It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Buffalo Bills NFL football team seized on the rising popularity of cellphones and social media to better engage their fans. The strategy was simple: by connecting with fans using SMS services on game day, the team could highlight promotions and events that would enhance the fan experience. Or so the team thought. In reality, the zealous use of text messaging by the team to connect with fans extended past the limits of the law and resulted in a $3 million dollar settlement after a class action suit. The team stated that it would send no more than five text messages to opt-in subscribers of the service. When one recipient received 13 messages in a two week period, a class action suit was filed, and the team was ordered to pay out $3 million in damages.

This isn’t the only example of text message marketing being perceived as a nuisance and doing more harm than good over time. For example, Papa John’s Pizza paid out an unbelievable $16.335 million dollar settlement as the result of sending too many text messages offering pizza promotions. Not abiding by rules and regulations regarding SMS marketing can damage a company’s reputation and cost significant financial loss. Customers, clients, and fans that opt-in to promotions and news alerts do so with the expectation that the text messages they receive will be reasonable in volume. As with the Buffalo Bills, subscribers were promised a specific number of messages each week. When that limit wasn’t adhered to, trouble began.

buffalo bills play a football game

This NFL team sent too many text messages. Image courtesy of Bills Seating Chart.

So how do you balance an engaging SMS services marketing strategy with being too overt and too forward? Your clients and fans only have so much time and attention to spend on the brands they love. How do you make sure your organization is getting some of their attention without crossing the line into annoyance? Here are five best practices to implement when developing an SMS messaging promotional strategy with fans and customers.

  1. Set the rules and follow them. The first rule of marketing with text messages is to offer your audience the respect they deserve. Opt-in text messaging programs are dependent on boundaries being respected by the sender of the messages. From the type of content to the frequency of contact to the time of day message are sent, the fastest way to lose your audience – and end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit – is to not comply with SMS marketing rules and regulations.
  2. Offer something of value. The surest way increase interest in your text messages is to present the recipient with something that benefits them or something that they find interesting. Conversely, the best way to get them to unsubscribe or ignore your text messages is to offer content that only serves your own purposes. For example, a quality text message might read, “There will be an autograph session beginning one hour before the game at Gate 2. See you then!” whereas a poorly received message might read, “Make sure and tell your friends to sign up for text alerts!” The first message announces a unique experience that the reader might find unique and enjoyable. The second message asks the recipient to do something that might not benefit them at all. Which do you think will get the larger response?
  3. Guide them to other platforms. One of the best ways to increase your engagement with fans is to promote other platforms of participation. For example, your text messages should not just be news alerts and coupons but also include links to posts on social media and web content. Doing so will help increase engagement without crossing the agreed upon barriers of text messaging. “Want a chance at free tickets for next week’s game? Click here to post a comment on our Facebook page and be entered to win!” Sending recipients to other platforms is a great way to adhere to text messaging guidelines while also continuing the conversation.
  4. Use surveys to tailor messages. Most SMS services allow you to segment and target specific subscribers. Using surveys to gather applicable demographic information means you can send targeted messages within the same subscriber base. Think of it this way: if you only have three or five chances each week to interact with a fan or customer, shouldn’t each of those contacts be as strong as possible? Sending surveys to gather information about favorite products, performers, or players means you can do a better job sending targeted messages in the future. For example, a survey asking a recipient if they’ve ever made a purchase via your eCommerce web-store would allow you to know whether to send out a free gift for being a repeat customer or a coupon code for being a first-time web-store visitor.  Fewer, specific messages are both respectful of person’s limited time and create deeper relationships between brands and customers or fans.
  5. Know when to say goodbye. The rules are pretty clear about allowing users to unsubscribe from an SMS list. But for some reason some SMS marketers try to make the act of unsubscribing complicated or confusing. As we’ve discussed before, this does nothing to enhance your brand or increase loyalty. Quite the opposite: the recipient is likely to be annoyed and frustrated. Furthermore, spending time marketing to people who do not care to receive your messages takes away from the time you have to market to those that do.

Marketing via SMS services and text messaging is a great way to engage people. But ignoring the rules and stepping over accepted boundaries in an effort to drive your message home is unlikely to have a positive effect. Even worse, it could lead to serious legal and financial hazard. Your SMS marketing should be an extension of your marketing effort and work in concert with things like social media, email marketing, web content, and events. Relying too much on any one component can be costly. Following the guidelines above should keep your text messages on the right side of the rules while also being highly effective. If you need a more robust marketing plan but aren’t quite sure about what platform to use, click here to learn more about Mosaic NetworX SMS services.