Opt-In: More Than Permission to Send

By Pamela Parker

On September 11, I opened my apartment door and was disappointed to find no New York Times waiting for me. Now, I usually don’t get the Times on weekdays, so you may wonder why I was upset. In my weekend paper, I’d gotten a letter from Scott H. Heekin-Canedy, senior vice president of circulation, which told me to expect delivery of a special Wednesday edition.

The note said:

Dear Home Delivery Subscriber:

This Wednesday’s New York Times will include a special section exploring the deep changes our nation has undergone since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. This section will culminate four days of 9/11 related coverage, which begins in today’s paper.

As a service to our subscribers who do not receive weekday delivery, we will include delivery of the Times on Wednesday, September 11, as part of your normal subscription.

Thank you for reading the Times. We hope to continue to meet your needs for the highest quality of journalism in the months and years ahead.

Scott H. Heekin-Canedy
Senior Vice President,

The letdown got me thinking about a publisher’s obligation to subscribers. Interestingly, despite an exhaustive Web search, I didn’t find any documents that discussed publishers’ ethics. But stories of companies struggling to meet their perceived obligations are legion. Witness The Wall Street Journal, whose offices were located in the shadow of the World Trade Center, and its against-all-odds publication of a September 12, 2001, issue. Before that, there was North Dakota’s Grand Forks Herald, which never missed a day of publication through the devastating flood and fire of 1997, though its building, phones, computers, and presses were destroyed.

Now, your company’s email newsletter may not be subject to quite the same social contract binding these newspapers, but there’s more to opt-in than just receiving permission to send email. It goes both ways. Signing up subscribers to an opt-in newsletter carries with it certain obligations. Your success or failure in meeting those expectations reflects on your brand.

Establish a Schedule
When you sign up subscribers, you are essentially saying if they give you their contact information, you’ll deliver whatever it is they signed up for. It may be a newsletter, news of items on sale, descriptions of new products, whatever. If I check a box saying I’d like to receive a regular publication from Murray’s Cheese Shop (as I did earlier this week), my opinion of the company will be diminished if I never hear from them again.

Let people know how often they can expect to hear from you. You needn’t be explicit, but supply a general idea – and stick to it. If you tell them you’re sending them emails weekly on Mondays, you’d better live up to that promise.

Taking a Vacation? Give Notice
Inform subscribers if you’re changing your schedule for holidays or any other reason. Here at internet.com, we let people know before a holiday if we’re not going to publish the next business day. Another newsletter to which I subscribe apparently takes off the occasional summer Friday. I’ve gotten notes informing me I wouldn’t be getting my email that day because the staff was out enjoying the beautiful weather. I’m jealous, but my trust of the brand is enhanced. The company lets me know why I’m not getting my daily dose of information.

Give Them What They Want
There’s controversy brewing over the use of nuclear power, a potential war in Iraq, and plenty of other searing issues. I’m not looking to Murray’s Cheese’s newsletter to give me an analysis of the foreign policy situation. I’ve signed up for news and information about cheese. And that’s what I want. There will be occasions when you may want to acknowledge events outside your company’s immediate purview, but remember why people subscribed in the first place.

Keep Them Informed
Hopefully, you won’t ever have to suspend publication of your newsletter. It can happen. Or you may end up changing your corporate ownership structure in a tangle of mergers and acquisitions. If anything significant occurs at your company, communicate with your subscribers. Make certain they know what’s happening with subscriber lists. Of course, be certain whatever move you make is in accordance with your privacy policy.

When you gather a subscriber list to put out a newsletter or send marketing information, you’ve taken on some of the responsibilities of a publisher, whatever the title on your business card. Take the responsibility seriously, and your subscribers will go to their virtual doorsteps with eyes peeled for your latest missive. Don’t disappoint them!

Pamela Parker is ClickZ’s managing editor. In the same capacity, she oversees internet.com’s other advertising and marketing publications including ChannelSeven.com; Internet Advertising Report; TurboAds.com and WirelessAdWatch.com. She joined the company through the 1999 acquisition of @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering the burgeoning Silicon Alley scene, at which she was associate editor. Pamela has written for Business 2.0 and worked as a general-assignment and medical reporter at KTRH Radio in Houston. She received a master’s degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Reprinted from ClickZ.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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