Business Cards and Permission

Recently, I had the privilege to both attend and speak at SXSWi down in Austin. It’s a pretty wild ride and well deserves its reputation as geek spring break. However, despite the number of margaritas I may have imbibed I still kept track of the number of mailing lists I opted in to (2) and the number of business cards I handed out (21). I’m weird like that.

As of March 30th the number of mailing lists I’ve somehow ended up on have totaled 11, only 1 of which is a list I actually subscribed to. How did this happen you ask? Well essentially it’s ignorance of best practices and people going for quantity over quality.

Rather than going into the myriad of missteps taken I’m just going to say a little bit about how it should work:

First, if someone hands you their business card after meeting you, that is not permission to add them to your list. It’s permission to send them an email yourself, and if you want you can say “hey I have this great newsletter, if you’re interested go here to subscribe.” But you can’t just add them based on being handed a card.

Second, if you’re running a competition at your booth, that doesn’t translate to permission to add someone to your newsletter. It’s permission to give them free stuff if they win. You should have an optional sign up form to let people subscribe if they’re interested, don’t just opt them in. Even if you put up a sign “if you enter my competition, I will add you to my list” it still isn’t kosher. How many people really paid attention to that sign in their frenzy to get a free iPad? They need to explicitly ask.

Third, have a sign up form at your booth. Ask people if they want to be added to your mailing list. Then, a few days later, a week at the most, send them a confirmation. Thank them for signing up at the conference, tell them that they’re on your list and this is what they can expect to receive, this is how often they can expect to get it and this is what email address you’ll be sending it from (so they can add you to their address book). They made a mistake or they just don’t want to receive it after all? Give them a link to opt out with no hassles. Or, go one step further and make them click to confirm their subscription (double opt-in is always best!).

Ask. It’s that easy. If you haven’t explicitly asked, you don’t have permission.

And if someone’s business card mentions email marketing, really, don’t add them anyway despite my recommendations. We likely know someone on the abuse desk at the ESP you’re using. I’m more likely to unsubscribe than complain at first email (don’t remove me and it’s another story), but don’t be surprised if you add me to your list without permission and then suddenly get an email from me talking about best practices!

One Reply to “Business Cards and Permission”

  1. Int*l used to do the same thing, the metrics revolved around unique users and most of the time the sign ups weren’t legit. I would have thought the industry would have evolved since I left in 2006, but I guess old habits die hard

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