Three simple but compelling reasons to follow Canada’s anti-spam legislation, even if you’re exempt

It’s coming up on two years since Canada’s latest anti-spam legislation (CASL) was passed. In short, the legislation applies to almost anyone in Canada wanting to send “electronic communications”) (mass emails like newsletters, sale notices, etc.) for commercial/marketing purposes, and compels senders of such emails to follow three basic steps:

  1. Get consent: ensure you have permission to send follow up communications to people who have given you their address;
  2. Opt-out: in every message, give people an easy way of opting out of further email communications;
  3. Transparency: ensure that you provide your name and address on each email and keep that information valid for at least 60 days following.

There are other provisions that are best described by internet and e-commerce law expert Michael Geist.

There are also some important exemptions to the legislation, including much of what post-secondary institution communications, marketing, or fundraising departments would use mass email for on a regular basis: recruiting new students and raising funds from alumni or anyone else. The legal department at University of British Columbia published a handy at-a-glance guide (PDF) explaining what University activities may or may not be subject to CASL.

Seeing as post-secondary institutions are largely exempt from its provisions, why would they follow CASL? I counsel my clients/employers to comply with CASL whether they’re exempt or not – even for internal communications. In my professional opinion, forcing mass emails on employees, students, possible students, alumni, customers, potential customers, is at best ineffective and at worst downright disrespectful. (The oft-abused all-staff email, for instance, should be used sparingly and in emergent situations, or for news that has an impact on the audience a year or more hence: changes in top administrators, for instance. But that’s a post for another day.)

Here are the three reasons why even exempt organizations should follow CASL provisions:

1. Your audience expects it of you

Most legitimate businesses employees, students, prospective students, donors, and alumni interact with are not exempt from CASL. People are being taught to expect consent-based practices from nearly every large organization they deal with. Give them what they expect.

2. Let’s face it: you’re always “selling” something

Consumers are being taught that consent-based marketing is the norm. Those same consumers are students, employees, alumni, and donors, and they largely do not make the distinction between their alma mater and their automobile association or their financial institution. Even if there’s no money “ask” in your campaign and you think you’re doing your audience a service, don’t fool yourself. There is always a “call to action” (or there should be!), however subtle, in mass electronic communications. You’re always demanding at least a bit of your audience’s time and attention.

3. You need to protect your reputation.

Your email communications are always designed to compel and persuade; your audiences have a right to decide when your communications are no longer relevant. Your job is to make your content so compelling they can’t ignore it, let alone trash it. Wouldn’t you rather be forced to keep track of your open, clickthrough and unsubscribe rates than blindly keep spamming your hard-earned database with messages they want to get rid of but can’t? Unwanted messages are at best ignored; at worst they engender ill will towards the sender. Good email practice is good reputation management.

Even if you’re exempt from CASL, its provisions contain some great practices you should be following anyway. In a nutshell, they are: be transparent, get unambiguous consent, make it easy as heck to unsubscribe.

I’m happy to say at my most recent gig at VIU, I didn’t need to make the case that, despite being exempt, they were better off following CASL provisions; they were already there. If your organization isn’t there yet, contact me! I’m available to help you make the transition.

It’s all about doing the right thing. It’s all about respecting our audiences’ time and attention.