Learning To Play By The Rules

LESSON #2—LEARNING TO PLAY BY THE RULES

This is the second lesson in a series of lessons on Internet Income packed full of tips, real-world advice, and in-depth, step-by-step instructions on setting up your Internet-based business. Once again, the course author, George Little, uses plain English to explain the ins and outs of starting and running a profitable online business in today's ever-changing global market. You can read the first lesson here.

WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
In this lesson, you will learn what spam is and why it is prohibited. You will learn how to avoid doing it. You will learn to recognize the many effective alternatives for lead generation on the Internet that do not involve spam. You will learn the "Rules of Thumb" to avoid spamming. You will no longer be overwhelmed by the many different sources of spam rules and definitions, as you begin to employ your common sense and some Rules of Thumb.

Introduction

Any sports talent, no matter how good he or she may be at their sport, cannot score points or win games if suspended from the game or confined to the penalty box. Similarly, as an Internet Marketer, you need to know how to stay out of the penalty box while learning the ropes of Internet Income. You can get into big trouble by using unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCC), commonly called "spam." You can also be blocked or banned from various sites for posting spammy comments. You can get into trouble with the search engines by trying to game your way into a ranking position with cheap tricks. There are lots of ways you can sabotage your marketing campaigns if you fail to use common sense and follow the Rules of Thumb to avoid these mistakes.

Unless you are very unusual, you will never memorize all the definitions and rules pertaining to spam (for there are many) and, thus, will never have a foolproof system of avoiding spam technically. If you gain a relatively simple understanding of it, however, you can safely avoid spam just by using your good common sense. As for search engines, they do not usually make public the rules that they use to penalize you. In dealing with search engines, you have no choice but to use common sense in following the general guidelines the search engines provide you--for that is all they provide you. Fortunately, common sense and a good faith desire to avoid spam is all you need to stay out of trouble.

What is spam?

There are many definitions of spam. Many different jurisdictions have differing regulations pertaining to the many possible ways to impose unwanted electronic communication on others. We formerly thought of spam as pertaining primarily to e-mail. As the Internet has evolved many news ways to communicate, so have the spam rules evolved to cover many new situations. In terms of e-mail, the common sense explanation is that spam occurs when someone receives annoying e-mails that they did not request, from people or organizations that they do not know, trying to sell them stuff that they do not need or want. Extending that thought to social media, blogs, and virtually any other opportunity one has to type content seen by the public; you can think of spam as something that is designed to sell something or promote something that is a distraction to the intended subject of the conversation.

Today, experience has shown us that there are many ways to spam. You can spam not only by sending unsolicited commercial e-mail but by posting unwanted comments on blogs or social media postings. You can spam by sending unsolicited text (SMS) messages. You can spam in forums and even while providing reviews of products on sites such as Amazon, TripleClicks, or Ebay.

What are the consequences of spam?

Spam can have adverse consequences in varying degrees. Short of being banned from a particular site altogether, spammy comments may cause particular individuals to stop following you or block you from commenting.

For example, say a connection on a social media site such as Facebook, makes a post applauding themselves for having survived their first 5k run. Several friends like the post and comment with their congratulations and encouragement. But, let's say, you comment that it would be even easier to survive the next run if they bought some running shoes that you have to sell through an affiliate arrangement.

Your comment is inappropriate because it is a distraction to the intended subject of the conversation. While you will not likely be banned from Facebook for having made this comment, the poster and some of the others viewing this post and its comments may decide to 'hide you', unfriend you, or perhaps even block you, because they do not want to see these types of comments. These are people that might be, when the situation was more appropriate, eager to learn about the running shoes you had to offer. But now that opportunity will never arise. You have handicapped your marketing efforts by posting a spammy comment. It might take a few of these type of comments before someone actually unfriended you or blocked you, but even one such comment can be too many. Why risk it?

Now, let's look at a different example. Imagine that a friend of yours on Facebook posted that they attempted to run their first 5k run, but had to quit early because their shoes were killing their feet. Here, the intended subject of the conversation is different. After expressing the appropriate condolences for the failed attempt and offering encouragement to try again, discussing shoes naturally follows. In this post, it would be appropriate to suggest the running shoes you have to offer. No one will likely hide you, unfriend you, or block you because of your comment here. It's all common sense.

The consequences of spam can extend much farther than losing the attention of a few people on a particular social media site, however. You can be blocked from entire ISPs. You can be included on spam lists that prevent your e-mail from getting through to most e-mail servers--and thus rendering your e-mail useless for any purpose. Some jurisdictions have monetary fines and even criminal sentences for breaking the laws prohibiting spam. It can be a serious matter above and beyond the adverse effect it has on your marketing efforts.

Why is spam considered bad?

When you open your snail mailbox everyday and see numerous unsolicited commercial advertisements that have been delivered to you by the postal service, it makes you wonder why unsolicited electronic messages are outlawed. Like all laws and rules, however, we should look more to history than to logic to understand the origins. Although the Internet did not become popular with the public until the early 1990s, the Internet had been in existence for a much longer time. Prior to the early 1990s, the Internet was used primarily by the military and university scientists. These users were conducting what they justifiably felt was important business which could not be interrupted by any commercial correspondence. For much of the Internet's early history, ALL commercial correspondence was completely banned. Only since the 1990's has commercial use of the Internet been allowed at all. Although this total restriction on commercial use was lifted and commerce has now become widespread on the Internet, a restriction on unsolicited commercial electronic messages remains in many forms.

E-mail, blog comments, social media comments, and forums are for communicating, not for 'push advertising.' Unsolicited commercial e-mail or other communication is annoying! Without restriction, it has the capacity to come in such large numbers as to render your other communication completely useless and even to shut down your e-mail or forum server altogether. This is due to the fact that, unlike snail mail, electronic communications can be sent in tremendous bulk with very little effort and very little cost. Because it is so cheap and easy to send, we would all receive thousands of messages a day from each of thousands of sources were it not prohibited. Since many people break the no spam rules and send it out anyway, we all have had some taste of what it would be like if it were not prohibited. Spam understandably makes people mad. When they get mad, they report spammers to their ISPs or other organizations or to the government authorities. Bad consequences, such as losing Internet service or even facing civil and criminal penalties, result from spamming. Therefore, you want to make sure that you never spam!

Think for a moment regarding why there are so many diverse rules on this subject. The Internet covers the entire world. Each country, and each state or province within each country can have different laws. There are potentially many different laws in many different jurisdictions pertaining to spam. Plus, losing your Internet service or having your domain blocked due to spam is a matter of contract that varies from provider to provider, each having its own specific rules about spam in its "Acceptable Use Policy." Access to social media sites and other Websites is dependent upon following their rules. So, how can you possibly avoid spam when there are so many different rules and regulations? The answer is to use common sense and follow these Rules of Thumb.

The Rules of Thumb

Here are the Rules of Thumb you can use:
  1. Never use e-mail for advertising with one, and only one, exception: when you have a clear "opt-in" event. Never place a commercial electronic message unless you know it is allowed and appropriate to the context of the forum and conversation in which it is placed.
  2. When advertising with e-mail in an "opt-in" situation, always supply a working "opt-out" mechanism.
  3. Never annoy anyone with any kind of e-mail or electronic communication.
  4. Never mislead anyone (in either the opt-in process, in the e-mail subject header, or by pretending that your comment is in context to a discussion).
Now we will discuss each rule of thumb in turn.

RULE OF THUMB NO. 1—NEVER USE E-MAIL FOR ADVERTISING UNLESS YOU HAVE A CLEAR "OPT-IN" EVENT.

Again, historically, e-mail is for communicating, not for advertising. The same is generally true of newsgroups (Usenet), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Web-based discussion boards, and social media sites. Your own site on the Web (or another's site--with permission) is the only Internet Resource where advertising is generally acceptable. Many marketers are resistant to this, but the sooner you accept this simple truth, the better off you will be. There are many effective ways to use Websites and blogs to market on the Internet. These techniques often involve using the one exception to the e-mail rule--the "opt-in" exception--as part of the process. But, the process begins with a Web page or blog, whether that Web page or blog is yours or another's with your ad on it with permission.

The spam rules usually refer to Unsolicited Commercial Correspondence (UCC). If the e-mail or communication has been "solicited," it generally is not considered spam. (Also, if the e-mail or communication is not "commercial," it is generally not considered spam.) How do you know whether e-mail other electronic communication has been "solicited"? While there are no hard and fast rules that everyone will agree on, your common sense will provide you with a working definition that should be relatively safe. E-mail or other electronic communication is not spam if it has been requested or consented to, or if permission has been granted to send it to a particular recipient.

There are two kinds of consent: express and implied. Express consent is where someone communicates permission directly to you that the communication is allowed. Examples of express consent are when someone types in their e-mail address on a form on your Web page requesting more information or sends you an e-mail in response to an ad. Implied consent, on the other hand, occurs when someone performs some act from which permission can be inferred. An example of implied consent is when someone posts something on your page or takes advantage of some other free resource you are offering with knowledge that it will lead to further contact. (Be careful here, though, the extent of implied consent is very limited.) Implied consent also arises in many instances where you have a pre-existing relationship with someone. Ultimately, the question of whether implied consent exists is a question of fact to be decided based on all of the circumstances of a particular situation. Your opinion as the one accused of spam is not the opinion that matters. The opinion that matters is the opinion of the owner of the resources where you communicated, your ISP, or local authorities who will decide whether you have spammed or not.

When someone fills out a form or accepts a free service, this is generally referred to as "opting in." That is, they have opted to accept an e-mail from you. When we use the term "opted," we are referring to the same concept as "consent" or "permission" discussed above. Another example of an opt-in is the opt-in e-mail lists. If the list's creator allows, and the hosting service allows, ads may be acceptable on the list. The people who subscribe to the list are deemed to have "opt-in" to receive commercial e-mails sent through the list. (Note that the extent of this implied consent is only for e-mail sent through the list. If you send the list members e-mail directly, rather than through the list, you will be spamming.)

If you are accused of spamming, you will need to clearly establish a documented opt-in event to justify the e-mail. The e-mail you sent must also be within the scope of the opt-in, or you will be guilty of spamming.

So, the bottom line is that e-mail is NOT a tool you can rely on to generate leads or new customers. Rather, e-mail is a tool that can only be used in conjunction with some other resource through which an opt-in can first be established. However tempting it is to buy a CD of over a million e-mail addresses and blast your ad out to them, do not do it. You will be spamming if you do.

RULE OF THUMB NO. 2 - ALWAYS SUPPLY AN OPT-OUT MECHANISM.

Even when you have a clear opt-in event (which is the only situation where you should be sending commercial e-mail), you must include an opt-out mechanism in the e-mail. You must give the recipient the option of communicating with you that your e-mail is no longer welcome. The mechanism you use must work to get that communication to you in a timely manner and you must immediately obey the opt-out request. Opt-out mechanisms are generally of two types. One is a line in the e-mail that states that one can reply to the e-mail or send an e-mail to another stated address, putting "REMOVE" in the subject heading. The other common opt-out mechanism is to supply a URL in the e-mail, which if clicked on, will automatically remove someone from your mailing list. Either one is fine--as long as it works.

A belief commonly held among Internet users is that opt-out mechanisms are untrustworthy. It is often advised that the process is used by unscrupulous marketers to confirm that you have a working e-mail address, which they will use for further spamming rather than to remove you from the list. Quite often, unfortunately, the list owner will not send you further e-mail, but will immediately sell your e-mail address to several others who will. Because of the prevalence of these bad practices, any mistake or negligence with your opt-out mechanism will immediately put you under a cloud of suspicion. Make sure that you timely and carefully attend to your opt-out requests.

An opt-out request must be immediately honored. Despite what many ill-informed people believe and say, you should know that it only takes one "no" anywhere in the process to void all prior expressions of consent. There is no way to trap anyone into being forced to receive e-mail from you. Nothing they do prevents them from opting out at any later point.
One tricky situation for opt-outs is the opt-in mail list. You send your mail to the list and the list then forwards it to the other members on the list. Often you will be sent a request to remove from one of the other members, but you do not have the capacity to remove them from the list. In opt-in e-mail list situations, you should always include a statement in your e-mail advising the recipients that the e-mail is being sent through a particular e-mail list and that they must remove themselves from the list to opt-out of the e-mail. Give them the name of the list and the opt-out address.

RULE OF THUMB NO. 3 - NEVER ANNOY ANYONE WITH ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION

With respect to the gray areas, it helps to remember that you will never get in trouble if no one ever accuses you of spamming. If you never annoy anyone, no one should ever be motivated to report you. If you treat others as you would have them treat you, you are not likely to annoy them. Because some people have thin skin, however, and will be annoyed where you would not be, using the Golden Rule is by no means foolproof. It helps to think in terms of what annoys the average person, but to be safe, you need to think in terms of what annoys the overly sensitive person as well.

It's a mystery to me why, but many aggressive marketers approach Internet marketing as a kind of war game. They want to kill your e-mail or your ad and strike you repeatedly with theirs. I don't know about you, but it sure as heck doesn't put me in the mood to join something or buy something when I have been defeated in an Internet war game of ads. E-mail autoresponders are the weapon of choice in these war games.

For example, let's say I place an ad on some classifieds that allow such ads. I then receive an e-mail that says, "Responding to your ad." The content of the e-mail clearly reveals that the sender knows nothing of my ad and could care less. He only wants to put his ad in my face, using some ridiculous pretext that his reading of my ad (which he didn't do) demonstrates to him that I am a good candidate for his opportunity. Then, were I naive enough to respond to his e-mail and point out that I am not interested in his opportunity, I would immediately receive an autoresponse message with even more information about his opportunity. Also, in the process of responding, I would have gotten myself added to his e-mail list so that I would receive more info every week about this opportunity in which I have no interest. No matter how hard I search, I can find no way to actually opt-out from his list. Am I going to report him for spamming? You bet your bippy I am!

Another example of the war game is people who join the opt-in lists and then hook up an autoresponder to the account with which they joined the list. Even though every single one of these lists prohibits using autoresponders, they are quite commonly used anyway. When you send out e-mail to the list, you immediately get back autoresponses from hundreds of the members of the list. They will never read the list nor your e-mail, but they will stack the list with their ads and then, on top of that, will autorespond to yours sent from the list.
Such tactics are absurd, ridiculous, ineffective, annoying, and unlawful. People get away with them only because they are technically savvy enough to hide their identities and make it so time consuming to track them down that most victims will not take the time to do it. But these are the extreme examples. Let's look at some of the more subtle issues.

If you take care to always make sure that your e-mail is pleasant, you will not only be less likely to be accused of spamming, but you will more effectively develop relationships--which is the key to any successful marketing. You should take pains to be polite and sincere in all your e-mail correspondence. While you have to protect yourself from the war game spammers, you need to provide some way for people who read your e-mail to directly respond to you--where you will actually read their response. Only use e-mail autoresponders in the most controlled of situations and use them with great care. In fact, there is really only a small handful of situations where an autoresponder is appropriate. An autoresponder is appropriate when someone fills out a form on your Web page and you need to confirm that the e-mail address they supplied is a valid e-mail address. An autoresponder is appropriate when the sender has been fully informed that they will receive an autoresponse. An autoresponder is appropriate to complete a transaction that has been freely engaged by your customer. Autoresponders should rarely, if ever, be triggered by an incoming e-mail in my opinion. The only exception would be form submissions. While automation is a goal for some tasks and is being made more and more possible by the Internet, communication should be personal, not automated.

Take pains never to annoy people with your Internet marketing, whether through automation, insincerity, rudeness, or as we discuss below, misleading tactics.

RULE OF THUMB NO. 4 - NEVER MISLEAD ANYONE.

Being bothered by correspondence not requested or wanted is something that annoys almost everyone. Another thing that annoys the heck out of the average person is being misled. What most people want is good, solid, honest information, pertinent to their request, and no more.

People become annoyed when they are misled. If they request one type of information and get another, they feel used. This factor comes into play, among other places, in choosing a subject header for e-mail that you do choose to send. If the subject says "$50 deposited into your bank account tomorrow--no strings, no obligation," and then the body of the e-mail mentions nothing about a free $50, but proceeds to try to sell them something, the recipient has been misled and will be understandably annoyed. I have read so-called marketing advice that recommends using subject headings that will get people to read your e-mail regardless of whether the subject has anything to do with your offer. Nothing could be worse advice! Such "bait and switch" tactics are dishonest, immoral, often illegal, and are guaranteed to annoy the dickens out of the recipient of your e-mail. Do not do it.

Another guaranteed way to annoy someone, spurring them to report you for spam, is to mislead them about the type of information they are requesting. If you have a Web page which collects e-mail addresses to send more info about an interesting subject, but you send entirely different correspondence from what they expected, you will certainly have trouble. Honesty is more than just morality, it is good business practice. You do not want to start any relationship with a client, customer, or affiliate by dishonest correspondence. Trust is the most important factor in any business relationship.

So, it is very important in both the opt-in event and the subject header of e-mail to be very honest and straight-forward about the information that will be in the body of the e-mail. To do otherwise, can only make people mad and get you in trouble.

The same concepts apply to all types of electronic communication. If you are in good faith, you will know whether or not your comment is really in context to a forum discussion or social media post. All sorts of creative segues can be devised, but are they in good faith? Are they honest? Are you stretching things beyond what is polite? Ask yourself these questions and ask yourself whether it will be annoying. Is this really what these people want to hear about? The answers to these questions will guide you whether to make the comment or not.

There are many effective Internet Marketing Techniques that do not involve spam

A common response to the spam rules is to throw up one's hands and say "It's too complicated and too risky, why bother with Internet marketing?" The answer to that question is that Internet marketing is a powerful, yet inexpensive, tool that can be used by people of few resources other than a will to succeed in obtaining financial success. In later installments, you can look forward to learning how to research the Web to find high traffic Websites and then use non-commercial, non-spam e-mail to develop relationships with the publishers of those Websites. From these relationships can arise the opportunity to partner with them to promote your business or your opportunity at little cost. We will discuss Google ads and social media ads and many other ways to advertise legitimately. We will also discuss how to correctly use opt-in procedures to reach large audiences without spamming. We will further discuss how to use content to gain some Internet traffic to whom you can promote your business. This is just a small sample of the effective techniques we will teach you in this course. We needed to cover spam first to make sure that you don't knock yourself out of the game before you have a chance to get started. The bulk of this course, however, will dig in with earnest on the how-to's of successful Internet marketing.

WHAT'S COMING NEXT
The next Lesson will give you an understanding of the flow of Internet traffic. Read the next chapter here: Introduction To Internet Traffic.

Author
By George Little, Panhandle On-Line, Inc. For more information on the Internet Income Course and other works and courses by George Little, see http://www.profitpropulsion.com

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