Recruitment marketing via text messaging: Pros and cons

Posted March 20, 2018 by


Recently, a journalist asked me about services offered by organizations such as Canvas and TextRecruit that make it pretty easy for employers to market their employment opportunities to job seekers via text messaging campaigns. There are pros and cons to recruitment marketing via text messaging.

College Recruiter used to sell cell phone text messaging campaigns to our employer customers but we stopped doing so about a decade ago. It had become clear that bulk, commercial texting fell under the same laws as bulk, commercial faxing. Neither are illegal, but both require an incredible amount of record keeping and the recipients had to opt in to receive the messages. Emails, on the other hand, allow employers to market to any candidates who have not opted out. 

Outrageous liability costs of recruitment marketing via text

I suspect that very few employers have any idea whether they, or their vendors (or vendor’s vendors), fully comply with each and every requirement, and that the employer’s liability can easily extend into millions of dollars. Simon & Schuster and others learned this the hard way. They did nothing wrong but ended up being liable because they were misled by their vendors.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is just one of the laws that employers and others involved need to be aware of. According to the law firm McCarter & English, “[t]he TCPA provides that it is unlawful for any person to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automated telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to any telephone number assigned to a paging service, a mobile telephone service, a specialized mobile radio service or any service for which the called party is charged for the call.”

Penalties start at $500 per wrongful call or text. They increase to $1,500 if your actions were knowing.

Imagine the following: Your vendor assures you that they’re fully compliant, they text 1,000 people and then they prove not to be compliant. A class action lawsuit is filed against them and you, and they go out of business. You could find yourself on the hook for 1,000 x $1,500, which works out to a cool $1.5 million. Yes, $1.5 million simply for texting 1,000 people. 

Penalties start at $500 per wrongful call or text. They increase to $1,500 if your actions were knowing.

How sure are you that your texting vendor is fully compliant AND keeps copious records AND will have the funds to cover a massive judgment should something go wrong? Will they also cover the costs to defend your organization against the lawsuit? And how do you recover the damage done to your organization’s employment brand should you be sued even if you prevail? 

I’m far from being a Luddite. I’m not afraid of new technology nor am I resistant to their use. Indeed, I advocate on a daily basis for employers to embrace new tactics and strategies in how they market their employment opportunities. Texting is part of that. It is incredibly friendly and productive both to the employer and the potential employee…. when done properly. So my concerns aren’t about texting so much as about how those texting campaigns are implemented and how well the talent acquisition people who are buying these campaigns actually know what potential liability they are incurring on behalf of their employer.

Text recruit vendors may not have legitimate listsA red flag and a better approach to texting

If your vendor sends your message to a list that belongs to the vendor, it is unlikely that those candidates gave permission to receive your message. Why? Because it is improbable that you’ll know for sure exactly what permission each one of those candidates gave to the vendor. You can see their registration form, but if they send a text on your behalf to 10,000 candidates, you are not likely to spend the time reviewing the exact language that each candidate saw when giving permission.

You’re probably safer if your own organization gathers a list. Include an option for candidates to opt-in to receive text messages when they apply to your jobs or register with your applicant tracking system. If you personally oversaw the creation and maintenance of that feature, you can probably rest assured that you know the questions that have been asked of all of the candidates, and your attorney should be able to tell you if your list complies with the requirements of TCPA and other relevant laws. That said, given the turnover in human resource departments, it seems unlikely that one person has personal knowledge of the exact language seen by every single candidate. That’s not to say that the law requires one person to have that knowledge, but if multiple people are involved, there’s an increased chance that one of them has made a mistake. And if one has made a mistake, your liability can easily be in the millions of dollars.

Related: What if your interview invitation email wasn’t an email? 

Text or don’t text?

At the end of the day, all people and organizations take risks. Without risks there are no rewards. You take a risk of being harmed just getting out of the bed in the morning. So I’m not advocating that you eliminate all risk in the marketing of your employment opportunities and I’m not advocating that you abandon texting campaigns or refuse to consider them. But I am advocating that you go into them with your eyes wide open. Minimize unnecessary risks. Be aware of the ramifications of those which still exist. And weigh the risks and rewards. If the risks outweigh the rewards, pass. If the rewards outweigh the risks, go for it.

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