If you’re anything like us, the mere mention of legal requirements will have sent you into a trance. Click – and you’re back in the room. We can’t put a shine on it, we can’t make it something it’s not and it’s probably not going to blow your mind (don’t worry though, all the fun design bits are coming soon), but this stuff is essential, so read, digest and implement it carefully.
There are a few main points to consider.
- You must not send people emails unless they have given you permission.
- You must make it easy for people to unsubscribe if they don’t want to receive further emails.
- You must never conceal your identity or pretend to be someone you’re not.
But I never signed up for this…
It is not acceptable to send unsolicited emails. And by unsolicited we mean those that someone has not specifically said, ‘Yes, I’d love to receive information from you,’ to. So, who is it OK to email? Here are three scenarios.
- You have a sign-up or pop-up box for your newsletter on your website and the customer has entered their email address, thereby demonstrating they want to hear from you. Note: If you have a tickbox sign-up, then the box must not automatically be ticked as a default. The customer must consciously opt in to receive correspondence.
- You are running a stall at a craft fair and have a sign-up for emails sheet on the table. If the sign up is for a competition or giveaway, you must clarify that you also intend to send marketing emails. If someone gives you their business card and verbally agrees to receive emails, that’s also OK, although you could get them to write on the back confirming it .
- You already have a customer’s email address because they previously purchased goods from you, so, arguably, they are interested in what you have to say. As long as it’s made explicit and simple for them to opt out at any time, that’s also fine, provided they made the purchase in the past two years. The email must also relate to similar products and services to those they bought.
And who shouldn’t you be contacting?
- Anyone whose email address you’ve copied from a website, store, business card without first asking the owner’s permission.
- Addresses taken from an email list you’ve bought. It’s not illegal to buy lists, but the people you reach will more than likely see your email as spam, which will just reflect badly on you and your store. Not good.
- People you haven’t been in touch with for over two years. If they hear from you out of the blue, they probably won’t recall ever giving you permission to email them.
Don’t be a spammer. It just makes you and your business look bad. And it’s annoying. No one is going to buy anything from someone who annoys them. Not only that, anti-spam law breaches can incur fines of up to £5,000, plus also civil liability to anyone who suffers damage as a result of the breach. Not the best way to spend your hard-earned cash!
It’s worth noting that different countries have different laws on opting in and out of emails (of course they do – why make things easy for you?), so do bear that in mind if you have a lot of sign-ups from particular parts of the world.
Please stop contacting me
It is absolutely crucial that you make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your newsletters. Of course you don’t want people to leave your list, but it is the law (and it can be really annoying if you have to hunt for the unsubscribe button). There are many reasons why people might unsubscribe from your newsletter – perhaps they no longer have an interest in your products (if you sell wedding dresses and they are now married, for example) so don’t take it personally.
Here’s Cath Kidston’s – right in the centre of the email footer, visible for all to see. It’s clear they don’t want you to go (note the use of the word club, suggesting exclusivity – nice), but it’s easy to stop receiving the emails if you’re no longer interested.
On John Lewis’s newsletters, the unsubscribe link is positioned top right.
Wherever you decide to put it, just make sure it’s clear, has a simple call to action (‘unsubscribe here’ does the trick) and doesn’t involve lengthy form-filling or multiple click-throughs. Just a simple message displayed on screen once they’ve clicked the link: ‘Your email email@example.com has been successfully unsubscribed.’
Who are you anyway?
The other main issue with email newsletters is people pretending to be someone they’re not. It is against the law to either falsify or conceal your identity, so make sure you are clear about who the email is from. After all, your subscribers signed up to receive correspondence from you, not anyone else, so ensure that’s the case. On the flipside, it is illegal to reveal the identities of your recipients.
If you are a limited company (public or private) or a Limited Liability Partnership, you are required (by the 2006 Companies Act) to include the following information in full (a link won’t do) on all your business emails:
- Company name.
- Registration number.
- Place of registration.
- Registered office address.
It must be clearly legible, so go near any dodgy fonts and make sure you can read it without a magnifying glass. If you are a sole trader or partnership you don’t need to worry about this, although many people like to include a mailing address on email newsletters regardless. It’s definitely worth doing this as non-compliance may prove expensive – you could be fined an initial £1,000, followed by £300 per day.
Activity: Read the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance on the use of email (don’t panic, it’s not too heavy going) and, if you have an existing newsletter, make sure it is legal. As long as you follow the guidance here for future communications, you will be acting within the law. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with The Data Protection Act and The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, so make a coffee, grab a biscuit and settle down for some riveting reading!