As consumers have evolved from using traditional ways of connecting with businesses (phone directories, newspaper ads) to digital mediums (desktop computers, mobile devices), business owners have embraced email marketing as a way to keep in touch with their existing customer base and increase sales. While putting together a great campaign and sending it to your entire distribution list seems simple enough, there are rules that the average American small- to medium-sized business owner may not be aware of.
In 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act, establishing the how, who, when, and where of commercial emails. These rules not only apply to bulk emails, but to ALL of your business emails, even the ones sent to other businesses.
So, not only do you have to make sure you're not making the mistakes pointed out in last week's blog, but that you're also not breaking the law. Keep in mind, the same rules and penalties apply, regardless of the size of your business. Violations can result in fines up to $16,000 per offense.
To keep your wallet from weeping and to make sure your email campaigns are compliant, here are a few cans and cants outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act:
If they've opted-in, you can send
A legitimate email distribution list only contains recipients who want to receive information from you. The most common way of violating this is by purchasing lists. Initially, it can seem like a good idea - blast a ton of people that don't know who you are and cross your fingers that a few of them will bite - but its not. Not only will the reputation of your company take a hit in the minds of consumers but it can lead to complaints being filed against your company with the Federal Trade Commission.
You can't stop opt-outs
Every email correspondence that you send must include clear instructions on how the recipient can unsubscribe. While no one likes losing subscribers, you can't make subscribers jump through hoops to do so. The unsubscribe process should be just as easy to navigate as subscribing. In the event that you do receive an opt-out request, you have 10 business days to process it.
Other opt-out cants, according to the CAN-SPAM Act:
- You can't sell or transfer an email address once the opt-out has been requested
- You can't ask for information beyond the email address in order to grant the opt-out
- You can't make them pay in order to opt-out
Once the request to stop receiving messages has been received, confirmation of the request should be sent to the recipient and all other correspondence should end.
Contact info can - and must - be included
Even though things such as your company name and logo may be included in the email, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that a business address be included in all email correspondences. It can be a street address or a P.O. Box. All that matters is that the address is valid and visible in the email.
You can't be misleading
Recipients have to know what they are getting when they receive an email from you. Your email must clearly identify who it is from and the subject line must reflect the content of the email. If it is an ad, you must say that it is so.
You can't pass the buck
Many companies have opted to use a third party or agency to handle their email marketing needs. While this is a great way to delegate some responsibilities and free up valuable time, it doesn't absolve you of legal responsibility for your email campaigns. Both parties can be held responsible for violations, so pay close attention to what's being sent out on your company's behalf.
The best way to avoid being in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is to be informed about it. To learn more about the CAN-SPAM Act and how to make sure your business is compliant, take a look at the Federal Trade Commission's CAN-SPAM Act Compliance Guide For Business (PDF).