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What is the CAN-SPAM Act and Why Should You Care? [This is not a joke]

What is the CAN-SPAM Act and Why Should You Care? [This is not a joke]

By | 12.02.14
What is the CAN-SPAM Act and Why Should You Care? [This is not a joke]

Opt-In and Opt-Out Email RegulationsIf you maintain an email list of customers/clients and leads you’re no doubt aware of how effective email marketing can be and that you should be mining your email list(s) for gold.

According to ExactTarget, the email marketing experts:

  • 72% of U.S. consumers say that email marketing is the number one way they prefer to receive permission-based promotions from businesses.
  • ROI for email marketing is the highest of all marketing channels.
  • 95% of those who opt into email messages from brands find these messages somewhat or very useful.

So what are you waiting for? Jump in and start emailing, right?

Not so fast. Whether you are already contacting customers or prospective customers via email or you’re still in the planning phases, you need to be aware of what the CAN-SPAM Act is and how it affects your marketing emails.

Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, or CAN-SPAM, is the Act that regulates commercial email messages sent in the United States. Violation of the CAN-SPAM Act can result in penalties of up to $16,000 for each separate email.

CAN-SPAM recognizes three different primary purposes of business email messages:

Commercial Email

This is an email with the main purpose of advertising or promoting your business, products or services. These types of emails must follow CAN-SPAM requirements.

Transactional or Relationship Email

This is an email, like a receipt, order status or confirmation email, that results from a transaction that a customer has made with your business. These types of emails are exempt from most CAN-SPAM requirements.

Other Email

These would be direct one-to-one email communications between you and a customer that are neither commercial nor transactional/relationship and these are exempt from CAN-SPAM.

Some emails you send may include a combination of information that is both commercial and transactional. In these cases you need to determine what the primary purpose of the email is. Here’s what the Act says about how to decide:

If a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line would likely conclude that the message contains an advertisement or promotion for a commercial product or service or if the message’s transactional or relationship content does not appear mainly at the beginning of the message, the primary purpose of the message is commercial. So, when a message contains both kinds of content – commercial and transactional or relationship – if the subject line would lead the recipient to think it’s a commercial message, it’s a commercial message for CAN-SPAM purposes. Similarly, if the bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message doesn’t appear at the beginning, it’s a commercial message under the CAN-SPAM Act.”

If an email you are sending is primarily promotional/advertising, it’s considered a commercial email and must comply with the following CAN-SPAM requirements:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
    In other words, be sure that the “From”, “To”, “Reply-To” and routing information in your email is accurate and identifies the person or business actually sending the email.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
    The subject line needs to accurately reflect the content of the email.
  3. Identify the message as an ad.
    This is important, and there are many ways you can do this, but you must clearly identify your email message as advertising.
  4. Tell Recipients where you’re located.
    Your email message must include your valid postal address. This should be your current street address or a Post Office box or private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you.
    This is important not only for your recipient’s convenience, but also to keep them from marking your emails as “spam” and thereby flagging the major email providers that your emails aren’t welcome. Your email needs to contain the explanation for how to unsubscribe or opt-out and it needs to be clear and conspicuous. If you send multiple types of emails, you may want to list the types of emails and allow your recipients to pick and choose the ones they wish to receive or stop receiving. For example, if you send Coupons and Offers, and Company News, and a Newsletter, your recipients may just want to opt out of one or two of those. Just keep in mind that one of the options must be the option to stop all commercial messages from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.
    You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days of receiving it. You can’t charge a fee, require 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 a website as a condition for honoring their opt-out request. Once a person has told you that they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email address, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the opt-out email 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.
    If you do hire someone else to manage your email marketing, you are still legally responsible to comply with the law. Both the company whose product/service is promoted in the message AND the company that actually send the message may be held legally responsible.

For more details, including Q&A about CAN-SPAM, check out the FTC.gov website.

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