Are you running an illegal email campaign?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are You Running an Illegal Email Campaign?

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Are you running an illegal email campaign? from www.anyonita-nibbles.comWhen you commit to monetizing your blog, you begin to keep track of every area of influence your blog has. Suddenly, websites like Klout and Sverve matter a whole lot. You spend hours obsessing about your number of Facebook likes, Twitter and Pinterest followers and how many circles you're in on G+ and the number of people who've signed up to receive email updates from you. 

It's normal to obsess about these things because as soon as you sign up to blog networks or begin working with PRs, it's the first thing they ask for a record of. Before anyone commits to working with you, they want to know how many people think you're worth reading. 

With so much focus on getting numbers and readers, it's easy to see why there's so much legislation and resultant confusion surrounding what is and isn't acceptable practice regarding email sign ups. I don't have all the answers, but here's what I've learned regarding CAN-SPAM and EU privacy laws. Be sure to have a quick read through to make sure you're not guilty of running an illegal email campaign!

Yesterday, I saw a Facebook status from one of my bloggy friends that raised a lot of questions and debate. She explained that she had recently experienced other bloggers adding her to their feedburners and sending her daily emails of their recent posts after linking up at their link parties. She wondered if this was a new trend and if other people were doing it. It sparked a lot of debate and brought up gray areas that need addressing. Let's look at what the laws say:

The Laws
Various websites run by people who spend more time than me on email law all state that as a business (yes, your blog can be considered a business) you are required to make sure you comply to the following when sending emails:
  1. Only send emails to people who have agreed to receive emails from you (We'll touch on this in depth in just a bit)
  2. Make sure your blog name is clearly identified as the sender of the emails by using either an email address that can be easily associated with your blog. IE: my emails are sent from munchies[at] If I were to send them from or any other arbitrary email account, I would be in breach of this requirement. 
  3. Make sure your subject line reflects the content of your email
  4. Tell recipients where you're located. You don't have to give out your actual address, but you have to give a physical location on your emails if you are sending as a business. If you use an email marketing provider such as Mad Mimi, this will appear in the footer of your emails. My address, for instance, is just my street name and my city.
  5. Provide a way to opt out and honor opt out requests promptly. Again, if you use Mad Mimi or an equivalent, they handle all of this for you. The option to opt out is included in the footer of all emails sent through Mad Mimi and once someone clicks it, Mad Mimi automatically adds their email address to your suppression list so you cannot contact them in the future.
What is spam?
 No one likes to be spam, but are we clear on what spam actually is? According to the UK Information Commissioner's Office, spam is an email that you didn't ask for or want whose contents can cause embarrassment and distress. As a food blogger, I'm not likely to send out an email with potentially embarrassing or distressing content. Unless someone really doesn't like onions! If you're not sending emails with embarrassing or distressing content, it seems as if you can't be marked as sending spam. Good to know, right? Now, that doesn't mean you are entitled to send anyone anything you'd like! Keep reading.

Do you have the right to send that email?
According to the email policy makers, there are three ways to answer that question. People can choose to either opt-in to receive emails from you or they can choose to opt-out. Or they might fall under what's known as a soft opt-in. This is the bit that applies to bloggers.

A soft opt-in, according to the brainiacs at Nour.ish, is:
when an individual is considered to have opted in on the bases that they have provided their email address ... and ... the individual was informed of how the information they provided would be used and were provided with an opportunity to opt out.

The question my bloggy friend had, was is it was okay for link party hosts to add her to their email marketing as a result of linking up. The short answer is: yes and no.

No, it's not, if you follow the rule of strict opt-ins, which states that someone must give express permission that they would like to receive an email in order to be added to a list.

Yes, it is, if you follow the rule of the soft opt-in.

As a link party host, included in my party post is this statement: By participating in this link party, you agree to be added to Anyonita Nibbles' email marketing list. As a result, you will receive on average three emails a week from me: a reminder about both parties I host and a weekly RSS feed displaying my recent posts. If you do not wish to receive these emails, you can opt-out at any time by clicking the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email. Alternatively, email me directly and I will remove you from the list.

Done this way, I am complying with the soft opt-in interpretation of the law and am not doing anything illegal.

What can I send and to who?
There are no hard and fast rules about this. Trust me, I've searched and searched. Here's what I've garnered as being a good idea, though.

When people sign up through a form on your site, such as this one:
you can send them any legal email that meets the requirements we discussed in The Laws section.

Adding link party participants to email lists
When you add a link party participant, I think you need to be a bit more discerning about what you email them. I'll say it again: send to these email addresses with discretion!

Sending party reminder emails is fine. After all, they participated in your party once and are likely to want to do it again.

Personally, I think sending weekly updates is fine as well, so long as you tell them that you will be sending them. If I'm honest, I don't have the time to read all my favorite blogs every day or even every week. I look forward to my weekly cumulative RSS feed emails because I can see at a glance what everybody has been posting and can choose which posts to read or skip.

I would hedge my bets against sending daily emails, however. I don't even want to read a daily rehash of my own posts, much less anyone else's! If you're going to send emails, you've got to respect your recipients inboxes. How many emails do you get in a day? How many of those do you actually want or read? It's probably the same for them too! Don't bombard and browbeat. If they like your posts, they'll read. If they don't, well, an email isn't going to change that.

Protect yourself with an email marketing account
It can be a bit daunting trying to follow the law to the tee. No one is going to remember to do all of those things, so the best advice I can give you is to sign up with an email marketing provider such as Mad Mimi. I absolutely LOVE Mad Mimi. It's fast and reliable and enables me to send tailored, beautiful email campaigns with just the click of a button. It also helps:
  • keep my emails current and up-to-date with CAN-SPAM, EU and Canadian email marketing laws
  • ensures that I don't compromise anyone's privacy by sending around a mass email with dozens of email addresses in the "to" field. This is BAD, BAD, BAD, by the way. If you must send a normal email through your email account, then please send it to disclosed recipients by being sure to enter their email addresses in the BCC field. NOT the "to" or CC field! Read point number 1 on this post for more information about this.
Like I've said, I'm no industry expert when it comes to email campaigns, but I've researched this extensively and this is what I've learned. It would be worth familiarizing yourself with the laws too, if you're going to be sending emails on behalf of your blog. Check out the further reading section for pertinent links.

Further Reading
Campaign Monitor: Understanding Permission
Mad Mimi: Am I CAN-SPAM Compliant?
ICO's email marking rules
10 Things You Should Know about Email Marketing
Read up on CAN-SPAM
Canadian Email Marketing Laws
EU Email Marketing Overall Laws
Country-specific EU Email Marketing Laws

Are you running an illgal email campaign? From

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