Good Email Hygiene Doesn't End with CAN-SPAM

Is it just my imagination or is there a resurgence in CAN-SPAM interest in the news recently? Between the INBOX session on “Getting Email into the Inbox,” where we chatted on a couple-few issues related to what being CAN-SPAM compliant really means, to press coverage by Inc.com selecting a CAN-SPAM-compliance monitoring solution for a “Best for… Making sure your outbound mail works” award, it seems there’s a surprising increase in interest in this topic. I checked with our own support team and lo and behold…higher volumes of questions last week about what it means to be CAN-SPAM compliant. It’s gotten so bad our email policy director has taken it upon himself to write a white paper enumerating what it means and, more importantly, what it does not mean to be CAN-SPAM compliant.

Frankly, I find this all rather odd.

Odd because CAN-SPAM compliance should be called what it truly is…ineffectual legislation from the one part of our industrial economy that is least likely to produce efficient policies—the government. I hear folks intimate this all the time. CAN-SPAM compliance is the most negligible form of email marketing compliance that you can actually do. If you are building a program and infrastructure to effect CAN-SPAM compliance as your only goal, then by all indications you will essentially appear to be a spammer. You may ask yourself why that is, and while there are many reasons, it basically comes down to permission. CAN-SPAM doesn’t require permission from the end user while the industry at large does.

Congratulations! You won’t be able to get your email delivered but your CAN-SPAM compliance will be beyond reproach.

There are a great number of checklist items that EEC members in aggregate will advise people to do for effective email marketing. Certainly CAN-SPAM compliance is on that list. But always remember that this is very basic stuff that you simply have to do. In the way of a simile, it’s like going out on a first date. You know you need to perform a set of personal hygiene acts. CAN-SPAM compliance is akin to just brushing your teeth and throwing cold water on your face. If you hope to get a second date or even a phone call, you need to put your best foot forward. The latest threads and a bit of cologne might be in order. Aiming for the bare minimum shouldn’t be your goal and that is what CAN-SPAM is—the bare minimum.

—J.F. Sullivan