Beginning July 1, businesses that send commercial emails to people living in Canada will be required to get consent or face stiff financial penalties.
That’s good news for consumers but very bad news for small businesses there. (The Canadian law also applies to U.S. companies that send emails into Canada.)
Of all the things I’ve tried, my weekly newsletters, sent via email, have been, by far, my most effective tools for branding and customer engagement. So when I read about Canada’s Anti-Spam Law, I was moved to learn more about our own CAN-SPAM Act, which sets the rules for commercial emails here in the United States.
Here’s what I learned:
Unlike the Canadian law, the CAN-SPAM Act does not require consent. Rather, it focuses on ensuring that businesses follow certain rules and allow recipients to easily opt out of receiving future emails.
That said, organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association strongly encourage members to develop consent-based email lists. And from my own experience, engagement is far stronger when customers actually sign up for my emails.
False or misleading information
Under the CAN-SPAM Act, your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information (including the originating domain name and email address) must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the email.
Likewise, the subject line in your email must accurately reflect the content of you message.
Your email must include a valid address for our business – a street address, a U.S. Postal Service P.O. box or a private mailbox registered under Postal Service regulations.
Option to opt out
Perhaps most important, emails sent under the CAN-SPAM Act must state clearly and conspicuously how a recipient can opt out of receiving future emails. In processing an opt-out request, a company may not require additional information (other than the original email address) or charge a fee. All opt-out requests must be honored within 10 business days.
Whether you send your own emails or hire someone else to do it, the law makes clear that you cannot contract away your legal responsibility to comply with CAN-SPAM. And while critics argue that the law is rarely enforced, each email sent in violation of the CAN-SPAM is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.
The Internet is full of useful information to assist business owners who engage in electronic communication with their clients. The Federal Trade Commission has published an online Compliance Guide for Businesses ( http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business).
But perhaps the best advice came from a spokeswoman representing one of the many industry trade groups: “If in doubt, seek legal advice.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.
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