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Lesson #1 - What Not To Do: Spam
What You Will Learn
In this Lesson, you will learn what spam is and why it is prohibited. You will learn how to avoid spamming. You will learn that there are many effective alternatives to finding leads on the Internet that do not involve spam. You will learn the rules of thumb to avoid spamming. You will learn how not to be overwhelmed by the many different sources of spam rules and definitions, but rather to use your common sense and the rules of thumb to avoid spam while still maintaining an aggressive Internet marketing program.
The first thing you want to know when starting any new endeavor—and the first thing you are usually told—is what NOT to do. You need to know how to avoid trouble while learning the ropes of Internet Income. And you can get into big trouble by sending spam, also known as unsolicited bulk e-mail.
Later lessons will address the formal definitions and rules of spam. For now, let's take a few minutes to just talk about spam. Unless you are very unusual, you will never memorize all the definitions and rules pertaining to spam (for there are many) and, thus, will never have a foolproof system of avoiding spam technically. If you gain a relatively simple understanding of it, however, you can safely avoid spam just by using your good common sense.
What Is Spam?
There are many definitions of spam. For example, The Spamhaus Project defines an electronic message as "spam" if (A) the recipient's personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients; AND (B) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent. Others define spam more strictly. But the most general definition of "spam" is the sending of e-mail that is both bulk AND unsolicited.
When you open your U.S. Postal mailbox each day and see numerous unsolicited commercial advertisements that have been delivered to you, it can make you wonder why unsolicited electronic e-mail is outlawed. Like all laws and rules, we should look more to history than to logic to understand why they came to be. Although the Internet did not become popular with the public until the early 1990s, the Internet has been in existence for a long time. Prior to the early 1990s, the Internet was used primarily by the military and university scientists. These users were conducting what they justifiably felt was important business which could not be interrupted by commercial correspondence. For most of the Internet's history, ALL commercial correspondence was completely banned. Only relatively recently has commercial use of the Internet been allowed at all. Although this total restriction on commercial use was lifted, a restriction on unsolicited commercial e-mail remains—and for good reason.
E-mail has traditionally been for communicating, not for advertising. Unsolicited commercial e-mail is not only annoying but also without restriction and in sufficient quantity, it has the capacity to render your e-mail completely useless and shut down your e-mail server. Unlike snail mail, e-mail can be sent in tremendous bulk with very little effort and very little cost—which would surely result in thousands of messages a day from thousands of sources were it not prohibited. Since many people break the no-spam rules and send it out anyway, we have all had some taste of what e-mail would be like if spam were not prohibited. Spam understandably makes people mad. When they get mad, they report spammers to their ISPs or other organizations or to the government authorities. Bad consequences, such as losing Internet service or even facing civil and criminal penalties, await spammers who are caught spamming. Needless to say, you want to make sure that you never spam!
The Internet covers the entire world. There are many different laws in many different jurisdictions pertaining to spam. Plus, losing your Internet service or having your domain blocked due to spam is a matter of contract that varies from provider to provider, each having its own specific rules about spam in its "Acceptable Use Policy." So, how can you possibly avoid spam when there are so many different rules and regulations? The answer is to use common sense. In a subsequent installment, we will discuss the technical rules and contracts, but for now, let us just show you how to use your common sense to avoid spamming.
The Rules Of Thumb
Here are the basic guidelines for avoiding unintentionally spamming your potential customers and team members:
1. Never use e-mail for advertising with one, and only one, exception: when you have a clear "opt-in" event.
2. When advertising with e-mail in an "opt-in" situation, always supply a working "opt-out" mechanism.
3. Never annoy anyone with any kind of e-mail.
4. Never mislead anyone (in either the opt-in process or in the e-mail subject header).
Now we will discuss each rule of thumb in turn.
Rule of thumb No. 1: Never use e-mail for advertising unless you have a clear "opt-in" event.
Again, e-mail is for communicating, not for advertising. The same is generally true of instant messaging, newsgroups (Usenet), Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Web-based forums and discussion boards. Your own Website (or another site - with permission) is the only Internet resource where advertising is generally acceptable. Many marketers are resistant to this, but the sooner you accept this simple truth, the better off you will be. There are many effective ways to use Websites to market on the Internet. These techniques often involve using the one exception to the e-mail rule—the "opt-in" exception—as part of the process. But, the process begins with a Web page, whether that Web page is yours or another with your ad on it.
The spam rules usually refer to e-mail. If the e-mail has been "solicited," it is not considered spam. Also, if the e-mail is not "commercial," it is generally not considered spam—more on this in later installments.
How do you know whether e-mail has been "solicited"? While there are no hard and fast rules that everyone will agree on, your common sense will provide you with a working definition that should be relatively safe. E-mail is not spam if it has been requested or consented to or if permission has been granted to send it to a particular recipient.
There are two kinds of consent: express and implied. Express consent is where someone communicates directly to you permission to send an e-mail. Examples of express consent are when someone types in their e-mail address on a form on your Web page requesting more information or sends you an e-mail in response to an ad. Implied consent occurs when someone performs some act from which permission can be inferred. An example of implied consent is when someone posts a URL on your FFA page or takes advantage of some other free resource you are offering. (Be careful here, though, the extent of implied consent is very limited.) Implied consent also arises in many instances where you have a pre-existing relationship with someone. Ultimately, the question of whether implied consent exists is a question of fact to be decided based on all of the circumstances of a particular situation. Your opinion as the one accused of spam is not the opinion that matters. The opinion that matters is the opinion of your ISP or local authorities who will decide whether you have spammed or not.
When someone fills out a form or accepts a free service, this is generally referred to as "opting in." That is, they have opted to accept an e-mail from you. When we use the term "opted," we are referring to the same concept as "consent" or "permission" discussed above. Another example of an opt-in is via an opt-in e-mail list, such as Topica, and other such free e-mail list services available on the Internet. If the list's creator allows, and the hosting service allows, ads may be acceptable on the list. The people who subscribe to the list are deemed to have "opt-in" to receive commercial e-mails sent through the list. (Note that the extent of this implied consent is only for e-mail sent through the list. If you send the list members e-mail directly, rather than through the list, you will be spamming.)
If you are accused of spamming, you will need to be able to clearly establish a documented opt-in event to justify the e-mail. The e-mail you sent must also be within the scope of the opt-in, or you will be guilty of spamming.
So, the bottom line is that e-mail is NOT a tool you can rely on to generate leads or new customers. Rather, e-mail is a tool that can only be used in conjunction with some other resource through which an opt-in can first be established. However tempting it is to buy a CD of over a million e-mail addresses and blast your ad out to them, do not do it. You will be spamming if you do.
Rule Of Thumb No. 2: Always supply an opt-out mechanism
Even when you have a clear opt-in event (which is the only situation where you should be sending commercial e-mail), you must include an opt-out mechanism in the e-mail. You must give the recipient the option of communicating with you that your e-mail is no longer welcome. The mechanism you use must work to get that communication to you in a timely manner and you must immediately obey the opt-out request. Opt-out mechanisms are generally of two types. One is a line in the e-mail that states that one can reply to the e-mail or send an e-mail to another stated address, putting "REMOVE" in the subject heading. The other common opt-out mechanism is to supply a URL in the e-mail, which if clicked on, will automatically remove someone from your mailing list. Either one is fine—as long as it works.
A belief commonly held among Internet users is that opt-out mechanisms are untrustworthy. It is often advised that the process is used by unscrupulous marketers to confirm that you have a working e-mail address, which they will use for further spamming rather than to remove you from the list. Therefore, any mistake or negligence with your opt-out mechanism will immediately put you under a cloud of suspicion. Make sure that you timely and carefully attend to your opt-out requests.
An opt-out request must be immediately honored. Despite what many ill-informed people believe and say, you should know that it only takes one "no" anywhere in the process to void all prior expressions of consent. There is no way to trap anyone into being forced to receive e-mail from you. Nothing they do prevents them from opting out at any later point.
One tricky situation for opt-outs is the opt-in mail list. You send your mail to the list and the list then forwards it to the other members on the list. Often you will be sent a request to remove from one of the other members, but you do not have the capacity to remove them from the list. In opt-in e-mail list situations, you should always include a statement in your e-mail advising the recipients that the e-mail is being sent through a particular e-mail list and that they must remove themselves from the list to opt-out of the e-mail. Give them the name of the list and the opt-out address.
Rule Of Thumb No. 3: Never annoy anyone with any kind of e-mail
With respect to the gray areas, it helps to remember that you will never get in trouble if no one ever accuses you of spamming. If you never annoy anyone, no one should ever be motivated to report you. If you treat others as you would have them treat you, you are not likely to annoy them. Because some people have thin skin, however, and will be annoyed where you would not be, using the Golden Rule is by no means foolproof. It helps to think in terms of what annoys the average person, but to be safe, you need to think in terms of what annoys the overly sensitive person as well.
It's a mystery to me why, but many aggressive marketers approach Internet marketing as a kind of war game. They want to kill your e-mail or your ad and strike you repeatedly with theirs. I don't know about you, but it sure as heck doesn't put me in the mood to join something or buy something when I have been defeated in an Internet war game of ads. E-mail autoresponders are the weapon of choice in these war games. For example, I place an ad on Yahoo! Classifieds. I receive an e-mail that says, "Responding to your ad." The content of the e-mail clearly reveals that the sender knows nothing of my ad and could care less. He only wants to put his ad in my face, using some ridiculous pretext that his reading of my ad (which he didn't do) demonstrates to him that I am a good candidate for his opportunity. Then, were I naive enough to respond to his e-mail and point out that I am not interested in his opportunity, I would immediately receive an autoresponse message with even more information about his opportunity. Also, in the process of responding, I would have gotten myself added to his e-mail list so that I would receive more info every week about this opportunity in which I have no interest. No matter how hard I search, I can find no way to actually opt-out from his list. Am I going to report him for spamming? You bet your bippy I am!
Another example of the war game is people who join the opt-in lists and then hook up an autoresponder to the account with which they joined the list. Even though every single one of these lists prohibits using autoresponders, they are quite commonly used anyway. When you send out e-mail to the list, you immediately get back autoresponses from hundreds of the members of the list. They will never read the list nor your e-mail, but they will stack the list with their ads and then, on top of that, will autorespond to yours sent from the list.
Such tactics are absurd, ridiculous, ineffective, annoying, and unlawful. People get away with them only because they are technically savvy enough to hide their identities and make it so time consuming to track them down that most victims will not take the time to do it. But these are the extreme examples. Let's look at some of the more subtle issues.
If you take care to always make sure that your e-mail is pleasant, you will not only be less likely to be accused of spamming, but you will more effectively develop relationships—which is the key to any successful marketing. You should take pains to be polite and sincere in all your e-mail correspondence. While you have to protect yourself from the war game spammers, you need to provide some way for people who read your e-mail to directly respond to you—where you will actually read their response. Only use e-mail autoresponders in the most controlled of situations and use them with great care. In fact, there are really only two situations I know of where an autoresponder is appropriate. One is where someone fills out a form on your Web page and you need to confirm that the e-mail address they supplied is a valid e-mail address. The other is when you host FFA pages. Autoresponders should rarely, if ever, be triggered by an incoming e-mail in my opinion. The only exception would be form submissions. While automation is a goal for some tasks and is being made more and more possible by the Internet, communication should be personal, not automated.
Take pains never to annoy people with your Internet marketing, whether through automation, insincerity, rudeness, or as we discuss below, misleading tactics.
Rule Of Thumb No. 4: Never mislead anyone
Being bothered by correspondence one did not ask for and does not want is something that annoys most everyone. Another thing that annoys the heck out of the average person is being misled. What most people want is good, solid, honest information about what they have expressed an interest in and no more.
People become annoyed when they are misled. If they request one type of information and get another, they feel used. This factor comes into play, among other places, in choosing a subject header for e-mail that you do choose to send. If the subject says "$50 deposited into your bank account tomorrow—no strings, no obligation," and then the body of the e-mail mentions nothing about a free $50, but proceeds to try to sell them something, they have been misled and will be understandably annoyed. I have read so-called marketing advice that recommends using subject headings that will get people to read your e-mail regardless of whether the subject has anything to do with your offer. Nothing could be worse advice! Such "bait and switch" tactics are dishonest, immoral, often illegal, and are guaranteed to annoy the dickens out of the recipient of your e-mail. Do not do it.
Another guaranteed way to annoy someone, spurring them to report you for spam, is to mislead them about the type of information they are requesting. If you have a Web page which collects e-mail addresses to send more info about an interesting subject, but you send entirely different correspondence from what they expected, you will certainly have trouble. Honesty is more than just morality, it is good business practice. You do not want to start any relationship with a client, customer, or affiliate by dishonest correspondence. As we will discuss later in this course, "trust" is the most important factor in any business relationship.
So, it is very important in both the opt-in event and the subject header of e-mail to be very honest and straight-forward about the information that will be in the body of the e-mail. To do otherwise, can only make people mad and get you in trouble.
There Are Many Effective Internet Marketing Techniques That Do Not Involve Spam
A common response to the spam rules is to throw up one’s hands and say "It's too complicated and too risky, why bother with Internet marketing?" The answer to that question is that Internet marketing is a powerful, yet inexpensive tool, that can be used by people of few resources other than a will to succeed in obtaining financial success. In later installments, you can look forward to learning how to research the web to find high traffic Websites and then use non-commercial, non-spam e-mail to develop relationships with the publishers of those Websites. From these relationships can arise the opportunity to partner with them to promote your business or your opportunity at little cost. We will also discuss how to correctly use opt-in procedures to reach large audiences without spamming. We will also discuss how to use content to gain some Internet traffic to whom you can promote your business. This is just a small sample of the effective techniques we will teach you in this course. We need to cover spam to make sure that you don't knock yourself out of the game before you have a chance to get started right. The bulk of this course, however, will dig in with earnest on the how-to's of successful Internet marketing.