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How to Avoid Email Hubris and Costly Fines

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

      Email hubris is spamming your friends and
everyone else in your contact database without
their consent. Like trying to resist a danish with coffee in the morning, it is hard to contain your enthusiasm.  You want to share the next great product or service with everyone.
      To keep you in check from spewing forth endless emails, the Federal Trade Commission issued The Can Spam Act.
      What people do not realize is that for every unsolicited email you send out, whether it be in bulk or individually, you are at risk for a fine of $16,000 per unsolicited email.  
       Let’s face it.  We all do it. We meet someone at a Business Card Exchange and enter their email address in our database. Exchanging business cards is not an implicit consent to requesting to be added to your email announcements.
       The Can Spam Act ( an act known probably to compliance people, but overlooked by the masses) includes the distribution of all business email, whether sent bulk or individual, that promotes or advertises a commercial product or service.  It also includes promoting a website/blog, which advertises a product or service.  Even sending emails to former clients must have consent.
      The provisions of the Act are not difficult and follow common courtesy.  In a nutshell, here are the basics of the Federal Trade Commission’s Guide to Email Etiquette.
1.  Be Transparent.  You should be truthful when you fill in your “To”, “From”,  “Reply to” and subject lines.  Deceptive domain names etc. will obviously will get you in trouble.  In the Subject Line, avoid using sensational or exaggerated text to get the reader to open the email.  Eventually they will find that they were misled.  For example: Your subject line reads: “You Won a Trip to Hawaii,” but the email text says you won a chance for a Hawaii trip if you click on any of the what seems like hundreds of advertising options.
2.  If your email is an ad, be clear and say so.  Ummm. Well, according to the Act, there isn’t much leeway here. It has to be conspicuous and upfront. Use your creativity to get this done.
3.  Location.  If you are legitimate, you have a location. It can be a post office  box.  No biggy.  Adding this will give your email greater credibility.
4.  The Opting Out Issue.  You must give the email receiver a way of opting out of receiving your email. It must be clear and easily recognizable.  Check other sites and emails for wording.  And should you have requests for opting out, you must comply within 10 business days.  Just remember you may have the person’s name on a couple of lists, so it is prudent to weed through lists periodically.  You are also responsible for those opt out requests that get caught in your spam filter. 
5.  You are responsible for the emails sent out on your behalf.

For the specifics of the law, check out this website:

http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business.pdf

Lots of people are not compliant. Lots of people get away with spamming. However, a more pragmatic way to view this is: In the long run, unsolicited email offends your target audience.  Aside from the hefty fine, which could break a small business in this economy, it is in your best interest to adhere to FTC rules. 
      Repetitious emails hawking the same product or service from you is annoying.  And if you appear more self serving, you know where your email will go…to  JUNK, UNREAD.  
       These rules aren’t hard because this particular piece of legislature has the distinction of making sense.