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Tech View
John Agsalud

If you must spam, here
are some guidelines

Spam, the e-mail variety, has been a topic that we've beaten to death over the years. The focus of most of our efforts has been on how to prevent spam from taking over your inbox.

But what if you really want to implement an e-mail based marketing campaign? After all, the reason why spam has become so prevalent is because it is an inexpensive way to reach a lot of people.

In 2004, Congress enacted the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) act, in an attempt to regulate spam, also known by its more formal name, unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). While this act has been largely ineffective in controlling spam, it does delineate several excellent rules that legitimate e-mail marketers should follow.

First, deceptive subject lines are prohibited. For legitimate marketing purposes, this is practically a no-brainer. You want your target audience to know right away what it is you're advertising.

Fake to/from information is also a no-no. Again, for legitimate e-mail marketers, this is common sense. You want your audience to know who is sending the ad so that if they are truly interested, they will be able to easily contact you. Further, CAN-SPAM also requires the inclusion of a "valid physical postal address."

For legitimate e-mail marketers, following these two rules should ultimately increase readership of your emails. The masses will come to recognize your company, your e-mail address, and know that you're not pushing Viagra or Valium.

CAN-SPAM also requires that e-mail marketers give their recipients the opportunity to decline any future mailings, or "opt-out" in spam-speak. A functioning, timely opt-out mechanism lends tremendous credibility to legitimate email marketers and increases the odds that a recipient will choose to opt-in in the future.

According to CAN-SPAM, UCE messages must clearly state that they are advertisements. Again, for the legitimate email marketer, this increases credibility with your recipients.

CAN-SPAM has several exceptions for what it calls "affirmative consent." Affirmative consent simply means that a recipient has taken the initiative to agree to receive e-mail communications. For example, messages to recipients who have provided affirmative consent do not need to be clearly specified as advertisements. But to be sure that you don't violate CAN-SPAM, it's probably best to follow all of its rules regardless of affirmative consent.

Finally, it is important to note that CAN-SPAM does not cover "transactional" or non-commercial messages. Examples of transactional messages include confirmations of purchases, notifications of changes to account information, or messages that provide warranty, recall, or safety information.

John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail jagsalud@isdi-hi.com.

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