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Intro to Ethical List Building

Intro to Ethical List Building

Email marketing might seem archaic in the age of social media marketing, but it’s still going strong.

And with customer personalization in the spotlight, it’s especially relevant.

91% of people check their email in the morning, meaning 91% of people are likely to at least see your company email.

You want to communicate directly with your audience and subscribers, right? Email campaigns help you do that by sliding right into their DMs. You’ll be able to personalize their buying options and only show them relevant content. On top of that, it’s a great way to get feedback and boost sales.

First Things First

You’ll find two kinds of emails in your inbox:

  • Transactional Messaging - This is anything from purchase receipts to password resets; there’s an exchange involved with legitimate interest.
  • Marketing Messaging - These are more campaign-focused messages like newsletters and promotional materials. Customers will have explicitly opted-in to these.

And just like data privacy, sending these messages comes with regulations.

You need to get familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act, signed into law in 2003. (It stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, not just a funny way to say, “Let’s get rid of spam!”)

Remember that you’re sending emails to someone’s personal inbox, so they have rights. We know, it doesn’t feel as personal as, say, a Facebook message. 

But isn’t it creepy to get unsolicited messages in that inbox? Same concept.

CAN-SPAM protects users and their inboxes from deceptive emails (AKA trolls) specifically from commercial emailers. 

There are requirements listed on the FTC site, including:

  1. Don’t use misleading or blatantly false headlines.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Let them know if your message is an ad.
  4. Tell them your location.
  5. Tell them how to get more emails from you.
  6. Let them opt-out immediately.
  7. Monitor what third-parties are doing with your email marketing.

The FTC also says that non-compliance can get you fined up to $43,792. And that’s each separate violation.

No, thank you.

Ethical List Building

A successful subscriber list and the feeling that you’re not going to get in trouble with the law -- you can have it all!

There are several ethical ways to build a solid subscriber list.

But it’s easy to get caught up in list building that’s … not so friendly. Especially if you’re inexperienced and excited to earn new customers. 

You might Google strategies (listen, we all do it) that look good but won’t get you where you want to be.

White Hat vs. Black Hat

So gather round, boys and girls. It’s time to learn the difference between white and black hat marketing. 

Yes, more than just marketing buzzwords, these terms actually hold some weight -- and the outcome of your campaign.

A very basic explanation is: 

Black hat marketers tend to bend the rules, use manipulative tactics, and go for fast results. 

Whether they realize it or not, they’re thinking about what’s in it for them instead of what they can do for the customer. 

Not so customer-centric. Not where you want to be.

Some common black hat practices:

  • Paying for email lists

Some people actually purchase, or even borrow, email lists from other companies. When you do this, you run the risk of sending emails to uninterested people and annoying them. Nobody likes you if you’re annoying. Not to mention the fact that buying someone’s contact information is just really intrusive.

  • Scraping

Black hat hackers often use this strategy that involves using software to extract data from websites. It sounds complicated with good reason. Once again… pretty intrusive. There’s no user consent and no user interest.

This is like the email version of robocalls. The subject line might say one thing. But when you open it, you’re left wondering why they’re in so much trouble that they need random internet people to send them $1000 and how they got your email address in the first place. 

  • Deceptive links

Have you ever clicked on a link that you thought would take you to The Best Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Ever, but instead you’ve wound up on some shady website asking for a sign up? That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be that guy.

White hat marketers follow rules and guidelines, consider the audience, and think long term. 

Ethical, wholesome. We like it.

Ethical List Building Strategies

White hat strategies do take a little longer. But the results are a more sustainable business model, organic growth, and a clear conscience.

You’re digging up the most loyal subscribers of the bunch.

So if you’re worried that white hat won’t cut it and you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas for you.

  • Free offers

Offer a free PDF, e-book, or video series on your homepage so that interested users can sign up right upfront. Bonus points for transparency.

  • Pop-up notifications or sliders

You’ll be able to increase subscribers in five minutes or less. Add a pop-up or slider after specific actions, like hovering over the exit button, prompting them to sign up for free content.

  • Social media 

Turn loyal social media followers into email subscribers. Publish a link in your profile, run a social media drip campaign, invite people to events and promote your content.

  • Contact form options

Ah, the contact form. When users fill out a contact form, you know they’re interested. It’s a direct ticket.

  • Blogs

Blog posts get people engaged with your website. They establish credibility and teach people more about your service. You can always add a subscribe button to the bottom and a CTA.

  • Offer an opportunity in the checkout process

It’s pretty common, but this strategy happens in the transactional email process. If they’ve already purchased from you, they’re interested in your product. Add a link to new arrivals or services inside your receipt email. Just don’t keep spamming them unless they sign up.

  • Subscribe button

You have a website, right? Add a subscribe button so that visitors will be notified when you post new content. (Just remember that, while you do have your in, consent to new content doesn’t mean consent to sales emails. Always ask for that extra consent.)

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, at least remember these points:

  1. Always, every time, ask for clear consent to send emails.

A great way to do this is by using the double-opt-in method. If they sign up through your website or a free resource, send an extra email asking them to confirm their subscription. Until that’s confirmed, don’t send them anything. And no, opt-out buttons are not a replacement for opting in in the first place.

  1. Allow them to unsubscribe.

As CAN-SPAM says, you’re obligated to let them opt-out of or unsubscribe from your emails at any time and immediately. Please don’t hold your subscribers hostage.

  1. Only send them things they’ve shown interest in.

One of the quickest ways to lose subscribers is to send them promotional emails and newsletters about things they don’t care about. Use your customer data. Send them what they really want (what they really really want).

Keeping the customer at the front of your mind will help you choose the right strategies for the right people at the right time.

Tell us a little about your inbox. What kinds of emails do you actually like to open? What are your favorite ways to get signed up?

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