Seth Godin had a post yesterday about sending personal email. His post lists 14 ways to do that. I want to focus on the last one: “Just because you have someone’s email address doesn’t mean you have the right to email them.”
As Seth often says, people want personal, relevant email (and messages) not spam. I was talking to someone recently who said, “I’ve got several hundred email addresses and I’d like to send messages to those people. I got the email addresses because I was bcc’d on messages they received from other people. Can I email to them?”
In a word, NO.
They don’t know you, they haven’t given you permission and you will be seen as a spammer. Same thing applies to email lists you “inherit” from a company that went out of business. They are not your customers, and they are not your subscribers, unless you bought the company, and its list. In that case, the readers ought to be informed of what happened in advance.
Without permission, you’re a spammer. Plain and simple.
The penalties are severe too; up to $11,000 per violation.
Similarly, you cannot email people whose names you scrape from web sites, or from a list you bought, unless that list includes specific permission to be emailed. Even then, it’s probably dodgy; few people want email from businesses they’ve never heard of. While the CAN-SPAM act sadly doesn’t include penalties for unwanted mass emails, it’s still not a good idea. You may end up labeled a spammer by your email provider or web host, and lose your site and your emailing privileges.
Conversation, not shouting
Permission is only part of it. Treat your readers as if you’re having a conversation. Talk to them personally (try inserting their names in your newsletter salutation, as a friend or colleague would). Ask them questions. Find out what topics they’re most interested in reading about.
Don’t just talk, listen
Invite feedback on how well you’re serving their needs. Ask them if there’s something you haven’t covered that they’d like to hear more about (or something that they would prefer you cut back on discussing). It’s not just good manners, it’s fodder for more emails, blog posts, or even new products.