If you sell products or provide services in more than one country, having an international SMS strategy is crucial. Because regulations and best practices for SMS marketing texts differ from one country to the next, adopting global SMS practices is necessary to ensure your business communications make it through to the intended audience.
There are a few key considerations as you prepare your international SMS strategy: the differences between local and global SMS, the legal requirements as you send outside your home country, and best practices for commercial SMS text messaging. We’ll cover all of these aspects below.
Global SMS vs. Local SMS
Local SMS describes the type of messaging you’re probably most familiar with: a text that’s sent from one subscriber (or for our purposes, a business) to another subscriber on carriers within the same country. Global SMS, on the other hand, describes messaging between subscribers with carriers in different countries.
While it might seem as though messaging across international borders should be simple as long as everyone has wireless service, the reality isn’t so simple at all. If you’ve ever tried to use your cell phone in another country and faced crazy roaming charges, issues with dialing or even found your phone totally nonfunctional, you’ve seen firsthand the complexities of international communications.
First up, brands must consider the varying legal requirements in different countries. In the U.S., companies sending SMS marketing texts must comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which requires commercial senders to get explicit written permission before texting consumers. Canada has Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), which contains similar requirements. Both countries mandate that brands give users a straightforward way to opt-out of text message marketing if they so choose.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) contains the strictest laws around personal data, governing the kinds of data that can be collected by brands that do business in Europe as well as how those companies store, transfer and sell it. Other nations around the world have their own regulations on things like:
- One-way versus two-way messaging
- Subscriber consent
- Opt-out requirements
- Privacy policies
- Messaging frequency
- And more
Next up, organizations must consider how they send marketing text messages. Most commercial SMS messages are sent from a shortcode, which is a 5- or 6-digit number leased by one or more brands to send transactional messaging. In the U.S., however, some mobile carriers have started to ban the use of shared shortcodes, so companies must either get their own dedicated shortcode or use another method of contacting subscribers.
One such method is via long numbers, which look just like a traditional ten-digit phone number. The throughput is more limited when sending from a long number than from a shortcode.
Finally, some countries enable brands to use a dynamic sender ID, which is a name that appears when they send a text message. Selected by the brand, this sender ID is typically the company name and makes it ultra-clear to subscribers who the messaging came from.
As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to keep up with when sending global SMS messages. Thus, it’s imperative to choose an SMS software partner that’s familiar with the in-country regulations wherever you plan to send messages.
Best practices for global SMS
To optimize clickthrough rates and achieve the highest possible ROI from your international SMS strategy, follow these SMS best practices.
Even if you’re sending messages in a country that doesn’t explicitly require you to obtain consent, it’s always in your best interest to get customers’ permission before texting them. This is separate from any permissions you’ve already obtained, like an email signup. Your text messaging opt-in must be independent and specific to SMS communications, with its own set of policies.
Choose the right sending number
Because long codes look like a traditional phone number, they’re a good choice when you want a more personal feel. When a delivery is dropped off, for example, sending an alert from a long code can make it feel as if the message came directly from the delivery driver even if it’s automated. However, long codes have limitations, particularly throughout (the volume of messages that can be sent in a particular time frame). If you need to reach a larger number of subscribers, like when blasting out a flash promotion, using a short code will help you reach your recipients in a more timely manner.
To avoid confusion (and unwanted spam complaints) make it clear how, when, and why you intend to communicate with subscribers via text. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple statement shown before subscribers opt-in, like ‘sign up to receive text message payment reminders from [company]. We’ll only text you bill-related notifications and will never share your personal data.’ Then, send a follow-up text upon signup sharing easy opt-out instructions.
SMS messages should be the most concise form of communication you send to your customers. Because of their mobile format, they need to be easy to read at a glance and on a small screen. When building SMS campaigns, create messages that are short and direct. Include a clear call to action that makes it easy for recipients to take the intended action, whether that’s clicking a link, taking a survey, sending a response message, or whatever your goal may be.
Be mindful of timing
When it’s 4 p.m. in Los Angeles, it’s midnight in London, 1 a.m. in Berlin and 2 a.m. in Athens. There’s no faster way to lose a subscriber (or a customer, for that matter) than by waking them up in the middle of the night. When sending texts to the other side of the world, timing should be a major consideration in your international SMS strategy.
Frequently asked questions
Does SMS work internationally?
When brands follow the proper steps, it’s not only possible but highly effective to send SMS messages internationally. Companies should be mindful of privacy and consent requirements that vary from country to country.
What are the best practices for SMS?
Get permission from subscribers before texting them. Offer an easy way to opt-out. Make your policies clear and accessible. Keep messages short and simple. Avoid sending too frequently or outside of normal business hours.
What is an international SMS?
An international SMS is a message sent between subscribers with wireless carriers in different countries.
How do I activate international SMS?
Brands can send international text messages by working with a trusted SMS service provider. SMS software makes it easy to send ready-to-build texts to subscribers in countries around the world while staying compliant with all local regulations.