car to someone. You can contact them with information on car insurance or car-related topics. You can’t contact them about a great deal for a vacation in the Bahamas or movie tickets. If you want to send them other direct marketing messages, you’ll need to get them to opt in to receive them.
Besides staying compliant with the PECR, you don’t want to send unsolicited SMS messages anyway. One of the best things about SMS marketing is that the people who opt in are really interested in what you have to offer. The ROI is usually quite high because of this. It’s like having a willing partner in your business – you send things, they want things. Sending unsolicited SMS messages is just a waste of time and money because you have no idea if the people at the other end want what you are offering – in other words, you’re losing the advantage that SMS marketing offers in the first place.
If you have questions about using SMS marketing and staying compliant, download our special report, Mobile Marketing Guide. In it, you’ll find an overview of SMS marketing, best practices, and legal guidelines.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued seven monetary penalties against companies this year. We’ve read through them all – so you don’t have to – and discovered two lessons every company should learn about SMS marketing if they want to be successful.
If you are looking to get going with SMS marketing it's worth learning a bit about the "tricks of the trade" so you avoid the common pitfalls and get off on the right foot. Read about three important marketing concepts that will maximise your success in this venture.
One of the major metrics in SMS marketing is how many people opt in to receive your messages. But there’s a flip side to that metric: how many people opt out. In the ideal world, no one would ever leave your list and instead continue to make purchases or support your organisation for as long as you decide to message them.
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.
You’d think a large, multinational company would have all the resources and planning it needed to run an SMS marketing campaign. But that isn’t always the case apparently. Find out the big mistake this one company made and how you can avoid doing the same thing in this blog.
SMS marketing is very different to most other more traditional marketing tools, specifically because of its short-form, text only nature. This certainly shouldn't put you off though. We have put together our guide to both the best things about SMS marketing and some of the potential problems, and how to work around them.