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Networking Spam

How to Run an Ethical Mail List? 41

jfray_2k5 asks: "I've recently been hired as the Senior SysAd for a successful online advertising company and am in quite a dilemma. See, the company had previously been involved in quite a few seedy email businesses, and lets just say that we need to get our Haus in order. So, my question comes down to: what are acceptable and ethical ways to promote targeted offers to email users? Obviously, harvesting is out, and blanket spams don't really work for us (as we're a performance based company, and UCE simply doesn't perform for advertisers). I'm expecting a plethora of flames for this post, but I am serious in that I want to make things better for everyone. Other than enforcing CANSPAM (which is a total joke), and enforcing double opt-in, single opt-out on all of our lists, what are some other other ways we can do this the right way?"
"Is there a right way? Or am I simply screwed? Any truly constructive suggestions are welcome, as I most certainly don't want myself to be known for running a spam[cannon|haus], yet I need to be able to provide truly targeted email to people that, believe or not, actually want them.

Once again, any help is appreciated.
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How to Run an Ethical Mail List?

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  • RSS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Knights who say 'INT ( 708612 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @09:50AM (#13143663) Journal
    Consider using RSS channels instead of an email list.
  • by kernelfoobar ( 569784 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @09:51AM (#13143665)
    What about a listserv/mailing list? If thye REALLY want mail, then that's not spam and let THEM sign up.

    my 2 cents.
  • by PapaZit ( 33585 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @09:52AM (#13143674)
    What spammers call "double opt-in" is what normal people call "opt-in".

    Spammers claim that single opt-in is when your address is on a list that they bought (you "opted in" by appearing on the list), and double opt-in is when you actually asked for the mail.
    • by OpenYourEyes ( 563714 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @10:01AM (#13143708)
      Actually, I assumed that "double opt-in" is when you go to a totally insecure form and enter your address. They then send a confirmation message to that address (which makes it a little more trustworthy). Only after you confirm this are you actually added to the list.

      Sure, it is standard practice for mailing lists, but it has to have a name and someone using it.
    • by jonadab ( 583620 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @10:33AM (#13143829) Homepage Journal
      > Spammers claim that single opt-in is when your address is on a list that
      > they bought (you "opted in" by appearing on the list), and double opt-in
      > is when you actually asked for the mail.

      Close. Single opt-in is when you appear on a list, and double opt-in is when you respond to a message that you got as a result, e.g., by visiting the website it was advertising.

      A legitimate advertiser should have nothing to do with these things, of course; the only people you should send bulk email to are people who either A) actually did business with you or B) actually signed up to receive the mail.

      In case A), you send one message, thanking them for their business and *offering* the chance to sign up for more mail (which you can hype however you like -- exciting special offers, blah, blah, blah). The same message can also ask for feedback if you like, or contain "special offers", but if they don't sign up for more mail, they only get the one message or, at least, only the one for each time they do business with you. (Exception: if you are sending a message anyway to notify them that you have received their check, have shipped their order, or something along those lines, you can tag an additional message on the end of it if you like.)

      In the case of B, where they actually signed up for the mail, you need to offer them the ability to opt back out, and you need to adhere to your stated privacy policy, whatever that is -- not distributing their address outside your organization is a good one. Also, if you want anyone to read these things, you've got to limit their frequency, and it helps to make them interesting as well, if possible. Hiring a good writer with an entertaining style to do product reviews or somesuch for your advertainment "newsletter" will generally not hurt anything. Bonus points if you work in a one-panel comic strip somehow that's at least a little bit funny. Make people want to read the thing.
  • I'm assuming that your description of people who "want" to see your ads really means people who don't actually know they "want" to.

    Do what the rest of the advertising world does, and reward people who look at your ads.

    Depending on your target market, there are infinitely many ways to do this. If your "customer" lists really are "targeted", you should already know what would entice people to your "service".
  • some obvious hints (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fëanáro ( 130986 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @10:41AM (#13143860)
    If the user just wants to download some software from you, or get some info, or join a webforum, do NOT require them to signup for your list, do NOT include any checkboxes that are checked by default and sign them up, or optimally do not include any such checkboxes at all. Instead, offer a separate form on your website where the user can signup for your list if he chooses to. Optimally, in other places simply do not ask for their email address at all.

    Make sure that all your mailings ALWAYS have the same from-header, and that they all include an identical tag at the start of the subject line (like "[YOURCOMPANY-info]")

    The address in the from header should exist, and unsubscribe request and bounces to this address should be processed (but offer unsubscribe via web form too!)

    Let the user chose at signup whether they want html or plaintext.
    The confirmation mail after signup obviously should always be plaintext. The confirmation mail should also include from which IP , when and how the signup request was made.

    If the mail is html, do not include any IMG tags that link to images not included in the mail (which could cause the mail-client to connect to the internet), and only include very small images in the mail if any at all.

    For people that do not want you to send them mails but still want to read the content, offer the option to read all your info-mails on your website, without them having to log in. (assuming the mails do not contain private information)

    that's all I can think of right now, but it all seems pretty obvious to me if you always have your customers best interest in mind.
    • by AMystery ( 725537 )
      Some more hints. Create a strong privacy policy that says you won't sell your customer list for any reason.

      You are running a mailing list, so having people forget to unselect that option while signing up for your web site is sort of expected. I wouldn't class that as spam.

      Also for images in emails. None of those 1x1 pixel images that are just for tracking, but if you are selling a product and want to show a large image, that's acceptable to link back to the web. Again, annoying, but acceptable. A better s
    • > an identical tag at the start of the subject line (like "[YOURCOMPANY-info]")

      Ew, yuck, no thanks. Put a custom header in the email instead. All but the most retarded version pre-alpha mail clients should be able to filter by headers. Or at least give the customer the option of which to have.

      The problem with the subject line tags, on a discussion list anyway, is that you end up with crap like "[tag] subject", "[tag] re: subject", "re: [tag] subject", "re: [tag] re: subj
      • replies are not a problem in the case of the submitter. For something like that newsletter (or "targeted info") i find a common subject usefull, does nto even have to be a tag, could simple be "SUPERDUPER-NEWS No 123 - get rich fast!!!"

        Now, the problem with RE:AW:RE:AW is indeed annoing, but that's entirely the fault of outlook express, real mail clients don't do that, and whoever thought that "RE:" should be translated deserves to be flogged
  • There shouldn't be a problem, assuming you handle the opt-in and opt-out reasonably. That means:
    - opt-in isn't required to access any of your services (except of course the "service" of receiving your junk mail)
    - the opt-in option isn't obscured or labeled ambiguously when initially signing up
    - the opt-in isn't automatically selected every time someone does something on your site, forcing them to constantly un-opt-in

    By not trying to trick people, you'll be treating you customers far better than the
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday July 23, 2005 @11:16AM (#13144002)
    #1. ONLY use addresses that have been submitted by that individual. This will keep you from sending email to the spam traps which is how you get listed on the blacklists.

    #2. MONITOR YOUR OWN EMAIL LOGS. If you see a bounce or whatever, REMOVE THAT NAME RIGHT THEN.

    #3. Put an HTML one-click-to-unsubscribe at the TOP of the message. And UNSUBSCRIBE the addresses right then. None of this "72 hour" bullshit. None of this "enter your password" bullshit.

    #4. Include a phone number on every email. I've had to call a few companies to get them to fix their lists and I get even more annoyed when I have to waste my time researching their number first.

    #5. People frequently sign up their WORK addresses for your crap. When they leave that job, it is up to whomever is set to receive their email or the email admin to handle the crap. Unless you want ALL of your messages blocked at my smtp box, you will make it very easy to quickly and completely unsubscribe addresses.
    • #3. Put an HTML one-click-to-unsubscribe at the TOP of the message. And UNSUBSCRIBE the addresses right then. None of this "72 hour" bullshit. None of this "enter your password" bullshit.

      By the gods! Make it an option for people to receive non-HTML email, and DO NOT put any HTML links in a non-html email.

    • #5. People frequently sign up their WORK addresses for your crap. When they leave that job, it is up to whomever is set to receive their email or the email admin to handle the crap. Unless you want ALL of your messages blocked at my smtp box, you will make it very easy to quickly and completely unsubscribe addresses.

      Allow to request unsubscription for an entire domain.

      1. Postmaster emails your unsubscribe address with subject "unsubscribe domain"
      2. Your mailer emails postmaster@examp
    • #6. Send mail from a recognizable domain name. I get some legitmate newsletters from companies with clearly recognizable domain names who insist on making it harder to manage the mail by using bogus-sounding domain names for their mailers.

      #6 a. Use a legitimate-sounding and clear From: address, and consider prefixing the subject lines with a clear identifier. If you are 'ABC Company', send the mail from 'ABC Company Newsletter' and prefix all subject lines with 'ABC Company:'. -Especially- avoid using a ma
  • You said, "I need to be able to provide truly targeted email to people that, believe or not, actually want them."

    Do exactly that -- make it clear to people that they "actually" want email solicitations, and "truly" target your email campaign to those people only.

    I don't know about others, but an astonishing 90% of my emails are unsolicited email ads. I have an email address which I rarely give out and only use it for contact-info purpose on my blog ( []), and everyday the
  • Actually (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenocide2 ( 231786 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @12:17PM (#13144288) Homepage
    I subscribe to a couple monthly mailing lists that could probably be considered spam, in the advertising products for sale at an online store sense. What works about it is it's opt-in, and the opt out works perfectly.

    As for administrating such a list, just make sure that
    a) the people on the list might want the things you're advertising. this is basically up to the agency, not you. Its doubtful that if you feel something isn't going to work you can persuade anyone.
    b) the list should keep people's addresses private, as in no bulk mailtos. simple common sense, that's probably already in place
    c) replies should probably get forwarded to somewhere where your client can access and review them. remember that you're not just concerned about the potential customers, but the client as well.
  • Bad Question (Score:3, Informative)

    by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @12:42PM (#13144407) Homepage
    1) Only accept opt in lists.
    2) Honor all unsubscribes, remove bounces.
    3) Use a third party email delivery system.
    4) Never send emails to a rented list through your domain.
    5) Avoid overmailing.
    6) Do not expect great things from email campaigns.
  • by Linus Torvaalds ( 876626 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @02:25PM (#13144922)

    I get spam after spam from a few companies that swear they aren't spammers. I email them from a throwaway account complaining, but refuse to tell them my real email address, because that only makes it more valuable to spammers.

    Don't get me wrong, I -know- they screen-scraped my email address from websites, usenet, whatever, because I tag my email address wherever I go (I have my own domain).

    The way I see it, their list is tainted with people who don't want to be on it. Disclosing my email address, even if they are completely ethical, will only solve my problem. They'll continue spamming everyone else whose email address they have.

    So I do my best to explain the issues to somebody higher up than the average grunt, and if I don't get through, I block them from my mail servers completely, for all users.

    One example of these idiots are the people behind ScribeStudio, who insist that they aren't spamming, even though they are emailing me on an address that I only use in a single newsgroup that has nothing to do with their company or product.

    what are acceptable and ethical ways to promote targeted offers to email users?

    As many people have said, double opt-in is the only way to go, along with an unsubscribe link that actually works.

    But you need to handle your existing list. Emailing them and telling them that they can unsubscribe is not good enough. All spammers say that. You need to email them and say "if you wish to continue to receive our mailings, click here".

    The first thing your boss will say is "but hardly anybody will do that!" That is exactly the point of doing it. If "hardly anybody will do that", then that means that the majority of people on your list don't want to be on it and you are spamming them.

  • Plain-text unsubscribe replies to the sending address must always work. HTML unsubscribe is unacceptable, because that is a known delivery tool for malicious scripts, adware, spyware, etc.

    Plain-text requests and complaints to abuse@... and postmaster@... must always be read and acted on promptly.

    Subscriptions must always be for a limited duration (one year is reasonable), and require another confirmed opt-in for renewal.

    Subscriber lists must never be revealed to any other party, even those under the s

    • I was thinking that the suggestion of a limited duration of subscriptions was a poor idea and then I considered more carefully. If you haven't sold them anything in a whole year, are they likely to ever buy anything? are they even reading your emails? You have had your chance to impress yourself into their memories as being a good source for your product, if they are now trashing your emails (not trusting your unsubscribe link) then you are losing your advantage. Depending on your product and frequency of
    • > Each message must have new and useful content. "Buy our stuff, best prices anywhere!" is neither
      > new nor useful, so if that's all you have to say--don't waste my time!

      Good point. There is a little software shop called SomeWare []

      They make utilities, and I get mailings from them. Unlike -every other place- I have ever purchased anything, that sends me notices, I actually -read- and appreciate the notices. Because they only send me a notice if they actually have somethin
  • I love double opt in. It is so honest and respectful of the person you are emailing.

    Now, on the other hand if your company had previously harvested and spammed, I'm sure there are a lot of people who would love to have your bosses shot and killed.

    Now on the other other hand, thank you for having the balls to be ethical and take the gutsy step to ask the crowd for what they would like to see.

    Bravo and good luck.
  • In short: don't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dacarr ( 562277 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @02:59PM (#13145100) Homepage Journal
    Short version - don't do it on your own. Longer version: if you really want that, you can advertise your services on other lists by way of purchasing adspace in the message. Yahoogroups, for one, sells advert space, and reaches ungodly numbers of people.
  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @03:06PM (#13145140)
    First, I'll identify myself as having formerly handled the technical end of database marketing at a dot-com with a database of 20,000,000 customers - in a non-spammy way.

    Secondly, I'll identify myself as having formerly been in a public-and-media-facing position at a(n inter)national anti-spam advocacy non-profit.

    And now, the news.

    The bad news is that no matter what measures you put in place, you are still going to have to handle bounces from dead addresses, full mailboxes, misconfigured spam-blocking, and so on. And to be quite honest, handling them any way other than by simply unsubscribing the addresses - even in the case of the misconfigured spam-blocking, when the person probably does want your mail - is simply not economically effective, and does not scale.

    The further bad news is that no matter what measures you put in place, you are still going to get complaints, because ISP's re-allocate addresses almost immediately. If someone signs up from, and a year later they change ISPs, someone else can get that address before you send your next mailing. You won't get a bounce, and the new user won't be expecting your mail.

    The good news (to start with) is that you can mitigate these complaints a little bit, by including in each message a clear explanation of why recipients are getting it, how to stop getting it, etc.

    You can further reduce complaints by making it impossible for people to be forge-subscribed. However they give you their address, send them a confirmation message that requires them to do something (go to a certain URL, reply with a certain ID in the subject) that a third party won't know to do.

    I had a very hard time getting some executives to buy into the whole idea of confirmation, but I'll put it this way: addresses of people who you don't know want your mail are worth basically nothing to you from a marketing perspective.

    Other thoughts: Offering plaintext and HTML options is good. Doing mixed-multipart is an option if you can get it right - and oh, if you do it? Put the plaintext first. For your own sanity, make unsubscribing as easy and automatic as possible - that way, folks won't have to bug you. Don't make them give a password or anything to unsusbcribe.

    Those are the first few thoughts that come to mind.
  • by Baloo Ursidae ( 29355 ) <> on Saturday July 23, 2005 @05:27PM (#13145814) Journal
    How to manage mailing lists [] is a good start. I suggest you use some mailing list software like Sympa or Listserv that is already set up to handle all the subscription/unsubscription confirmations automatically in a universally-accepted manner. Don't try to reinvent the wheel, and have your customers subscribe themselves.
  • but one way is to have newsletters sign up that DON'T have all things checked by default, with one "none" thing to tick in the middle, so that people will have to read what kind of email they can subscribe to.
    I know that when I look at newsletters and mailing lists, promotional offers drive me insane because 99% of them are totally useless from what I want, and they suck up my time.
    Perhaps also put a given header on them, like "[promotional]" so that people can sort their emails into folders.
    Granted, it's l
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday July 23, 2005 @05:59PM (#13145981) Homepage Journal
    You're asking an ethical question. Which means you're unlikely to get any useful answer from Slashdotters, who tend to have "I know what I know" attitudes on subjects like this. You'd probably get better advice with the obvious Google search []. You could even hire a professional ethicist.

    But here's one practical suggestion: ask the people you've offended. Since your company has made a bad reputation for itself, there must be lots of people out there who've added them to blacklists or blocked their email from networks. If you can get in touch with some of these people you can ask them "What kind of anti-spam policy would cause you to accept email from us?" I'm not sure you'll get any useful answers, but at least you'll help convince people that your company is serious about mending its ways.

  • But are you are working for OptinRealBig and self proclaimed "Spam King" Scott Richter who were recently sued to near oblivion by NY State Attorney Eliot Spitzer and Microsoft? Quite a coincidence that someone should be asking this just after it is announced [] on The Register that he is cleaning up his act and just got delisted from ROKSO []. If so, good luck in your new job trying to get a leopard to change its spots, but my advice would be to keep one eye on how much legal scrutiny the company is under and
  • by XeRXeS-TCN ( 788834 ) on Sunday July 24, 2005 @11:26AM (#13149710)

    Sorry, the amusing contradiction in terms of "ethical" email advertising always makes me think of Bill Hicks:

    "By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke... there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations.

    I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." God dammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags!

    Quit putting a god damn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!

    "Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web! "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?"

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger