The brouhaha over reports that the White House may have “spammed” some Americans might actually be good for the email industry. Really. Stay with me here. Consider that hearing everyone all up in arms over the need for permission in email marketing might actually help those marketers who do gain and keep permission.
If you didn’t see the coverage (some helpful links below), it’s basically this: A bunch of well-meaning consumer-protecting politicians, government workers and Fox News broadcasters complained that some people were on the White House file without having given express permission. (Depending on your politics, you may see different motives here, but that’s a different matter.) Honestly, it amounts to the same thing if these citizens did indeed sign up, but just don’t remember. Bottom line: Permission matters in email marketing.
Now the White House doesn’t seem to have done anything terribly egregious by the standards set by most email marketers: It sent informative messages on health care reform to people affected by health care reform. Lots of marketers send lots of email messages that have varied levels of value to subscribers.
It also seems that the White House did not do anything illegal. Pundits both inside and outside the email industry have made much of the fact that the White House, government agencies and nonprofits are exempt from CAN SPAM and “hey is that fair??” but it’s a moot point. The US federal CAN SPAM law does not require permission. We may be the only country in the world that has such a lenient permission standard. (Remember, please always check with legal counsel on any legal or privacy question.) Certainly a lot of folks who received the email messages were happy to hear an update from their President.
However, we email marketers live in a world where even a small number of complainers can get all of our messages blocked by the ISPs like Yahoo! or Gmail, even if it doesn’t land us on Fox News. What this incident proves–again–is that permission is in the eye of the beholder.
We must have a high standard for permission and relevancy and value if we want to keep the email channel open, viable and profitable. I guess we are seeing the political equivalent of that! And in the meantime, it was nice to hear so many people from new quarters expound the benefits of limiting your email marketing to those who actually said they wanted it.
To catch you up on the story, here are a few links: