And even though we can universally agree on a dislike of spam, here’s the tricky thing—sometimes people spam others without realizing what they’re doing. Since the Can-Spam Act of 2003, spam is a serious business. If you break the rules (yes, there are rules), you could be fined—up to a whopping $16,000 per infraction.
“So what?” you might be thinking to yourself. “People do spammy stuff all the time and nothing ever happens to them.” Although it’s true that a large number of people or companies that make regular use of spammy tactics may never see any sort of enforcement or punishment, not everyone will escape unscathed—and that’s why it’s better to be safe than sorry. Consider Jumpstart Technologies, which was fined $900,000 for “disguising its commercial emails as personal messages and by misleading consumers as to the terms and conditions of the promotion.”
Or ValueClick, which paid $2.9 million to settle an FTC charge that their “emails were deceptive and violated federal law” after ValueClick sent out emails offering “free” gifts that weren’t actually free.
Now that I have your attention, I’ll help you steer clear of violating this act (and spamming your friends and neighbors!). Here are a few of the most common ways you may unknowingly be spamming someone and what to do about it.
Business cards don’t equal subscribers. Just because you received someone’s business card at a networking event doesn’t mean you can automatically sign that person up for your newsletter. In the Can-Spam Act, Congress includes “affirmative consent,” which is defined as ‘the recipient expressly consented to receive the message, either in response to a clear and conspicuous request for such consent or at the recipient’s own initiative’. Unless you discussed your newsletter at the networking event and that person requested to receive your newsletter, it’s a no-go.
Opt out. If you distribute an email newsletter and don’t have a method for unsubscribing, change that—immediately. This is one of the major reasons I suggest that clients use email marketing software such as MailChimp, Constant Contact or iContact (to name a few). These programs all include an unsubscribe link that allows recipients to easily unsubscribe. Plus, the software removes them for you—how easy is that?
Meet the deadline. According to the Can-Spam Act, you have three days to drop someone from your mailing list once they’ve unsubscribed. Again, this is another reason to consider using email marketing software.
Money can’t buy subscribers. You bought a list so everything must be good and right in the world, right? Wrong! The Can-Spam Act says you cannot “harvest” a list. You’ll find that most reputable email marketing software companies will not let you use a purchased list since the individuals on it have not given “affirmative consent” to be a part of “your” list (see tip number 1).
Clear contact info. Your newsletter must include accurate reply to/from and contact information. That means the information needs to readily and easily identify the person and business that sent the message.
Social networks aren’t exempt. You may think the Can-Spam Act doesn’t apply to social media. Think again! On March 28, 2011, in Facebook, Inc. v. MaxBounty, Inc., the California District Court held that messages sent by Facebook users are “electronic mail messages.” If you’re sending blatant ads on social media platforms, think twice before hitting “send!”
To keep yourself and your business in the free and clear (and avoid debilitating fines), make sure you’re following these email marketing best practices:
- Test your emails to be compliant with most email readers, including Outlook, Entourage, Mail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.
- HTML emails should be no more than 500 to 600 pixels wide.
- If you create an HTML email, you should create an alternative text email (email software programs help you do this).
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
- Link back to your website, your Facebook page, your Twitter account and other relevant social networks.
- Include a call to action. After all, you still want your email marketing efforts to generate leads as part of your larger marketing strategy. Just make sure you’re not spamming your audience.
Now that you’ve completed a crash course in avoiding spam, go forth and email wisely!
Robin Moss is the founder of ribit, a digital marketing agency that specializes in custom WordPress web sites, e-commerce sites, SEO, social media, graphic design, marketing, advertising and public relations. In her spare time you will find her on Twitter or trying to find the best sushi restaurant in town.
Lead image by jacobms via Creative Commons