Why Are Cold Text Messages Illegal?

Jul 7, 2022

On the face of it, cold text messages seem like a great idea. Compared to email, SMS open rates are staggeringly high. Research firm Gartner, for instance, found that mass text messaging open rates were as high as 98 percent which compares to a paltry 20 percent for email. 

Cold text messages, though, are illegal. Firms aren’t allowed to send them. If they do, they could face serious fines and damage to their reputation. 

Why You Should Never Cold Text Customers

Cold calling is perfectly legal in the U.S. Companies can pick up phone books and dial every number on the list without falling foul of the law. The same is true of email. 

Therefore, logic would seem to dictate that the same would be true of cold texting, but that’s not the case. The Federal Communications Commission has strict regulations in place that require businesses to get customer opt-ins first. 

There are two main pieces of legislation would-be text messaging marketers need to know about. The first is the CAN-SPAM Act. This law sets the rules for commercial communications of all kinds and forbids companies from including anything deceptive or misleading in their subject headers when talking to customers. The goal is to reduce the number of unwanted electronic messages consumers receive. 

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is the other relevant piece of legislation. This law puts a variety of restrictions on telemarketers, including the types of text messages they can send. If consumers believe that enterprises are breaking the rules, they can file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission and ask them to launch an investigation.

These rules are the reason your personal SMS inbox doesn’t receive dozens of spam texts per day. Unless you opted into a text-based marketing service in the past, you shouldn’t receive a single message from anyone. 

On a more basic level, cold texting is also bad etiquette. Many users view texting as a highly personal platform (unlike email which is something they use for work) so invading that space doesn’t go down well. 

Because of this, consumers are highly likely to take action against you.

A Much Better Way To Market With Text Messages

We should emphasize, however, that SMS marketing is perfectly legal, as long as you acquire the recipient’s permission first. Here are some tips for how to make your SMS campaigns more successful.

Market Your Phone Number

The first thing you’ll need to do is market your phone number so prospects know who to text. Don’t bury it at the back of your website. Instead, make it clearly available across all platforms, including your social media account and website.

Don’t be afraid to use physical marketing, either. Sometimes handing out flyers with your number on them can be highly effective at engaging customers. 

Get People To Opt-In With Keywords

Regulations forbid you from sending unsolicited messages to customers on your phone number list. However, you can get a conversation going if prospects opt-in with a keyword. 

For example, if you sell dog grooming services, you could provide customers with a five-digit shortcode and then ask them to text “DOG GROOMING” to that number. If they subsequently text you, you have their explicit permission to send them marketing SMS messages in the future. 

For instance, your follow-up SMS might go something like: 


Create Value To Attract Leads

Here’s another tactic: do something that adds massive value to customers’ lives. Webinars, social media posts, and blog articles can all help build trust with your audience, encouraging them to give permission for SMS marketing. 

Add Text Options On Your Website

Another option is to add click-to-text buttons on your website. Once clicked, these open the user’s native texting app, letting them send you a message in real-time. If they send a message to you, you then have permission to reply and send them marketing material in the future. 

The Takeaway: You Don’t Need Cold Texts

In summary, cold texting is illegal. However, some businesses continue to do it anyway, despite the risks. 

The truth, though, is that you don’t need to engage in cold SMS practices. As outlined here, there are plenty of ways to get warm text conversations going that don’t involve breaking the law. All you need to do is get your audience to opt-in, and you’re then free to communicate with them via text messaging as much as you like. 

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