Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to avoid being labelled a spammer

Do you know how to avoid being labelled a spammer?

Today somebody sent me an email. It was spam.  It said Only 38 shopping days until Christmas....and books make great gifts! and attached links to art books she'd produced.

The artist concerned did not think it was spam - but she was wrong.

I'm sure it was a genuine mistake. I guess in all probability she hadn't done her homework and didn't actually understand what spam is - and how easy it is to be labelled a spammer if you don't know what you're doing.

That's when I began to wonder how many other people might make the same mistake - and get their email address labelled as generating spam.  So I wrote this post!

This post provides 15 top tips for how to avoid being labelled a spammer - plus some links to sites which provide more information and advice.

Who should read this post?
  • Anybody marketing art or anything else for Christmas
  • All those who are thinking about marketing their art and art products online on a more active basis 
  • All the people who've never done any research about what you can and cannot do when marketing your art
  • Anybody who communicates with people via a mailing list
  • Anybody who hasn't checked what they actually do against a checklist of what not to do!

What is spam?

The shorthand version

Here's my take on what is spam - based on various legal definitions
Spam is unwanted and unsolicited electronic messages - and the person who defines what is unwanted and unsolicited is the recipient not the sender.
  • unwanted = not interested
  • unsolicited = did not ask to be emailed, did not sign up for it
The legal version

This is what the Information Commissioner in the UK has to say on the topic.
You cannot transmit, or instigate the transmission of, unsolicited marketing material by electronic mail to an individual subscriber unless they have previously notified you, the sender, that they consent, for the time being, to receiving such communications.
The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations /  Electronic mail (Regulations 22 and 23) 
People living in the USA should consult the CAN-SPAM Act.  The Federal Trade Commission has some helpful guidance about the Can-Spam Act
Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.
and in the UK, this is how electronic mail is defined by Electronic mail (Regulations 22 and 23)
The Regulations define electronic mail as ‘any text, voice, sound, or image message sent over a public electronic communications network which can be stored in the network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient and includes messages sent using a short message service’
15 Tips for how to avoid being labelled a spammer
  1. Understand what spam is This is the MOST IMPORTANT TIP. Failure to understand how spam is defined is the main reason people get inadvertently labelled as spammers.  They don't mean to do wrong - but they've not done their homework.  Spam is ANY electronic mail which is:
    • unsolicited and/or
    • an irritant - it upsets, or annoys the recipient and/or
    • about a topic you do not have permission to write to the recipient about and/or
    • breaches the law and regulations relating to electronic mail.
  2. Recognise that Regulations cover ALL electronic mail marketing.  The rules do NOT just relate to newsletters. The rules covering electronic mail apply to any message that consists of text, voice, sound or images. That means they include all email, texts, pictures, videos, voicemail and answerphone messages.
  3. Make sure you have written permission to email the person. No written permission = no electronic mail of any sort.
    • Permission-based marketing is the ONLY way to operate legitimately.  
    • People must opt to receive electronic mail from you.  You cannot decide that they might be interested and therefore it's a good idea to send them an email!
  4. Always respect the permission you've been given.  If they say it's spam it's spam - do not argue.  
    • Apologise for the misunderstanding (if that's what it is).  
    • Remove them from your mailing list immediately if that's what they ask.
  5. Sign people up for your newsletter.  That way you get to be legitimate.  You have their permission to write to them about all matters which you said you would be talking about in your newsletter - such as art for sale.
  6. ALWAYS Use a double opt-in process to confirm subscriptions i.e. they have to physically confirm that they want to receive emails from you.  
    • What that means is that they sign up - and then have to confirm the subscription by clicking a link in an email sent to the email address that's been nominated.  
    • It's a simple process which avoids other people adding an email address into a mailing database without the owner's permission.
  7. NEVER ever overstep the mark.  You MUST limit all communications to the topic that the person signed up for.  For example:
    • I have an agreement with you that you will write to me about art.  
    • If you start writing to me about who should be the next President of the USA I will instantly start labelling you a spammer and will hit the unsubscribe button very fast! 
  8. Do NOT share email addresses with the whole mailing list.  Would you like it if somebody took your email address and shared it with all and sundry.  No?  Neither do the people you are sending emails to!  
    • Make sure you either use the bcc box for ALL the email addresses of recipients of your mail ("bcc" means "blind carbon copy" - the name and email address of anybody listed in the bcc box cannot be seen by anybody listed in the "to" or "cc" box)
    • Alternatively use proper email software which should prevent you from sharing everybody's email address with everybody else. (See Email Newsletter Software - Resources for Artists )
    • Read more about why respect for privacy is important.
    1. Advertise your privacy policy.  Make it easy for people to see that you understand what the legal obligations are about privacy and that your are respectful of their privacy.  This involves:
    2. REMEMBER that people are forgetful and sometimes do not remember signing up for a mailing list!   
      • It's a fact of life - they may have signed up - but they don't remember doing so.  It happens. So treat them nice!  I've seen some very good marketing emails which suggest that people may have forgotten signing up - but that it's absolutely no hassle to unsubscribe if the recipient doesn't want to receive the email.....
      • You're much less likely to be labelled a spammer if you have a clear link to where they can unsubscribe from your mailing list database.  The trick to keeping people sweet is to make this into something which is overtly respectful.
      • Remember also that this is actually a legal requirement!  
      1. ALWAYS be transparent - tell people explicitly what the mail is about in the headline. 
        • Do not mislead.  
        • If your marketing amounts to an advertisement you need to be very clear about this.
      2. You cannot be anonymous.  You may think your website or blog address is enough - but it isn't.  In the USA, your message must include a valid physical postal address. If you don't provide this you are breaking the law.  People can't send you an unsubscribe letter.
      3. Comply with all relevant legislation and remember the laws can vary from country to country.  If you want to do business on an international basis it's wise to be aware of the expectations of individuals who live in a different country to you.  The UK for example has fairly tough laws about the protection of personal data about individuals (see links below for more on this topic)
      4. Don't look like a spammer!  Do not use words in your headline or the body of the message which are ones often associated with spammers - like "FREE".
      5. Remember how easy it is for people to hit the email spam button - without a second thought! If your email address keeps getting reported for sending what other people think is spam - even if you don't think it is - then you will be investigated......
      More information

      If you've got the heebie jeebies I suggest you keep reading........

        Avoiding being called a spammer
      Respect for Privacy


      1. I was thinking about this today because I get a lot of 'hi, I like your blog' comments followed by a twenty line essay on why I should look at their blog and follow them and how interesting etc. they are, even though I've never heard from them before or have no interest in their blog or service. Nor have they commented before or taken time to post anything relevant to the content. I personally feel that's spam. So I lable them as such. Especially when my comments policy requests people don't do that. Is requesting support/attention/followers equally spam worthy as advertising a product/service?

      2. Thanks for this useful resource post.

        I often receive unsolicited and unwelcome newsletters and other bulk e-mails from artists who think it is cool to send them because I am a self-proclaimed textile enthusiasts.

        Your post highlights why it is so not cool.

      3. I'm so glad I did this post now. I thought maybe it was just me that got a lot of these emails but obviously not!

        If you have a similar problem do please highlight this post on your blog - let's spread the word!

      4. Lianne - When are people going to realise that if you comment on a blog, people will almost always check your blog out if they don't know you - but are very resistant to clicking links in unsolicited email!

        I think you're right to count such approaches as spam. My own personal view is that the best way to approach people to ask them about artwork and not get labelled as a spammer is to ask permission to show off your work and your website - but not to assume people are automatically interested in your work.

        Stick a URL after your name and leave it at that.

        If I then take a peek at the website and like the work I know who to contact.

        If I don't I just pass on to the next item on the agenda. If I were to write to everybody who asks my views I'd have to make it a business to make it manageable!

      5. Oh - the irony! I've just had to mark as spam somebody who couldn't resist saying spam was their mortal enemy - and then left a very explicit link to "buy art @ xyz" in their signature.

        Written by somebody whose blogs reveal is jobless, is not an artist and who has set up blogs just so they can earn income online - by leaving comments on blogs!

        One can only conclude that some people just don't get it!

        Also that they don't understand that all links in Blogger comments are automatically assigned the rel="nofollow" tag, so they'll receive no PageRank boost. (see Blogger Help re comments)

      6. Great post.
        Question on '15 tips for how to avoid being labelled a spammer', number 3;
        I don't send any marketing emails other than show announcements (I am not directly selling anything in these emails).
        I only send to friends, family and a few clients. (the gallery does their own promotion)

        In this case should I get written permission first?


      7. Thanks for the question David - I guess a number of people might be wondering about that.

        Here's my take on the situation. I'm very happy for others to offer their views too.

        1. Announcement of a show = marketing art = all provisions of the legislation and regulations apply

        2. You may well get away with it with family and friends BUT it's often the case that those who know you well won't actually tell you if you're really irritating them with emails they don't want to get. It took me six months to tell one of my relatives that I actually am not interested in the jokes he finds funny!

        3. Don't forget family and friends who buy art are art collectors and you should really treat all your art collectors to the same professional behaviour

        4. Hence - I think it's best to treat family and friends in the same way as all other potential customers. You can always add on a personal note if you want. I think most would be tickled pink to get a "proper" invite - and why not!

        5. The law and regulations apply to all electronic messaging - whether it's to one person or 100 people.

        Bottom line - it's all messages to all people which fall within the criteria for the messages which matter.

      8. I should perhaps also mention that I boycott all art websites who employ people to spam comment on their behalf.

        Beware the seemingly helpful 'on topic' comment - which then has a link to an art website which is completely and utterly irrelevant to the topic.

        I ALWAYS mark all such comments as spam - and, as I said, I am then extremely unlikely to ever reference the website cited in the link. Which means that not only does the website not gain any advantage, it also actually gains a place on my black list!

        There are two features which when combined unequivocally identify comment spammers. One on its own indicates great care should be taken

        (1) their profile is not available (which could mean they've already had their account deleted) or they are determined to remain anonymous. Click their name to see their profile is a quick check.

        (2) they don't have an art blog of any description

      9. Great post! I am irritated every time I get an email newsletter that I did not sign up for. And it irks me even more to have to go through the steps to unsubscribe. And then I'm even that much more irritated when I get another email stating that I've been unsubscribed.

      10. Excellent post Katherine.

        I wrote about this a while back on make big art and agree with you 100%. I get a lot of unsolicited newsletters also.

        My article on the topic talked a lot about the mindsets of why this is a good approach - about targeting your message to people that have clearly said "I want to hear from you". It's about trusting and abundance.

        The article is here:

      11. Thanks Lisa - and excellent article - I shall add it into my resource site


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