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Debra Simpson advises on spamSpam! No one likes spam. No one wants more spam in their inbox. No one wants to be know as a “spammer”, especially to their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

So, what is spam?

According to the Bureau of Consumer Protection, spam is:

“If the message contains only commercial content, its primary purpose is commercial and it must comply with the requirements of CAM-SPAM.”

Your email must comply with the following in order to be viewed as compliant.

“1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
Your email address, the reply address and your domain and business name must be accurate.

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 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.”

So how do you violate the CanSpam Act?

Let’s say I attend a networking event that allows me to place my business cards on a common “networking table.” You come along and pick up my card, go back to your office, and add me to your email database. Since we didn’t meet, you don’t have any reasonable expectation that I would be interested in receiving your emails.

Most small business owners start out by putting email addresses into their Outlook, or desktop email program. If that’s how you are handling your email contacts, you MUST include your address and a visible method of opting out of your emails. It can be as simple as telling your recipient that they may unsubscribe at any time by replying with unsubscribe in the subject line. The trouble with this is that many small business owners don’t want to hurt your feelings by asking to be taken off your list. An easier way for them to deal with this is to hit the “Report Spam” button. If you get too many complaints your ISP could severely reduce your ability to send email.

The other problem is something like this. This actually happened to me. I met someone at a networking event. They put me on their email list. They actually had an opt-out method I used to unsubscribe. However, the person who put me into the email database wasn’t the person who received my unsubscribe. I was continually put back into the database, as my card was continually picked up at networking events. You must honor the request of those who wish to unsubscribe to your email list.

Lastly, if you are using Outlook or something like it to handle your email list, don’t CC everyone on your list. Send the email to yourself and BCC the recipients. If all those copied on the email can see all the other addresses your chances of seeing a “Report Spam” action taken on your email increase dramatically.

The long and short of it is, you need a service that is recognized as an industry standard in email delivery, like Constant Contact or Get Response. These services are compliant with the CanSpam act  and can handle a growing email list.

I used to belong to a women’s networking group that had a list of approximately 800 women. The list had to be broken down into lists of no more than 50 and each list sent separately. After the sixth go ’round with the lists of 50, the ISP shut down our ability to send out any further emails. It took a lot of time and patience to get them to give back email access.

These services run around $15 to $18 a month to start. They allow you to collect email addresses through a form on your website or social media site. Of course you’ll want to offer an incentive for people to opt-in, but that’s another blog post…