Happy new year! I hope you had a wonderful time over the festive break 🙂
I’m just back to work after a full 2 weeks off and I’m drowning in email. Which has led to this post instead of the one I had planned to publish (the best editorial calendars are flexible, right?)
You see, in amongst messages from clients, friends, suppliers and a hearty dose of spam were soooo many newsletters. Many of them I had signed up for, but so many other newsletters were ones that I shouldn’t have received. Because I did not ever sign up for them.
Does that sound familiar? How often do you get newsletters that you didn’t sign up for? How often do you have to unsubscribe from lists you never subscribed to in the first place?
Normally I’d be quite lenient with these rogue newsletters. In the past, if the email is from a business I know or someone I’ve met I’ve probably just deleted the message rather than unsubscribed – due to a rather silly fear of offending that person.
But enough is enough. I’m reclaiming my inbox, so I have been extra ruthless with the unsubscribe button. If the sender is offended, so be it. I’m also filling in the “please let us know why you unsubscribed” questionnaire, choosing the “I never signed up for this mailing list” option in the hope that people get the message that they can’t and shouldn’t go around emailing people they don’t have permission to. Ever the optimist, me.
This whole exercise got me thinking. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who don’t know the right – and legal – way to grow their email list. But quite frankly, there’s no excuse for that these days.
GDPR arrived in May 2018. That was months ago. It was well publicised, talked about within the business and blogging communities, and it even featured in a question on Christmas University Challenge (finally, a question I could answer!). Even people who don’t run businesses or aren’t involved in marketing have heard of GDPR, data privacy and its effects on marketing.
There really is no good excuse at this point to be in the dark about it. But a huge amount of businesses are still not following the rules when it comes to email marketing.
Now GDPR covers way more than email marketing. And the rules are, admittedly, rather complex at first glance. But when it comes to your email list, what it boils down to is this:
You must have explicit permission to send people promotional or marketing emails.
Think about your email list. Did every single person on there actually opt-in to receive your messages?
If the answer is anything other than yes, you need to clean up your list. And make sure that anyone new added to your list expressly chooses to be there.
If you’re not sure whether you have permission to be emailing the people on your list, think about how they got there. There are many ways someone can end up on a mailing list. Some are distinctly dodgy (spammers, I’m looking at you), while others are more like well-meaning mistakes.
I get it, you’re sold on the benefits of email marketing but growing your email list can be hard work, so anything that seems like an easy way to boost your numbers is attractive. But it’s better to have a smaller list of people who actually want to hear from you than a bigger list of people that may be indifferent or even annoyed when you email them.
Let’s look at the most common ways people grow their email lists the wrong way:
1. They gave me their business card at a networking event so they must be happy to hear from me.
No. No. No. A thousand times no.
This is the most common reason that I’m added to mailing lists (more so than the lists I actively sign up for!).
I do a fair bit of networking and on average I leave an event with anywhere from 6-30 new business cards, and have handed out a similar number. Just imagine if I added those 30 people to my mailing list as soon as I got home – very quickly those people I’ve only just met would be annoyed with me. That’s not how I want them to think about me or my business. Would you?
Yes, it’s true that when someone gives you their business card, there’s an implied expectation of future contact, like a follow up email. But unless you actually discussed adding that person to your mailing list, you don’t have permission to do that.
So that follow up email should absolutely not be a mass-mailed message from your Mailchimp account. And, by the way, it’s against Mailchimp’s terms to add people to your list just because they gave you their business card: https://mailchimp.com/help/examples-of-compliant-and-non-compliant-lists/. Other email services most likely have the same rule.
If you want to get the people you meet networking onto your list, you could ask them when you exchange cards if they’d be interested in joining. If they say yes, make a note of it on their card so you have some proof. Proof is very important under GDPR.
But a much better way of doing it is to send them a brief ‘nice to meet you’ follow up email, from your own email account not your email marketing software, obviously. Make it personal to them to continue the conversation you had when you met and mention that you have an email newsletter and include a link where they can sign up if they’re interested.
2. We’ve worked together before so they’re clearly interested in my stuff.
Um, ok. Maybe. And also no.
With this one it depends. How recently did you work together? If it was years ago, it’s a definite no. That’s far too long to even try to legitimately try to add them to your list. They may have forgotten about your entirely, so when your email pops into their inbox, they’re like “WTF! Why am I getting this?”
If you really want to get past clients on your list, try sending a ‘reconnection’ email, again from your own email account rather than the likes of Mailchimp. Make it a bit personal, so ask how they’re getting on and remind them of the work you did together so they will hopefully remember you. Let them know you’re starting up a newsletter and include the link to the signup form so that if they’re interested they can join. Be sure to include a good reason why they might be interested, like the useful tips or exclusive content you’ll be sharing.
You may only want to try this on fairly recent customers. If it’s been over a year since they last heard from you, it’s probably going to be a bit weird getting this email. Before you hit send, think about whether or not you’d be comfortable getting the message. If you wouldn’t be, don’t send it.
For current and ongoing customers, this is much easier. Next time you’re in contact with them, mention your email newsletter and invite them to join. Say how it will benefit them but don’t be pushy about it.
You might also like: How to embrace email marketing
3. Their email address is on their website. If they don’t want to receive emails they wouldn’t publicise it.
Oh dear no.
This is an awful way to get emails for your list and it does actually make you a spammer.
You know why people have their email address listed on their website?
So that customers and potential customers can get in touch with them.
It’s not to give you an easy way to grow your email list. Please don’t ever do this.
4. There’s an unsubscribe link in the email. If they don’t want to hear from me, they can just click that.
True. But that attitude stinks. And goes against GDPR.
By law each and every email newsletter you send out must include an easy way for people to unsubscribe. Ideally a link or a button they can click to remove them from your list.
That doesn’t give you the right to email whoever you want just because you make it easy to unsubscribe.
Email marketing has moved on. Implied permission (where you have an existing relationship with someone so you can kinda, sorta get away with marketing other stuff to them) and the opt-out method is not going to cut it anymore. People must opt-in to your marketing.
That means they have to specifically choose to receive it in the first place. They have to make the decision to join your list.
So you can invite people to join, like in the above examples, but you cannot add them to the list yourself without their permission.
5. I’m not based in Europe so European laws don’t apply to me; I can do what I like.
Oh boy. If only things were that simple.
GDPR doesn’t care where you are. It cares where your subscribers are.
So even if you have just one website visitor, or just one subscriber based in Europe, GDPR applies to you.
Plus, all around the world there are various other privacy and anti-spam laws. You could read up on each one but actually, the easiest way to make sure you’re compliant is to not behave like a spammer in the first place. In other words, let’s all play nicely online, ok?
What if you’ve been a bit spammy already?
If reading this you’ve broken out in a cold sweat, convinced you’re Sid the Spammer and the GDPR police are going to break down your door any minute, relax.
As far as I know, you’re not due for a raid. Though obviously, don’t quote me on that, I’m not the GDPR police 😉
If points 1 or 2 ring a bell with you, you can simply clean up your list. Run a campaign to reconfirm your subscribers. Anyone who wants to stay on your list will do so and anyone who doesn’t want to stay gets removed. You should end up with a smaller, more engaged list as a bonus.
If you’ve been a bit naughty though and tried some of the other ways, it might be simpler just to scrap your list and start again with a clean one. Then you can build it up the right way.
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