I have had a distinct uptick in unsolicited emails, so I ran a test using aliases. My (unscientific) finding: when folks follow me on social media or subscribe to my list, they are also adding me to THEIR lists. That’s not a great practice, especially when your recipients are in California. This week, let’s get clear on the foundational rule for commercial email in the US.

This week’s term is CAN-SPAM.

The CAN-SPAM Act is a 2003 US law that applies to using email for commercial solicitation. The acronym means Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (And people say Congress isn’t fun). CAN-SPAM established seven rules for commercial emails:

  1. No misleading header info
  2. No misleading subject lines
  3. Clearly identified as an ad
  4. A physical location
  5. A clear way to opt out of general marketing emails
  6. A clear way to opt out of emails as a subscriber or member
  7. Prompt action on opt-outs
  8. Vigilance over third-party agent uses and activities

Your email provider or CRM is acutely aware of these rules and typically won’t let you begin sending in bulk through their systems until you comply. But these rules also govern direct individual emails to solicit business. Why does it matter? In addition to opening yourself to hefty federal fines, too many people reporting your messages as junk or spam or blocking you will impact your overall deliverability with email providers like Google and corporate email servers.

If you want to solicit business via email, get comfortable with CAN-SPAM. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a handy and clear compliance FAQ.

On the pornography part, given the astounding variance in individual Americans’ (and states’) view of “know it when you see it,” you may consider using altered words (i.e., sh*t), images or the good ol’ NSFW label, especially if you foresee a risk that your audience will write diatribes about you perving up their pristine personal bubbles. An offended user may report you to the FTC, state authorities, regional ISP (internet service provider), employer, or email or social media platform. Any of these entities may block your send address or domain for violating their policies. If that happens, you may be shut down for a few weeks or indefinitely.

It’s okay to send transactional or relationship emails to those who opt out. You may receive colorfully-worded replies, which I’ll paraphrase as, “I opted out of your list.” While that’s true, opting out of email doesn’t take you off a list, it flags your address to block commercial solicitations. In fact, it’s required to keep opted out email addresses track and honor opt-out requests and notify users about product and privacy changes.

Final note: CAN-SPAM does not apply to political campaigns. Congress, you are hilarious.

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