Email List Management

So you have an event coming up and you want to promote it to your constituencies. You decide to send an email to your students, faculty, staff and others who you think might be interested. You write the copy for the email, think of a nice subject line, pop in a few dozen recipients' emails, and you're off to the races, right?

Not so fast there, Secretariat.

The CAN-SPAN Act of 2003 sets in place federal law regarding email. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly.

Here's a handful of questions to ask in order to stay on the right side of the law:

Is it a commercial message?

It doesn't matter if you're sending to one person or 10,000. If the primary purpose of the email is “the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” then it's a commercial message. An announcement of an Open House or Information Session is commercial; so is an announcement of a grand opening of a new building, or of a new program.

So what's NOT a commercial message?

That would be a message having to do with a transaction between the sender and the recipient, or one where the sender has an existing relationship with the recipient. We can send messages to people who have webster.edu email addresses without fretting too much since the fact they have a relationship with Webster is obvious.

Is it a properly formed email?

The email message MUST NOT:

  • use a false or misleading headers. Among other things, headers include your “From” email address and your “Reply-To” address. Spammers sometimes appropriate email addresses to get people to open a bit of spam.
  • use deceptive Subject lines. Don't say “This is so cool. You have to look at this.” in your subject line, and then try to sell them uh, Tylenol.

The email MUST:

  • identify itself for what it is.
  • contain a valid postal adress
  • tell recipients how to opt out of future emails from you. (And you must have a method in place for honoring any opt-out requests you get. This means having a system in place for honoring requests within 10 days and up to 30 days after your message went out, as well as a way of storing the opt-outs and checking them prior to future emailings).

Where'd you get those email addresses anyway?

You can't just put out a bowl for business cards and harvest the email addresses. You can't go online and hunt for email addresses that look promising. You can't just buy an email list from someone.

When you get an email address it has be from the owner who gave you their “affirmative consent.” That means they gave you their addresses in response to a clear request from you (or by their own initiative) knowing that you intended to send them emails having to do with Webster.

Oh brother. So what do I do?

Webster University in recent years started employing Constant Contact, a software service that can send out multiple emails — including announcements, newsletters and other communications — while helping people stay within the law.

If you are interested in setting up an account, contact Pete McEwen atmcewenpe@webster.edu.

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