By Richard Manfredi on Nov 3, 2016 9:00:00 AM
With the November elections approaching in the United States, candidates are looking for any edge in connecting with potential voters. Until recently, text messaging as a form of outreach has been difficult – a 2013 update to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits the sending of unsolicited text messages in all instances, including for political campaigns.
However, candidates in the 2016 Presidential election are using new technologies to leverage messaging while remaining compliant with the TCPA. Bloomberg Politics reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is using a homegrown software program called Megaphone that allows campaign workers and volunteers to legally send out large volumes of individualized messages to potential voters.
The Megaphone software was built in response to Bernie Sanders’ campaign using an app called Hustle to send out large volumes of text messaging conversations. Here’s a rough idea of how both Hustle and Megaphone work, according to ZDNet:
- Volunteers connect to the app via their smartphone and receive a series of contacts along with scripted templates
- Each individual contact appears to the volunteer as an outgoing text message based on an automated template
- The volunteer simply hits send over and over until the end of their session (typically about 200 text messages)
- The volunteer can respond to replies sent by recipients using automated templates or place a person on a Do Not Contact list throughout the campaign’s database if a recipient asks to opt out of receiving future texts.
Megaphone and Hustle are able to avoid violating the TCPA because they technically aren’t “automatic telephone dialing systems” that are specifically outlawed in the regulations. A person has to physically hit a button to send a text message. In addition, there is the ability to foster and back-and-forth “conversations” with recipients. With this level of personal interaction required to send a text to a voter, these services are not considered Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems and therefore presumably are not in violation of the TCPA.
Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns leverage these systems because it allows them tap into a vast database of potential contacts that were previously off-limits. For example, campaigns can now use lists of phone numbers to send targeted messages. In addition, text messaging is considered more appealing by many voters, particularly when it comes to millennials.
Daily Dot gave one example of the power of these programs. The Sanders campaign used Hustle to invite people to campaign kickoff events. Of the 338 people who showed up for the event in Tulsa, 95 percent said they had attended because they received a text through Hustle.
The potential impact of these mass texting apps and software platforms is obvious, and it’s likely that their use will multiply with future campaigns. A more intriguing question is whether or not their use will spill into business marketing campaigns. In terms of TCPA compliance, there may not be a practical difference between volunteers using Hustle to send messages inviting people to attend a campaign rally or a business inviting potential customers to an in-store demo or getting product feedback for a new launch. However, any text messaging campaign should be scrutinized to ensure compliance with the TCPA as well as other applicable law or industry standards.
While sending mass texts through apps like Hustle is possible for businesses, whether or not it’s a good idea is another matter. Companies who send unsolicited text messages will often be viewed as “spammers” by the public, even if their approach is legal. In most instances, restricting marketing messages to targeted recipients who have previously opted into a text program remains the best way to get results and maintain a positive image with current and potential customers.
The information included herein is distributed for informational use only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be taken as such. All clients are responsible for meeting legal requirements and other rules that apply to their messaging programs. Consultation with legal counsel is strongly recommended.