Mobile marketing has the business world entranced, and for good reason. The number of mobile phone users is increasing every year and their phones, especially smartphones, offer a variety of ways for businesses to connect with them. Mobile marketers have an arsenal for communicating their messages including text message marketing, mobile websites, mobile apps, QR codes and in-app advertisements.
Text message marketing is particularly popular because the technology doesn’t require a smart phone or a data plan in order for the campaign to reach the mobile user. What a text message campaign, or any mobile marketing effort, does require is a mindfulness of the law.
Although mobile marketing technology has developed rapidly, the regulatory framework for governing it has not. Many of the laws that cover mobile marketing, including the CAN-SPAM Act, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act, were written long before this method of marketing existed and are now being retrofitted to apply to mobile marketing through new administrative opinions. Over the last few years, the agencies have increased their enforcement efforts and the courts are seeing more civil suits related to mobile marketing. Prudent mobile marketers will pay close attention to how they run campaigns and use mobile technology to market their company and products.
A few simple actions will go a long way toward achieving compliant mobile marketing. For text messaging campaigns, always get express consent from the mobile user to contact them. This means that you should get the user to opt-in to any campaign by having them take an affirmative action, such as replying to a text message. The user’s consent is specific to a campaign and you should not send that user texts that are not related to that campaign.
Treat general consent given to a third party like it is no consent at all. Consent given to a seller of phone lists may be insufficient for the buyer unless the subscribers in the list were told at the time they gave their consent that they were consenting to the buyer’s specific text message campaign. Compare your subscriber list to the national “Do Not Call” list, as it applies to mobile numbers in addition to home numbers. Finally, provide subscribers an easy way to opt-out of the campaign.
Text messaging campaigns are not the only form of mobile marketing requiring compliance. Businesses that advertise in mobile applications must comply with the FTC Act and state deceptive and unfair advertising statutes. Truth and fairness are critical. If you can substantiate the claims made in your mobile advertising and you refrain from engaging in misrepresentations or tricks, you are unlikely to run afoul of these laws.
Privacy laws create additional hurdles. Owners of mobile websites that target children as users should abide by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), as well as the FTC’s COPPA Rule. These laws require that any person who operates a website obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from a child who is under 13 years old. The FTC has issued proposed changes to the COPPA Rule that would make the rule apply to mobile applications as well. In addition, state and federal legislation has been introduced that would limit the use of geolocation data collected by mobile devices.
With the recent increase in enforcement and more rules to come, mobile marketers need to have a solid understanding of which practices are permitted. You can learn more on how to run effective, legal mobile marketing campaigns at the SBDC’s Mobile Marketing for Profit workshops that are coming to Savannah and Statesboro in May. For more information, go to www.georgiasbdc.org.
Jason Anderson is the Director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.