When we think spam, it’s often a junky email offering ph@rmaceut!cals, Casino Royale or fake Rolex watches which spring to mind. True, we may also think Monty Python.

But spam is not always as obvious as those dubious messages sent en-masse. As business owners or employees are we ever –GASP!- unwitting perpetrators ourselves?

What is spam?

Australia’s Spam Act (2003) defines spam as “unsolicited commercial electronic messaging” and covers emails, instant messaging and SMS – but not voice-to-voice communication on the telephone.

The Act acknowledges that there are many legitimate uses for electronic messaging. The legitimacy largely hinges on that word “unsolicited”- it’s all about consent.

What is consent?

Consent means the giving of permission, and is either express or inferred.

Express consent

Express consent means a person has directly said they wish to receive your messages. The person may have subscribed to your mailing list, actively ticked a box on a form, or given permission over the phone or face-to-face. It’s simple to set up your systems to obtain consent at the same time that a customer comes to visit you for the very first time.

The Spam Act requires that you can prove how and when consent, was given, so it’s important to have a record keeping procedure in place.

Don’t be tempted to send an electronic message to seek consent; this in itself may be “unsolicited commercial electronic messaging”.

Inferred consent

If someone has provided you with an email address in a business transaction, for example, there is some expectation of follow-up contact. As a business owner or employee, it is reasonable to assume that a customer who has purchased a new rug from you may well be interested in your current specials on matching furniture. But it would be in your interest to make it very straightforward for the person to unsubscribe.

Pre-ticked is not opt-in

An opt-in tick box is a popular way to gain consent. ACMA (the Australian Communications and Media Authority) gives a resounding no to the question:

Can I use a pre-ticked boxes to obtain consent to send marketing messages?

Their answer: No. Pre-checked tick boxes – for example, on a website where people can join a mailing list – are not an acceptable way of gaining consent…a person must actively and deliberately give consent to receiving commercial electronic messages…

So the upshot – let them tick the box themselves. It reflects nicely on your business, too.

Can I use a purchased list?

If you use a purchased list, the onus is on you to be able to prove that those on the list have given their consent. So if you really want to buy a list, only buy from a list provider who can demonstrate how the information has been gathered. Be aware, too, that even if a list seems legitimate, by using it there is a risk you could damage your buiness’ reputation. Once damaged, a reputation can be hard to rebuild.

Identify and unsubscribe

It is a legal requirement to provide an unsubscribe link on all commercial electronic messages. Unsubscribing should not be a painful process. If you try to make it tricky and require a potential unsubscriber to sign in with a username and password or do cartwheels, they’ll more than likely just mark your emails as spam; potentially blacklisting your IP address and damaging your sender reputation. Ouch.

The other mandatory requirement is sender identification. You must clearly identify who is sending the email, and provide accurate information which gives the receiver the means to respond, eg a physical address and phone number.

For more information about complying with spam laws, you may like to read the ACMA guide on spam compliance for businesses. Campaign Monitor also has a guide on Permissions for e-marketing.

If it’s tinned ham you’re interested in and you’ve been reading the article hoping for another mention of it, then why not check out the spam-goods website. More fun than you could possibly imagine.

Disclaimer: We’ve definitely done our homework, but we are a creative team and not a law firm. We take no responsibility for your marketing faux pas or illness resulting from excess consumption of tinned ham.