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