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Are you signing people up to your mailing list legally?

I’ve just spent a good few hours sorting out my email after a week away. I’ve noticed an increase in unsolicited email or spam – not the type of spam that offers me pills, but unsolicited marketing messages from people I have met.

There are also many discussions circulating at the moment about when it’s appropriate or not appropriate to add someone to your mailing list, so it seemed appropriate for me to write about this subject.

As a busy networker, I meet people all the time, whether in person or virtually. It frustrates the hell out of me that just because I have connected to you on LinkedIn, or started to follow you on Twitter, or given you my business card in good faith, that you add me to your mailing list. I publicly display my email address on my website to make it easy for potential clients to be able to contact me, not to give you my permission to send me unsolicited marketing e-mails.

Think about it: your objective on “meeting me” should be to first and foremost to develop the relationship, not to annoy me (and damage your credibility).

When you add me to your mailing list without prior permission, not only are you breaking the law (the Privacy and Electronic Communications [EC Directive] Regulations 2003, if you’re interested), but you’re showing me and my inbox a lack of respect.

My time is precious, and I could do far more interesting things than deleting, unsubscribing and reporting unsolicited emails.

Let’s have a little look at what the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, actually says:

1st Rule

  • when they send marketing emails to you, the sender must not conceal their identity; and
  • they must give you a valid address for opt-out requests

This rule actually applies to all marketing messages sent by electronic mail (see ‘electronic mail’ below), regardless of who the recipient is.

2nd Rule

  • Senders cannot send such messages unless they have your prior consent to do so.

This strict “opt-in” rule is relaxed if three exemption criteria are satisfied.

These are:

  1. your email address was collected “in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale”;
  2. the sender only sends promotional messages relating to their “similar products and services”; and
  3. when your address was collected, you were given the opportunity to opt out (free of charge except for the cost of transmission) which you didn’t take. The opportunity to opt out must be given with every subsequent message.

This rule only applies to unsolicited marketing messages sent by electronic mail to individual subscribers.

This means you can only sign me up to your mailing list if I give you prior permission or if I buy from you AND you give me a chance to opt out on every mailing.

So the question is then how do you legally build up your mailing list?

  1. When meeting someone, ask for permission to sign them up to your mailing list – give them an incentive for doing so.
  2. Add a squeeze page to your website which encourages people to sign up.
  3. If you don’t get permission when you meet them, send them an email asking for permission.
  4. Drive traffic to a sign-up page on your website, with a compelling incentive to sign up.

Who else feels as strongly as me about unsolicited marketing e-mails?

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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