Email has changed the way many of us operate on a daily basis. In my case, I receive hundreds of emails a day (not counting spam) and over the course of a week, am responsible for the sending of hundreds of thousands of email newsletters (the Lawrence Fine Blog being, by far, the smallest of the lists). The question is, what obligations come with the sending and receiving of email?
First of all, if the email is commercial in nature, it must comply with the CAN-SPAM act. You can read more about CAN-SPAM at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/canspam.shtm but to summarize it:
There can be no misleading headers (sender, receiver etc)
The subject line can’t be misleading.
There must be an opt out method
It must be identified as an advertisement and include a physical address for the sender
For those of you reading this in your email (as opposed to on the blog) you can see how I make sure I’m in compliance with this act. The sender of the email is Lawrence Fine, the subject line says it’s from the Lawrence Fine Blog and the topic, there is an opt out link on the bottom of the email along with my physical address. To comply is quite easy (as you can see). To not comply could be potentially very expensive (the penalty could be as much as $11,000 per email sent).
For personal email, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you are sending to more than one person, should you use BCC as opposed to showing everyone who you are sending to? There are certainly times you want everyone to know who is receiving the email (for example, if you are inviting a group of 5 people to a gathering, if they all know who is invited they could potentially work together to carpool etc). However, have respect for peoples email addresses and don’t disclose everyones email address unless it’s needed.
Don’t forward an email unless it’s something the person who wrote the original email would want forwarded and then only forward to people who truly need to see the email. For example, I don’t want forwards of jokes or chain letters so the people who forward them to me have to understand that there is a greater likelihood of that email AND FUTURE EMAILS from them not being read. A couple of people will forward a joke to me but these are people who know me quite well and know what I would find funny and appropriate (one only sends me soccer or IT related things that he feels I would find of interest and relevance but this is a person who quite obviously gives some thought before he sends these to me). If you do forward an email, consider deleting unnecessary parts (such as all the other email addresses the email was forwarded to and from in the past).
If you receive email, do everything you can to respond in a timely manner. I admit that this isn’t always possible and some emails are more difficult to respond to than others. Recently, I was at a networking function and this person came up to me, introduced himself, told me what he did and who he worked for and he went on and on about wanting to work together in the future (admittedly, he was most likely talking about him trying to get me to advertise with his company). Later on, at that same function, I met another person who also discussed the type of work they did. That evening, I sent emails to each of these individuals that simply mentioned it was nice meeting them. The second person I met wrote back in a timely manner thanking me for the email etc. The first person, never responded. Who do you think I am more likely to do business with in the future? There is very little doubt in my mind that this first person will contact me at some point wanting something and will never understand how not responding to the first email effects future possibilities (yes I realize it’s possible the email was “lost” in filters but that is why people should use professional email services). Just the other day I sent an email to an author whose books I think are wonderful. He also has a blog and I simply wrote him thanking him for his blog and telling him how much I liked his books. Within 8 minutes, he had replied thanking me for his comments (and it wasn’t an auto responder but rather a real response). He runs one of the most visited sites on the INTERNET and can respond that quickly yet others who are truly struggling never quite get around to the response. The questions that comes to mind is “is he able to reply that quickly because he is successful and has other people working for him” or “is he successful because he deals with minor details like replying to emails?” I believe it’s a little bit of both but mainly the second one. Are there some emails I don’t respond to? Unfortunately yes. I don’t respond to spam, I sometimes don’t respond to ridiculous requests (people emailing asking me to essentially write a book for them because they didn’t understand something and weren’t willing to research it themselves) and sadly, sometimes to friends (I find that if it’s someone I want to give a fair amount of time to in my response because I haven’t heard from them in awhile, I put it in a folder to do later when I have more time available and it’s hard to find time later, this is inexcusable but the reality).
If you use an out of office message, give some serious thought to if it’s really necessary. If you use that email address to subscribe to newsletters, do they really want to know (or care) that you are out of the office? I receive hundreds of out of office emails a day because of the newsletters I send out (and yes I do actually receive them because some people simply reply to an email newsletter so it’s important that someone read them). What you might think is a cute message isn’t so cute when you multiply it by hundreds of other “cute” messages.
Lastly, don’t send anything by email you wouldn’t want published in the local newspaper. Unless you are sending in encrypted form, you need to assume that someone other than the intended person might receive and read this email (either through a hacking of the email program, a forwarded email or a misaddressed email). This is extremely important and frequently forgotten
Email is a wonderful tool when used properly but when used improperly can create major problems. Consider carefully how you use email in personal and business settings
Have a great day!
PS Sorry that this post is longer than most, it’s an extremely important topic and I got a bit carried away