Does CAN-SPAM laws sound like the most boring topic ever?
Do you need to know it as well as you know your conversion stats?
Only if you want to avoid SERIOUS fines or worse.
Let’s see if we can inject some fun into this topic while keeping you and your business out of hot water with the U.S. government.
First of all, if you want to win bets with fellow marketers at conferences, bet them that they can’t tell you what CAN-SPAM stands for. Frankly, until I looked it up a second ago, you would have won that bet with me.
CAN-SPAM is the, “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003.” It’s legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that regulates commercial email.
9 out of 10 marketers will tell you they know what the CAN-SPAM Act entails, until you start asking them questions. Then usually all they can tell you is this:
1. Don’t send unsolicited emails
2. Place your business address on the bottom of every email
3. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe to your list.
And that’s a pretty good answer, but it’s not enough to keep you out of trouble.
Here’s what you need to know:
• Each violation of the Act can result in a fine of up to $40,654. That’s PER EMAIL. Am I guessing I have your attention now?
• The Act doesn’t just cover bulk email – it covers ALL commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service, including email that promotes content on commercial websites. Whew, what a mouthful.
• Spam is defined as “unsolicited commercial email.” Thus any email you send that is commercial in nature and the recipient didn’t ask for is technically spam. Right about now there are readers thinking to themselves, “Oh #$%&, I think I may have sent spam.” Yup. If you’ve been marketing for any length of time, there’s a good chance you sent spam and didn’t even know it. That’s because…
• There is NO exception for business -to- business email. This means ALL email, such as an email asking another marketer to promote your product, must comply with the law.
Here’s a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements. I want to get this EXACTLY right so I’m going to take it right off of the FTC’s website:
1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting an email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
7.Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.
Now, I know you’re building your list with people who have ASKED to be on your list. And when they want to leave your list, you have that handy dandy link they can click.
What about those times when you’ve contacted someone – say, another product owner, a business owner, a blog owner, etc., – and proposed something?
“I have this URL which is really close to yours, want to buy it?”
“I have this great product your list would love, want to promote it?”
“I have this terrific service that will bring you new business, want to look at it?”
These are all technically spam. And if reported and acted upon by the FTC, you could get into trouble.
Now, most folks will never bother to report you, even if they are miffed. But it only takes one or two to start trouble.
So in this case, what might you do?
First, I’m no lawyer. Remember that. This is NOT legal advice. But I can tell you the methods I use:
• If I get a referral from somebody, I use that referral in my initial email. “Jake told me (this and this about you) and he said I should contact you and see about possibly setting something up.” No one (in my experience) is going to mind getting this email because you’ve mentioned the mutual friend. Heck, it wasn’t even your idea.
• I don’t ask for what I want in the initial email. Frankly, I might not ask for days or even weeks. Instead, I focus first on building a relationship. “Hi Ellen, I see you’re in the __ field and I just wanted to introduce myself.” No one ever has enough professional contacts, so this nearly always gets a positive response.
• I give them kudos for something they’ve accomplished. “Rashim, I just finished reading your book and I loved it. Here’s what you taught me (Here I list my 3 biggest takeaways). Anyway, just wanted to thank you for writing this great book, I’m going to recommend it to my fellow marketers.” This nearly always gets a response.
In any email I send, I put my contact info including website, social media, and Skype. Whether I ask them to contact me or not, they almost always do, and usually, it’s by email after they’ve checked out my website.
Out of respect for their time, I keep initial emails short and to the point. I don’t solicit. I do close with something like, “If I can be of help to you, please let me know.”Don’t worry about offering your help – professionals generally don’t take advantage of each other, and if they were to ask for something crazy, you could always say no.
If I had to sum up how to send an unsolicited email to a fellow marketer in three words, it would be this:
Make it personal.
When you’re mentioning a mutual friend, complimenting them on something they did, or simply reaching out to meet a fellow marketer, no one in their right mind is going to get upset or cry foul, at least in my experience.
There – you now know enough about CAN-SPAM to avoid any ridiculous fines or knocks on your door by the FTC. If you have questions, please visit the FTC website or contact your lawyer.
And if you’re the guy who keeps sending me those Viagra ads – seriously? Dude, it’s time you learned how to market the real way. You’ll sleep better at night and you won’t have to hide anymore. Think about it.