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Net Etiquette-It's Unkind to Spam

By Jeff Bloom and Rob Kay

Nowadays, everyone who uses the Internet gets unwanted solicitations via email. This junk mail is also known in the Internet world as "spam". Spam notwithstanding, many of us are also on email lists from professional organizations, clubs or commercial companies that strive to keep us up to date or provide some kind of news or information that we want. Online newsletters are one of the most successful marketing techniques around and we often tell our friends that own small businesses the advantages of setting this kind of system up.

However, there is more to sending out a newsletter or mass communication via email than meets the eye.

Not too long ago we got a call from a friend who was bombarded by a flurry of emails that came from a local trade association. It wasn't so much that the trade association was spamming or sending unwanted email to her. It was more the case that the trade association's e-list was set up in an insecure manner which allowed anyone to steal the mailing list from cyberspace and use it for their own purposes.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. As a result numerous individuals used the mailing list for their own purposes. As you can imagine, the trade association membership was not amused. With better administration, the whole debacle could have been prevented. At the urging of several readers we decided to write a series of columns on Internet Etiquette sometimes known as "Netiquette".

Email as a Marketing Technique

Our first column will concentrate on the fine line between the justifiable use of email to market your organization or company and how not to become a purveyor of junk mail. As we stated earlier, we often suggest that clients include a special form on their Web site to allow their visitors to sign up for an email newsletter. This approach is also called "opt-in email marketing" because individuals joining the mailing list do so voluntarily.

This type of marketing can be extremely effective, so much so that readers will often pay more attention to an organization's newsletter than their web site. However, serious problems can evolve when we cross the line from email marketing into "spamming." No one wants to receive unwanted email, which can be a supreme annoyance.

Spam is even worse when it comes from an organization or individual we trust. When you get this kind of mail said Clifford Kurtzman of the Tenagra Corporation, "it sends a message to you loud and clear that they do not have enough respect for you to let you decide yourself whether or not you want to be placed on their mailing list."

In the case of the Hawaii organization we mentioned earlier, it was not that they gave the list away. Rather poor security allowed individuals to seize the names on the mailing list and utilize it for their own purposes.

Ask First

Those who add others to their mailing lists without first getting their approval are not quite in the same category as adult-oriented sites that grab your email out of the ether, but nonetheless the act is downright rude. It can also have the opposite effect on the people you are trying to influence. Eac time someone sends out an email to recipients who were involuntarily subscribed, the effect can create a negative impression. At this point the sender will have transformed his or her newsletter from being a positive marketing tool into an unpleasant experience for the recipient.

Ultimately, if you want to add someone to your mailing list that has not voluntarily subscribed, you must always ask him or her first. Be sure when you do send them a note asking their permission that the message is individually mailed-rather than spammed. In our experience, most people that you have a business relationship with will answer affirmatively if you are providing them something of interest. However, if they say no or fail to respond, leave them alone and keep your reputation intact.

Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published April 27, 2001

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