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Real Businesses Send Spam, Too!

  • Posted August 8, 2006
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Unsolicited Commercial Email or Spam has grown at epidemic
proportions. It is rapidly becoming the number one problem that
Information Technology departments deal with on a day-to-day
basis, surpassing computer viruses. The volume and percentage of
unwanted email received in business and personal email inboxes
is starting to overwhelm and drown out legitimate email.

Although the vast majority of this bulk email is being
perpetrated by individual spammers and a few large bulk mailers
pushing pornography, gambling, get rich schemes, ‘medicinal
cures’ and bootleg software, real businesses have been caught in
the web also by committing several errors. The three ways a
legitimate business falls into the Spam mode are: 1. Legal
non-Compliance, 2. Violating Trust, and 3. Lack of Value.

Legal non-Compliance

Through the end of 2003 it was very difficult to comply with
Spam laws as twenty six states had passed their own laws dealing
either directly with the process of sending unsolicited
commercial email or the format requirements of bulk email. With
the passage of the Federal law – “Controlling the Assault of
Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003″ or better
known as the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, it has become a lot easier to
understand and apply the rules. Real businesses should have no
problem complying with all aspects of the law and those that
don’t will find themselves in legal jeopardy for significant
penalties.

The process components of the law won’t be an issue for real
businesses, they don’t fake the reply address, they don’t hijack
someone else’s mail server nor do they contain falsified routing
information. Where they are likely to fail are in three specific
areas.

1) Neglecting to include a valid physical address in the body of
the email.

2) Not having a functional Internet-based opt-out mechanism,
which must be active for a minimum of 30 days after the email
has been sent.

3) Failing to include clear and conspicuous identification that
the message is an advertisement or solicitation. Most State laws
approached this similar provision by requiring the use of the
letters ADV: in the beginning of the subject line. The Federal
doesn’t specify how this is to be accomplished; thereby, leaving
it open to a wide range of interpretation.

There are several additional areas that are process related that
may trip up the sender unintentionally.

1) The sender rents or purchasing a defective email list, for
example one that has individuals that have already opted-out of
email communications.

2) They use a ‘tricky’ subject line to entice recipients to open
the message. Subject lines that stretch the truth could be
identified as misleading the purpose of the email and therefore
be a violation.

3) Agents or related 3rd parties that have business relationship
with the firm send out Spam. This could put the company in
jeopardy if it can be proven that they were aware of the related
company’s activities.

Although the Federal law isn’t perfect one significant
advantage it does offer to real businesses is that there is now
only one place they need to go to check the rules before a
company embarks onto an email marketing program.

Violating Trust

Trust is one of the major stumbling blocks keeping the publics’
enthusiasm for the Internet in check. And when it comes to
providing their email address that is in the eye of the storm.
The overwhelming concern people have about providing a company
their email address is that it will be shared, loaned, rented,
sold or carelessly unprotected. Sharing lists internally between
product lines, departments, or divisions and externally with
‘business partners’ stretches the permission basis originally
given by the subscriber. When opt-in lists developed at one
website are resold to list brokers, real businesses that rent
these lists automatically become spammers because recipients are
typically applying this litmus test to commercial email they
receive: “Email marketing is for product/service information
I’ve specifically requested, Spam is sent without asking for it”.

Businesses embarking down the eMarketing path often have
in-house databases that include email addresses of suspects,
prospects, and clients. The conversion of these lists, developed
on a relationship basis, to a formal subscriber list treads a
fine line and should be considered very carefully before
assuming that permission has been granted.

Lack of Value

Every time you send email to your list members, you will be
judged, and in some cases, it may appear to have been done
unfairly. In today’s environment subscribers are now becoming
annoyed at a variety of shortcomings, such as messages about
products they seldom buy, messages that serve the sender more
than the recipient, unsubscribe processes that don’t work, ‘hard
sell’ messages or even messages in formats that can’t be
properly displayed in the recipient’s mail program.

The plain simple truth is that even in a permission email
environment, recipients are now applying their own tests for
Spam whether they opted in or not. These are natural human
reactions to the mailings they receive – it can be as
straightforward as “Email marketing is email I like, Spam is
email I don’t like.”

How to Fix

Real businesses need to insure that they aren’t jeopardizing
their brand name by meeting or exceeding the best practices for
email marketing. Auditing the list, evaluating your content and
insuring proper conformance with the documentation process in
the permission mailing process are the key components to a
successful campaign.

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  • Posted On August 8, 2006
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