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Let’s play a game that we like to call “Can I Use This List?” or “Can I Put This Email Address on My List?”. Here are fifteen scenarios in which someone may come across or into possession of somebody’s email address, or a mailing list, and you have to decide whether or not it is ok to use the email address or list. Which ones are fair game to use? The answers may surprise you! (Those answers are down below the questions, so you can answer the questions without seeing the answers first.)

This is a riff on an article that Aweber used to have on their site called “Can I Use This List?” (for some reason they took it down, so this is our effort to resurrect it).

1. Mary came to your website and entered her email address to sign up for your mailing list. Can you put her email address on your mailing list?

2. You bought a list of leads, local businesses, business opportunity seekers, or another type of list. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

3. You met George at a business lunch. After talking with George you feel that the two of you are a good fit for doing business together in the future, and so you exchange business cards. Can you put his email address on your mailing list?

4. You connect with Jim on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Facebook. Can you put his email address on your mailing list?

5. You set up a fishbowl at your place of business and invite people to drop their business cards in to win a free lunch. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

6. You set up a fishbowl for people to subscribe to your newsletter, saying that each month one new subscriber will win a free lunch. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

7. People have been giving you their email addresses through your online opt-in form (or in-store signup sheet to collect addresses) for several months, but you haven’t done anything with those email addresses. Now you are ready to use them, can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

8. You’re a presenter at a conference. The conference organizer sends you a list of people registered for the conference with their contact information. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?

9. You’re an exhibitor at a trade show. At your table you have a signup sheet, or a fishbowl for people to give you their card, so that they can sign up for your mailing list. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

10. You join your local Chamber of Commerce and are given a list of other members with their contact information. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?

11. You export your contact list from Microsoft Outlook/Gmail/Apple Mail/etc.. Can you put your contacts’ email addresses on your mailing list?

12. You own a restaurant, and on each table you leave a pencil and a comment card which includes a space for their email address. Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

13. You own a restaurant, and on each table you leave a pencil and a card offering your newsletter. Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

14. You offer email support on your website where people can email you questions about your product. You want to add them to a prospect list. After all, they’re obviously interested in what you have to offer, right? Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

15. You’re in charge of a group of coworkers who are working on a project. You want to use an email service provider such as Aweber, Constant Contact, or MailChimp to send them notices about meetings, changes in schedule, and other related information, instead of having to manually enter their email addresses each time. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?


Answers:

1. Mary came to your website and entered her email address to sign up for your mailing list. Can you put her email address on your mailing list?

Yes, it’s fine to use put these email addresses on your mailing list, in fact it’s how it should be done.

2. You bought a list of leads, local businesses, business opportunity seekers, or another type of list. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

Absolutely not. In fact, to a similar hypothetical, Aweber said “Trying to send messages to addresses you acquired this way will get your account closed faster than you can say “and we won’t give you a refund, either.”

3. You met George at a business lunch. After talking with George you feel that the two of you are a good fit for doing business together in the future, and so you exchange business cards. Can you put his email address on your mailing list?

It depends. If, and only if, you also asked George if he would like you to put his email address on your mailing list, and he said “yes”, then it’s ok. Hint: Write his answer (add or don’t add) on the back of his card.

4. You connect with Jim on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Facebook. Can you put his email address on your mailing list?

If and only if you asked Jim “Do you want to be added to my mailing list?” and Jim said “Yes.”

5. You set up a fishbowl at your place of business and invite people to drop their business cards in to win a free lunch. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

This is a hard “no”, you can’t put them on your mailing list. As Aweber said in their version of the game, “If you dropped your business card in there, and instead of a free lunch, you got added to someone’s list, you’d be hopping mad. That’s not why you put your card in there!”

6. You set up a fishbowl for people to subscribe to your newsletter, saying that each month one new subscriber will win a free lunch. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

Yes! This is the way to do it correctly, as compared to #5.

7. People have been giving you their email addresses through your online opt-in form (or in-store signup sheet to collect addresses) for several months, but you haven’t done anything with those email addresses. Now you are ready to use them, can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

Consent to be put on a mailing list is a tricky thing. You may have had their consent at the time, but that consent can grow stale over time, and if too much time has passed those email addresses can do you more harm than good when put on a mailing list. Check out our information about How to Revive, Warm Up, and Re-Engage an Old Mailing List without Getting Into Trouble.

8. You’re a presenter at a conference. The conference organizer sends you a list of people registered for the conference with their contact information. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?

No, you cannot put these email addresses on your mailing list. The conference attendees registered for the conference in order to attend the conference, and hear the speakers, not to get email from you.

9. You’re an exhibitor at a trade show. At your table you have a signup sheet, or a fishbowl for people to give you their card, so that they can sign up for your mailing list. Can you put these email addresses on your mailing list?

Yes! This is the right way to do it.

10. You join your local Chamber of Commerce and are given a list of other members with their contact information. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?

No, this contact information is so that you can contact like-minded business people directly, individually, if there is a business need. If you want to reach out to these email addresses to offer or see if there is a business opportunity, check out the right way to do it in our How to Do Cold Email Right course.

11. You export your contact list from Microsoft Outlook/Gmail/Apple Mail/etc.. Can you put your contacts’ email addresses on your mailing list?

We ❤️ how Aweber addresses a similar scenario: “Slow down for a second. WHO are you exporting from there? Just people who subscribed to your list while you were managing it manually? Or are you exporting EVERYONE in your address book, without regard to HOW they got in your address book in the first place? Permission isn’t taken, it’s given. Don’t just add people to your list because now you’ve got their email address. Add them if they GAVE it to you in order to get on your list.” To paraphrase Bill & Ted, listen to these dudes Aweber. They know what they’re talking about.

12. You own a restaurant, and on each table you leave a pencil and a comment card which includes a space for their email address. Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

Nope, no, and hell no. If they put their email address on a comment card it’s so you can respond to their comment, directly and individually. Not to be put on your mailing list.

13. You own a restaurant, and on each table you leave a pencil and a card offering your newsletter. Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

Yes, yeah, and heck yeah! That’s the way to do it!

14. You offer email support on your website where people can email you questions about your product. You want to add them to a prospect list. After all, they’re obviously interested in what you have to offer, right? Can you put those email addresses on your mailing list?

We actually directly quoted Aweber’s “Can I Use This List?” game here, because we love the snarkiness of it. Of course the answer is no, they are asking about your product or service, not to be put on a mailing list. Sticking them on a mailing list when all they did was ask for information is like asking someone for sex on a blind date. Note: Include a link to opt-in to your great newsletter at the bottom of your support emails!

15. You’re in charge of a group of coworkers who are working on a project. You want to use an email service provider such as Aweber, Constant Contact, or MailChimp to send them notices about meetings, changes in schedule, and other related information, instead of having to manually enter their email addresses each time. Can you put their email addresses on your mailing list?

Creating a mailing list for co-workers is a great idea. Putting them on the mailing list without their consent is not a great idea. Get consent.

We hope that you found this helpful! Now go forth and create great… consent-based … mailing lists!


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