Marketing by Email? Be Very Careful.

 Being mindful of your actions is not simply good advice for living… in business, it is a requirement.

A few days ago, my incoming Twitter feed took on a fiery tone. Anger spewed forth with abandon from one of my fellow business owner contacts. He was incensed, having discovered that a particular spammer had gone the extra mile to target his company’s clients as a group.

Over the span of a few hours, this business owner kept himself incredibly busy in the singular task of transforming the man at the other end of the spam campaign into a trembling, whimpering mess. Names were named. I have no doubt that calls were made to lawyers and muscle-for-hire. There was mention of a bulk manure delivery service.

Though one could (at a distant stretch) consider the spammer’s crackerjack box web design company a competitor for my own, by the end of the day I actually began to feel a bit sorry for the man. But only a bit.

Marketing by email is not like marketing by phone or mail. It’s a different game, with different rules. Lawsuits were threatened in the case above, and it wasn’t just hyperbole. The spammer in this case had enough experience to know precisely what he was doing… or at least he should have.

If you want to communicate with prospects by email (and this includes e-newsletters), there are a few mandatory steps you need to take to ensure you’re not breaking any laws.

Specifically, CAN-SPAM compliance requires the following:

  • Subject Line must not be misleading.
  • Advertisements must be clearly labeled as such.
  • Email headers, sending email address and other identifiers in the headers must not have been tampered with in order to conceal your identity.
  • The body of the email must contain a valid physical address for the sender.
  • The email must contains a functioning opt-out mechanism.
  • Opt out requests must be honored within 10 business days.

These are the absolute minimal requirements for email marketing.

Technique, tact, consideration, design and content are an entirely different issue… but even if you take none of them into account – perhaps, especially if you take none of them into account – ignoring the simple rules above will place you squarely in the cross-hairs for litigation and impossibly heavy penalties.

Each individual violation of CAN-SPAM regulations is subject to fines of $16,000. That’s per message. And that’s just for starters. Criminal charges are also probable for spammers engaged in the truly slimy stuff like email harvesting, using malware, or hijacking other people‚Äôs computers to send spam without their permission.

Now, the odds are that most ethical businesses who market or send out newsletters by email are already following these regulations, in addition to making sure the people they contact actually want to hear from them. They’re really rather common-sense things to do, and if you’re not already doing them, it doesn’t take much to become complaint.

Regardless of the context, ethics counts for a lot – it always has, and it always will.

The state of social media means that bad news travels fast and far. Public name & shame seems to be the new alternative to the BBB dinosaur – and it’s certainly more effective. The poor decisions made by the spammer above have undoubtedly hurt their business, which, if I’m honest, doesn’t bother me much. Their failure means one less unscrupulous dullard marring the design industry.

Dirty business always ends up in the mud, eventually.

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