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Business Cards And Permission

Reading “Chip’s Deliverability Tips”: over the weekend got me thinking about spam, permission and privacy. It especially made me consider the tendency for people to believe that if they have someone’s business card it means they have “implied” permission to communicate with them.
From a privacy perspective and Canadian PIPEDA privacy laws we know that anything contained on a business card, or in a business directory, is information that is open for use by others as it is published information. But taking this information and adding it to an email list will always constitute spam.

Even if spam is not yet outlawed in Canada this unsolicited email should always be a concern for marketers. There are very few marketers I know that can guarantee their email doesn’t reach the US so there is certainly some legal exposure to American CAN-SPAM laws. Plus, it won’t be long until Canada has its own spam law. What is worse is the chance that someone will receive unsolicited email from your organization, consider it spam and report it as such. This could end up putting you, and/or your email service provider, on an email black list, effectively blocking your valid permission-based communications.
h3. The Golden Rule
I like Chip’s advice about applying the “Golden Rule” in cases like this. Treat others like you want to be treated. When you give out your business card do you want people to automatically add you to their email database and send you their communications?
h3. The Solution
If someone does give you their business card use it as an opportunity to follow up with them, acknowledge the meeting and ask for permission to keep communicating. You should ask for explicit permission to add them to your email database.
If you acquired their business card in an indirect way make sure you make one-to-one contact only once to ask for their permission to keep communicating with them.
Either way, it is important that you are able to prove that permission was provided. Always track how and when this permission was captured. Ideally you should also capture an IP address (best done when using a sign-up form).
If you are a B2B marketer and find many of your best leads are acquired through the exchange of business cards, have a plan, and policy, in place to ensure you can make the most of this situation.