Commentary

Reminders On Email Privacy And Etiquette

Email is not sexy, but it's fundamental and thriving. Email is the root of our identities on the Web. It firmly remains the default social network. It is a simple and ubiquitous channel. We all grant our attention to email.

Which is why email is becoming more popular  among businesses that seek our attention, our engagement and our wallets. Businesses, with help from easy-to-use automation systems, are using email more often for push communications, lead nurturing and customer interaction.


For the most part, growing email adoption by businesses is a good thing. However, one unfortunate side effect is that email etiquette and spam compliance are falling through the cracks -- at the same time that overall volume is growing. I'm not referring to sleazy spammers hawking penis enlargement procedures, cheap prescription drugs, fake Rolexes or Facebook phishing scams (which I don't receive anymore, thanks to corporate and personal Gmail). I'm talking about legitimate companies, small and large, many of which I'm a fan of. I'm not sure if these growing violations are on purpose, by accident or a result of incompetence or technology shortcomings. But it doesn't really matter.

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I'm not going to out anyone (including a prominent technology analyst firm that refused for six months to remove me from its email database), but I would like to remind everyone of four simple principles that all businesses should work very hard to follow. Privacy and email laws aside, these principles will help you gain respect and prevent people from outright blocking you and nominating you for spam-filtering databases. 

Treat email addresses like people. Why? Because there are people on the other end. Respect their privacy and preferences the same way you would if you were sitting in the same room with them.

Ask for permission first. An email address, alone, is not permission to market to someone. An email address is a channel with which to market to someone -- only after you've secured permission.

Make opt-out easy -- extremely easy. If you do market to people with email, it's necessary to make opt-out easy. That means your opt-out links within emails and corresponding Web sites should be prominent, one-click and instant. It's not OK to hide your opt-out links with gray text on white background, or require tedious click-throughs and confusing forms in order to opt out of an email marketing program. In fact, opt-out should be easier than opt-in.

Honor opt-outs. I can't believe how many big, savvy companies violate this rule. When recipients opt out, don't keep their email activated in your marketing program. Deactivate requests for opt-out immediately. Don't disturb means just that.

Please review these four guidelines and live up to them. They're simple. They'll help your business's reputation and customer relationships. And they'll ensure that email remains a viable communication channel.

4 comments about "Reminders On Email Privacy And Etiquette ".
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  1. David Peterson harvey from The Hidden Art, May 21, 2010 at 12:42 p.m.

    Nice article. Thanks.

    However, I don't see a larger etiquette handled. Treating emails as you would a nice, formal letter, albeit with pictures, etc., and showing respect in your wording and tone to your potential customers in email is also paramount.

    Thanks again for a wonderful reminder.

    Peace,
    David

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 21, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

    Amen.

  3. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, Inc., May 21, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    I really appreciate your post on this. However, in addition to the more "sophisticated" businesses who use an email distribution system such as Constant Contact, there are still many small businesses and non profit organizations that put email addresses in the "to" box, therefore blasting email addresses for all to see. This of course leaves us all vulnerable to spam and viruses. Your first point advises emailers to respect the privacy and preferences of recipients and so many fail to do that.

  4. Steve Rotterdam from Bonfire Agency, May 22, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.

    Well said - and something that needs to be said more often. Unfortunately, it seems that many of those charged with implementation of a company or brand's email communications strategy are as unfamiliar with the term "etiquette" in the real world as they are in the virtual one. Here's to respecting your audience.

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