Social networks and bulk email


There’s been a bit of a commotion on Twitter and over at J Caldwell’s blog about Al’s reaction to someone harvesting his address off LinkedIn and then adding that email address to his company’s marketing / newsletter database. Al objected to getting the mail, the person who did this shot back that it wasn’t spam, there was lots of arguing both over twitter and on the blog post.
This also recently happened when a well known email marketer took all 500+ of his Linked In contacts (including me) and added them to his corporate Christmas card list. His behaviour also created a bit of a stir, although it was a little less public.
That mailing was interesting, because a number of people who received the card thought this was the Best Use of Email, EVER! Some of them went so far as to opine “How could ANYONE not like this mail? What are they, Scrooge?” Well, actually, I found the mail irrelevant and a bit annoying. I have to admit I would have been a lot less annoyed if I knew this was a one time thing. However, in order to comply with CAN SPAM he included an opt-out. Which lead to some head scratching: have I been added to their full list? Am I going to get their newsletter from now on? Do I have to opt-out? What was he thinking?
Watching both of the above situations go down I have come up with a list of things you must consider when sending bulk mail to people who have connected with you on social networks.

  1. Not everyone will necessarily be happy to receive this mail from you. Consider how closely you are connected with the person. Ask yourself: Would this person appreciate a commercial email from me or my company? If you don’t know the person well enough, then it’s likely that the answer will be no. Put a little time and energy into making sure that your message is going to be wanted. If that means dropping people you’re not sure about off your contact list, then do it.
  2. Consider sending out personal mails, not importing the email addresses into your CRM system or sending them out through your ESP. Don’t make the message look like a mass mailing. This is a social network, make your contact actually social.
  3. Think about what YOU are bringing to the relationship with the recipient. Are you actually offering them any value? With the Christmas card I received the  message was “Our company is wonderful! We love ourselves. And we think we’re so great we’re going to send out this card telling you how we’re not sending out Christmas cards this year!” In Al’s case the message was adding him to a mailing list. In both cases, neither of us cared. There was nothing in it for us.
  4. If you want to announce a product and or service use the tools provided by the social networking service. LinkedIn has InMail, which allows recipients to set their contact preferences and mail through their system.
  5. If recipients object to your email, arguing with them is never helpful. You’re not going to convince them the mail is wanted, you’re just going to convince them that you’re an unrepentant spammer. Apologize, learn from it, move on.

Social networks can be great for marketing, but simply harvesting addresses and assuming that all your contacts want to hear about you is a poor idea. Putting a little time and effort into contacting them individually rather than as a group will head off these potential problems.
Update: Al published his own thoughts and suggestions

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  • Linkedin terms, section 10(B)(28)(f), appears to prohibit spamming.
    The CAN-SPAM act also prohibits the scraping of e-mail addresses to collect addresses to spam to.
    15 USC 7703(b)(2)(A)(i)(I) states:
    harvesting electronic mail addresses of the users of a website, proprietary service, or other online public forum operated by another person, without the authorization of such person; and

  • No. CAN SPAM does not prohibit scraping. It adds extra penalties for scraping if you violate other provisions of the Act. You really need to look at all of the paragraphs before the one you cited.

  • Bill — you’re reading it wrong, as a lawyer once explained to me in painful detail. It can cause more penalties to kick in, but only in some circumstances. Sadly, it does NOT outlaw harvesting.

  • It really is a tricky thing, and to think that Linkedin is one of the few places that is mostly known for being a little bit more professional than commercial. It would really be wise to make sure that you’re sending those emails to those that likes it and will appreciate it.

  • Are legal institutions really the arbiters of what SPAM is? Surely organisations like SpamHause have far more influence in the digital arena than law makers. In which case we should spend more time ensuring that we all report SPAM under all it’s guises (socially driven or otherwise) to spam listing organisations to expedite their identification and blocking on email networks?
    p.s Laura more than welcome to send me a e-card if you like 🙂

  • Legal institutions are the arbiters of what violates the law. And there are certainly incidents of spam-to-me that I don’t think actually warrant a listing on Spamhaus (although I have provided evidence and information to them about spam I received).

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