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eLearning Series


Q: Our business wants to send an email campaign out to our list – but we’re worried about privacy and making sure our messages aren’t considered ‘spam.’ How can we avoid problems?

A: You’re correct to worry – people are much more sensitive to unsolicited email than they are to telemarketing calls or junk mail. Companies like yours spend years building trusted relationships with their customers – and sending a single unsolicited email message can often erase all those years of hard-earned trust.

And there can be financial consequences too: Last week, Atlanta-based Internet Service Provider Earthlink won a $25 million court case against an individual that, among other things, sent unsolicited email messages to their subscribers. So before you hit the ‘send’ button for your next campaign, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

First, permission is paramount. How did you gather your list? You should only send to people that have explicitly given their permission to receive email messages from you or your company. If part of your list is made up of personal contacts, consider sending the message directly from you – because a message from anyone else may be considered unsolicited. If you’re sending to a list that was gathered from your website or through past contact with your customers, make sure you review your privacy policy before you send the campaign. And make sure you have clear internal policies regarding email communication – so that a well-meaning sales person doesn’t compromise your company’s privacy policy.

Second, make sure there are easy ways for people to get off of your list. People who take the time and energy to tell you that they don’t want to receive email messages from you are not likely to become customers. Make sure that at the bottom of the message you include instructions for unsubscribing from your list – either by clicking through to a form or replying to the message with the words “unsubscribe” in the subject line. One common source of frustration in the unsubscribe process is that people often sign up to a list with one email address, but then try to unsubscribe from the list with another. If you are able to mail-merge the user’s email address into the bottom of the message (this often requires special software), then you can avoid this issue.

Third, don’t ever, ever, place all of the names in the TO: line. In July 2001, Eli Lilly sent out an e-mail newsletter to 669 people who signed up to receive Prozac information via e-mail. But instead of using a professional e-mail marketing solution (or simply using the BCC: line), they simply pasted all 669 people’s e-mail addresses in the TO: line. The people who were already depressed and taking Prozac were even more depressed when they learned their identities had been compromised. In that case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action – and Eli Lilly settled for $160,000 for the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive personal information collected from consumers through its Prozac.com Web site. (That’s $239 per email).

Unlike a website where you can quickly change content, once you send out an email message, it is virtually impossible to get your message back. So make sure that you spell-check everything before you send. And test your message in a variety of different platforms to make sure the graphics appear properly in AOL, hotmail and other email systems, and that all of the links go to the proper place.

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