Reminder On Email Privacy And Etiquette

Email is not sexy, but it’s fundamental and thriving. Email is the root of our identities on the Web. It firmly remains the default social network. It is a simple and ubiquitous channel. We all grant our attention to email.

Which is why email is becoming more popular among among businesses that seek our attention, our engagement and our wallets. Businesses, with help from easy-to-use automation systems, are using email more often for push communications, lead nurturing and customer interaction.

For the most part, growing email adoption by businesses is a good thing. However, one unfortunate side effect is that email etiquette and spam

compliance is falling through the cracks — at the same time that overall volume is growing. I’m not referring to sleazy spammers hawking penis enlargement procedures, cheap prescription drugs, fake Rolex’s or Facebook phishing scams (which I don’t receive anymore thanks to corporate and personal Gmail). I’m talking about legitimate companies, small and large, many of which I’m a fan. I’m not sure if these growing violations are on purpose, by accident or a result of incompetence or technology shortcomings. It doesn’t really matter.

I’m not going to out anyone (including a prominent technology analyst firm that refused for six months to remove me from its email database), but I would like to remind everyone of four simple principles that all businesses should work very hard to follow. Privacy and and email laws aside, these principles will help you gain respect and prevent people from outright blocking you and nominating you to spam-filtering databases.

  1. Treat email addresses like people. Why? Because there are people on the other end. Respect their privacy and preferences the same way you would if you were sitting in the same room with them.
  2. Ask for permission first. An email address, alone, is not permission to market to someone. An email address is a channel with which to market to someone — only after you’ve secured permission.
  3. Make opt-out easy, extremely easy. If you do market to people with email, it’s necessary to make opt-out easy. That means your opt-out links within emails and corresponding Web sites should be prominent, one-click and instant. It’s not o.k. to hide your opt-out links with gray text on white background, or require tedious click-throughs and confusing forms in order to opt out of an email marketing program. In fact, opt out should be easier than opt in.
  4. Honor opt-outs. I can’t believe how many big, savvy companies violate this rule. When recipients opt out, don’t keep their email activated in your marketing program. Deactivate requests for opt-out immediately. Don’t disturb means just that.

Please review these four guidelines and live up to them. They’re simple. They’ll help your business’s reputation and customer relationships. They’ll ensure that email remains a viable communication channel.

This also was my latest MediaPost column.

(Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Join the Conversation


  1. Simple but valuable tips. I'm constantly amazed at how many people abuse email subscriptions and addresses, while experiencing spam themselves I'm sure. “Don’t disturb means just that.” – Exactly! how upset do you get when you put out the DND sign in a hotel room let's say, and they come knocking anyway – or even barge in! Why on earth would that be acceptable by any means or standards in a hotel room or in an email? Great post – I'll be sending it to all the spammers in my inbox that refuse to take me off their list! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for #3!! Years ago I opted into a Lands End promotion for my business. To this day, I CANNOT GET OFF THAT FRACKEN LIST!! I've tried replying (to a no-reply email, of course), marking them as spam and actually spending 30 minutes on their site every year to see if things have changed. Everytime I get one of their emails, it maddens me all over again. I'm so pissed off at this point, I'll never EVER order anything from them again…only the Almighty knows what I'd end up with in my inbox if I did. (And this from a reputable, big-name marketer!)

  3. Cool. And a great way to get back at violators is to report them as spam with your email/spam-protection provider, typically embedded right into your software client or Web dashboard. Ensure they get flagged in broader spam databases.

  4. Now day's organizations are very careful about their list & Most of all email service provider companies remove contact once they get unsubscribe request. Before making email subscription we have to check terms & condition & most imp we have to subscribe to specific services which we are interested so we will receive only related emails which we have interest.

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