In light of the recent class-action lawsuit against Papa John’s for sending 500,000 unwanted text messages, you might be wondering about the implications for your business. What are the differences are between marketing and spam, and how can you avoid sending illegal spam? Let’s review the rules – and the best practices – for email and text marketing.

Here are the official government guidelines:

Text messages have the strictest rules. Texts cannot be sent with an automatic dialer unless the recipients have given consent to receive them. So basically, no mass texts unless the customers ask for them.

Emails are a bit more lenient. Marketing emails can be sent to computers and mobile phones, as long as they clearly state their marketing purpose, have a free and easily-accessible option to opt out, and use a real email address as the sender. You must also have a plan in place to honor opt-out requests within 10 days.

So, those are the rules. But, even if you follow the law to avoid sending spam, what about your customers? Often customers consider “legitimate” marketing emails to be spam, and you certainly don’t want your marketing efforts to backfire into hate for your company. People expect to see ads on TV, in the margins of web pages, and on billboards, but most people don’t like having their inboxes invaded.

The safest course of action is to send promotional emails only to people who sign up for them – maybe they bought something at your online shop, and they agreed to receive email updates during the check-out process (and don’t hide the opt-in as a tiny, pre-checked box). That way you know you’re sending email only to the people who want it, and it can be a great way to remind them of their first good experience.

You can also start a small email campaign and request specific feedback from your targets as to whether they appreciated the email or found it annoying (try a “complaints” link in the email). If the response is positive, widen your audience. But, if 5 out of 100 people complain, that should tell you to change something before you anger 50 or 500 or 5,000 of your potential customers in a mass marketing campaign. Also, if enough people mark your messages as spam, you could get blocked by email carriers, even if you’re complying with official government guidelines!

The content of the email helps too. If you write something funny or informative, use attractive images, and offer sales, people are more likely to be tolerant of your marketing messages.

In conclusion: think of the law, think of your customers, and test new campaigns on a small number of people before going big.

By Sharon Campbell