Alphabet Soup: SMS, FCC, MMS, & TCPA - Excuse me?

I’ve worked in many different industries during my career. Every single one had their own language, their own set of acronyms and abbreviations. I’ve also seen this in different organizations within the same industry. I suppose you could think of this as the dialect of business. Just as different countries have many dialects and languages, learning your way around, and understanding all the nuances of a particular business and industry takes at least three of these four key things: 1 - patience and time; 2 - colleagues and coworkers willing to translate for you; 3 - a good mentor; and 4 - a published glossary of terms.

As you might expect, when you’re new to an industry, you have a lot to learn from day one. And even if your new industry is something you are familiar with as a consumer, things are totally different when you’re on the business side. I’ve experienced this first hand more than once in my career.

Here are a few key acronyms & abbreviations from the business text messaging arena that you might have heard of, and perhaps a few you never knew!

SMS (Short Messaging Service)

Simply put, SMS stands for Short Messaging Service. Today, it has become synonymous with Text Messaging, or even simpler - Texting. So what’s the big deal about that? SMS was first developed in 1984 but the first text message ever sent didn’t happen until 1992. And it wasn’t until 1997 when there was a phone out there with a full keyboard. Who remembers having to double-tap the 4, double-tap the 3, triple tap the 5 twice, and triple tap the 6 just to send a message that says “hello”? What a hassle…but those of us who texted back in the day, got really good at it and really fast too! Oh, and that multi-tapping technology got even better in the 1990s with the invention of T9 - Text on 9 keys - that had predictive text capabilities to display likely words from just the first keypress. Still, SMS is limited to 160 characters per message. If a message exceeds that, it’s broken up into, and billed as multiple message segments, although most carriers today automatically tie the segments together so it appears as one message.

But does anyone really use their phone’s keyboard or virtual keypad anymore?

Now it’s more like this:
ME: Hey Siri, Text Cindy.
SIRI: What do you want to say?
ME: When are we meeting for lunch?
SIRI: Your message to Cindy says “When are we meeting for lunch?” Ready to send?
ME: Ok.

The adoption of SMS was pretty slow early on. In 1995, the average American was sending less than one text per month. By 2000, that grew to an average of 35 per month. And by 2007, Americans were sending & receiving more text messages per month than phone calls. And now, SMS is the most widely used data application in the world, with over 6 billion SMS messages sent daily in the US alone. I just checked my phone, and in the nine hours I’ve been awake today, I’ve been in 14 different text conversations each involving at least 12 messages to and from. That’s well over 150 messages for me…and the day is far from over.

Yeah - we’ve come a long way!

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)

MMS, built using the same technology as SMS, stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. It’s most commonly used for sending pictures, like when I’m in the grocery and my list simply says “bread”. I used to grab a loaf of whole-grain bread and be done. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that “bread” also means “rolls”, “ciabatta”, or a whole slew of other “bread-like” objects. So now, I take a picture of the selection and send that MMS off to my wife, who responds back with an SMS stating, “get the 2nd one from the left.” Above and beyond pictures, MMS can also be used to send audio files, video files, PDFs (depending on the carrier) and is even used for sharing phone contacts. While MMS does not have a standard limit, like SMS does, that doesn’t mean it’s without limitations. The maximum MMS size depends on the carrier and the device receiving the message.

OOT (Over the Top)

But what about things like WhatsApp or iMessage? Ah yes…those are what some people call OOT apps. OOT, as in Over the Top, because they don’t require a cellular network connection. Those apps use IP or Internet Protocol to send & receive messages, so all you need is an internet connection. Now you know why you can have conversations while on an airplane - because your iPhone (or your Android phone, using WhatsApp) is connected to the in-flight WiFi! OOT apps need to be downloaded by your intended recipients before you can use them to send SMS.

FCC (Federal Communications Commission)

The Federal Communications Commission, the governing body in the United States that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite & cable. The FCC is the primary authority for communications law. The FCC created the TCPA in the 1990s, originally as protection against phone call and robocall solicitation. Wait a sec, what’s the TCPA?

TCPA (The Telephone Consumer Protection Act)

This quickly evolved to include text messaging. There are limitations on telephone solicitation and the use of automated equipment that requires organizations to have documented, explicit, written consent before sending text messages. And just because you already have a relationship with an intended recipient, and even if you have their phone number, do not text them without having an opt-in first. And no, you can’t text them asking them to opt-in to receiving text messages. That’s a violation of the law, and each occurrence, i.e., each message sent, counts as a violation. And each of those can land you fines between $500 and $1,500. Every. Single. Message. Curious about how much that can cost? Ask Domino’s Pizza. Or you could ask many other well-known companies, like Best Buy or even Google!

CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing)

This came about in 2003, and it’s a mouthful. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. Among other things, the CAN-SPAM Act prohibits the inclusion of deceptive or misleading information and subject headings, requires identifying information such as a return address in email messages, and prohibits sending emails to a recipient after an explicit response that the recipient does not want to continue receiving messages, a.k.a., an opt-out.

FAFC (First Ask For Consent)

This stands for First Ask For Consent. And yes, I totally made that one up - but regardless of how your organization messages people, FAFC, please! Ask for their consent to receive text messages, and you can do that in a few ways - create a TCPA-compliant form (with the help of your legal counsel) on paper, online or in an email, or have your targeted audience text in a keyword to your organization over SMS, But beware, for any of these consent forms to be valid, your organization must clearly and prominently disclose the following:

  • The number of messages recipients should expect to receive.
  • The details of your privacy policy.
  • How to opt-out (please make sure this is an easy process.)
  • How to get assistance if it’s needed.


    Here at Mogli, we highly recommend the keyword query form (or another data collection methodology) delivered over text message, as we’ve seen our clients ease administrative burdens and painfully low conversion rates of analog or online methods. Keyword queries are inbound marketing at its best. You can create a call to action on your website or other digital and traditional channels, including advertisements, inviting people to text in a keyword to your organization’s phone number.

    For example, “Text in the word INFO to 555-555-5555 for more information about our program.” When someone texts in, that’s the first opt-in. If you want to really cover your bases, and we encourage you to do so, obtain a double-opt-in by responding with something like, “We would like to send you one to four SMS messages from us per month. Is this okay with you? Please respond with YES or NO.”

    If the person answers “YES,” this constitutes a double opt-in. Please don’t forget that this active consent or relationship expires every 18 months. Use Mogli automation on Salesforce to regain opt-in 18 months from the initial day each user subscribes to your text messages.

    Ready to learn more about how you can drive better results with SMS? Schedule a demo today!