Volume 1

Overcoming the Challenges of Email Legislation

SPAM laws may make it seem difficult to continue with effective email marketing. Taking some simple steps will ensure that you avoid being penalised.

Recently I was concerned to receive an email from one of our suppliers indicating that they had received complaints about SPAM (unsolicited email) coming from one of our clients. Although the complaint did not turn out to be justified, I had the opportunity to review the current laws and technical challenges in the "war against SPAM".

Last year the United States and Australia introduced new federal legislation against unsolicited email. We could debate all day over whether the legislation will be effective. The bottom line is that we all need to comply.

In the United States, the new CAN-SPAM laws seem to be aimed not so much at reducing SPAM, but more at ensuring that consumers can opt-out of individual lists. In fact, you can send whatever you like as long as you:

  1. Include a functional unsubscribe link or address, and
  2. Say that the email is an advertisement, and
  3. Include a valid postal address.

In Australia, legislators have taken it upon themselves to ban all unsolicited commercial email. I believe that there are some serious flaws in the legislation that will cause it to come under heavy review this year, but for now, here are the highlights:
  • Unsolicited commercial electronic messages must not be sent.
  • Commercial electronic messages must include information about the individual or organisation who authorised the sending of the message.
  • Commercial electronic messages must contain a functional unsubscribe facility.
  • Address-harvesting software may not be used, and any lists known to be generated from address-harvesting software may also not be used.

In other words, you cannot send any commercial email to anyone who has not expressly asked for it or consented to receive it.

Legislating against spam has been on the agenda for many countries over the last few years. In Britain a spammer can already be fined up to £5000. In 2002 a ban on unsolicited emails was introduced in Europe. The NZ Government expects to introduce new spam legislation this year.

You may have also heard that on Monday Bill Gates promised to rid the world of SPAM in two years. (Click here to view this news release.) Good luck to him!

You may be forgiven for thinking that email marketing is fast becoming a minefield in which you not only have to comply with new legislation, but also deal with the perceptions of each and every one of your subscribers. Regardless of what the law says, if your subscribers start complaining that your email is unsolicited, and you do not deal with these complaints promptly, you could have your email and your web site blocked.

While you should take these issues very seriously, I wouldn't suggest becoming too alarmed. Instead, focus on implementing some simple business rules and processes into your email marketing to ensure that you are always on the right side of the law.

  • Email Content
    • Tell the subscriber why they have received every email. A line such as "You received this email because you subscribed on our web site" will suffice.
    • Ensure that an unsubscribe link is on every email that you send.
    • Include the subscriber's email address in every message, so that they can easily see which address they subscribed with. Many people have multiple addresses being downloaded into the same email program and sometimes become frustrated trying to unsubscribe with the wrong email address.
    • Include contact information in every email, including a phone number.
    • Instruct your subscribers to add you to their "email white lists".

  • Subscriber Management
    • Honour all unsubscribe requests immediately.
    • Respond to every reply to your emails, including unsubscribes.
    • Segment your mailing list and start targeting your email campaigns to those that the offers best match. Allow your subscribers to tell you what types of emails they would like to receive from you.
    • If you maintain multiple contact management systems, ensure that you have a way to flag unsubscribes on all systems.

  • Business Processes
    • Educate your employees on the importance of these measures, remembering that you are responsible for their actions.
    • Show all employees how to remove a subscriber from ALL of your contact management systems.
    • Implement a strict "opt-in" policy. Do not add someone to your mailing list unless they have expressly consented. Keep a record of this consent.
    • Ensure you keep a record of all unsubscribes (name, email and date).

By making these rules part of your email marketing strategy, you will ensure that you not only comply with the law, you also keep your subscribers happy and maximise your email marketing return.