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Ethical List Building in the Age of Privacy

A client recently asked me what I was doing to get my list “GDPR” ready.  If you don’t know what GDPR means, it’s the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation.

It’s common sense.  It’s not something you should worry about unless you don’t adhere to ethical list building practices.

The EU has GDPR, Canada has CASL (Canada’s Anti Spam Laws) and both are intended to protect individuals from spammy marketing practices that occur via email marketing, list sharing, list swapping, and list manipulation.

Today’s blog is not about GDPR, that’s a data point in the big picture of ethical list building and marketing strategies. Today is about understanding best practices long term.

If you want to learn about GDPR, Amy Porterfield has done a great job of documenting everything you need to know here, Mari Smith shared this, and Facebook is advising people here.

Here’s some list building practices you should adhere to as common sense and good basic ethical marketing when it comes to email marketing:

1. Allow people to subscribe to your list, don’t randomly add people without their express consent.  If you want true express consent, create a double opt-in for anyone who chooses to add their name and email to your list.

2. Be transparent about what you’ll be mailing.  When people opt into your list, if you send a daily email, say that.  If you send 7 emails in one day when you’re in marketing mode, let them know.  Be upfront about what they can expect so they are well informed at the beginning.rawpixel-651365-unsplash

3. Don’t use free offer trickery to build your newsletter. Internet marketers have used free downloadable offers, webinars and video training for years to build their list. If opting in for your free thing includes opting into your weekly newsletter and the odd marketing email, make that clear.  You can either say this on the same page where you’re giving away your free offer, or you can give them the option to click a second link to accept delivery of other pieces of communication. Be honest and up front.

4. Stop buying into list size hype.  Bigger is not better when it comes to list building. That’s what you’ve been taught by marketers who are selling list building and online marketing programs.  I’ve generated multiple 7 figures in my business over the last ten years with a small list. Quality trumps quantity online. Remember, one of the tenants of good marketing is to market to your ideal buyer. If you’re taking anyone and everyone for list building, you’re definitely not marketing to a quality segment.

5. Never, ever, ever, share your list or your client’s private information with someone else.  It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a webinar with someone else or hosting an event and a sponsor asks for the info, the answer is always no.  Do not share information with anyone that has specifically been given to you.

6. Don’t download email addresses from LinkedIn and add to your mailing list. Don’t collect business cards to add to your list without consent. And never scrape emails from the internet for the purpose of list building.  Any email that shows up in my inbox that I did not subscribe to gets reported as spam. Spam is sending an email that someone has not asked for. Plain and simple. Someone once got upset with me because she subscribes to my list and thought it was okay to add me to hers.  She was offended when I marked her communication as spam. List building and adding people to your list must always be a consensual process.

7. Always respect unsubscribes. If someone clicks a link to unsubscribe from your list, DO NOT mail them.  Recently I had a situation where we emailed a bunch of “do not email” people in my system in error. Right after that happened, we made the decision to delete those people from the system so it wouldn’t happen again.

Why you should be cleansing your list regularly. #EmailMarketing Share on X

8. Cleanse your list regularly.  If you have people who have not opened an email from you in more than six months, ask them if they wish to be unsubscribed.  Technology allows you to see who opens your communication and who does not. Give people the option to opt out. It’s okay if they choose to…you want a list of people who actually WANT to hear from you.

9. Allow people to opt out of marketing campaigns.  Every so often you have something that requires you to send people multiple emails about an offer or promotion. Make it easy for people to opt out. When we start to market my big event, Money, Mindset and Marketing, we give people the choice to click a link to stop receiving event messages if they know for certain they will not be attending.

10. Choose a system that allows you to segment and tag people. This is why I love Infusionsoft. I can be very specific about what communication goes to which people so that I am not inundating people with information that is not useful to them.  This helps you avoid being a nuisance to your list.

Best practices for ethical #ListBuilding. Share on X

Finally, ask yourself how you would like to be treated.  We all receive emails so we know how it feels. If what you’re sending feels manipulative, distrustful, or sketchy…just don’t do it.

I’m curious about two things:  how many of these 10 things are you in agreement with, and what else would you add to the list? Leave a comment below and share your opinion.


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Lisa Larter

Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.

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