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Email Marketing: Know the Rules

April 4, 2013

With so much of a home-buyers experience taking place online, it’s no surprise that email marketing still plays a crucial part in any real estate professionals marketing strategy. While social media and direct mailings all play a role, email marketing is one of the fastest, relatively simple, and cost-effective ways you can drive customers to your website.
However, this is really only accomplished if you do it properly. If you do it wrong, not only will you likely annoy and deter clients from using your services, but you also much be breaking the law. Yes – not sending your emails properly can land you in some legal hot water AND financial trouble. In 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act which regulates the rules of commercial email and the rights of consumers. Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act are subject to penalties up to $16,000 for each separate email in violation. 
So – how can you avoid it? Here are 7 tips you must be following if you’re using email for your business:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Many CRM systems allow you to change your “From” and “Reply-To” lines in your email. If you do this, it should still accurately reflect the business or person who initiated the message – including the originating domain name.
  2. Subjects lines should be straightforward. The subject line should accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. If you are sending a direct ad, identify it as such – there’s some flexibility in how you do this, but it must be done.
  4. Must include a valid physical postal address. Whether this is your office address, a PO box, or a private registered mailbox – you have to include a mailing address in your commercial emails.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. You must give a clear explanation of how a recipient can opt-out of your mailing list. This can be by clicking a link, sending you an email, or another method – but it has to be clear, visibly, and easy to understand. While you can ask them only to opt-out from certain subset of message types, “all commercial messages” must be an option.
  6. Honor opt-out requests in a time sensitive fashion. Opt-out mechanisms are only useful (and lawful) if they work – and in a timely manner. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. The opt-out mechanism has to be as simple as sending a reply email or visiting a single-step website. Once they opt-out you cannot sell or transfer their email address.
  7. Monitor any vendor or company you are using for email marketing. Even if you hire another company or vendor to handle your email marketing – you are not exempt from legal responsibility. Both the company / business who is promoted in the message and the company that sends the message can be held legally responsible.
These tips are fairly straightforward – and luckily for you, most email marketing platforms have these protections built in. However, it’s worth taking a look at your next newsletter or email blasts and see what the consumer sees. Run through this checklist and make sure you aren’t making a $16,000 mistake. Happy emailing!

 

Industry Insights Legal Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Beautiful Images, Ugly Copyright Violations (and Fees!)

November 7, 2012


In the past few months we’ve heard more and more reports of people being contacted by photographers and agencies claiming copyright violations and improper use of photos – sometimes even demanding compensation. Guess what? They’re probably right. Chances are you’ve illegally, and unintentionally, used a copyrighted image on the internet. In our digital age, where finding an image is as simple as Googling it – we often think we have the right to use them for whatever purpose we want – for a blog entry, to post to our website, to share on Facebook. The ease of access to photos is misleading; just finding a photo does not give you permission to reproduce it.
We often mistakenly think we’re covered if we:

  • link to the source
  • don’t claim the photo as our own
  • didn’t know it was copyrighted!
  • didn’t make money off it
  • if we have a disclaimer on our site
  • we immediately take it down if requested

None of these protect you. So then, what do we do if we want to use photos on our sites, etc? Here are some options:

  1. Use your own photos!
  2. Search for photos that are approved for use:
    Creative Commons licensed pictures – search for photos which are approved for free use (with some attribution and other restrictions)
    Flikr Creative Commons – some users allow use of their photos.
    Wikimedia Commons – offers free media files
  3. Buy rights to photos that are offered through stock photography sites, like
    –  Fotolia
    –  Veer
    –  Corbis Images
    –  Getty Images
  4. Get explicit permission from the photographer (sites like Flikr and other photography sites often allow you to contact the photographer directly) – it can’t hurt to ask.


While we’re not legal experts  – we do encourage everyone to stay on the side of caution. Assume photos are copyrighted unless proven otherwise. 


About Author:
Andrew Violante is the Social Media and Communications Coordinator at Alain Pinel Realtors where he oversees social media strategy and implementation for the brokerage. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Violante
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Can I Be Removed From Your Mailing List?

September 13, 2012

Despite all the different ways Realtors® promote themselves online, direct mail marketing is still a large part of any comprehensive marketing plan. However, while email marketing has strict anti-spam and various other laws that outline who you can email and who you cannot, the rules surrounding snail mail are a bit more murky. How do you handle when a consumer asks to be removed from your mailing list?

While there are no laws prohibiting snail mail or requiring you to take people’s names off your mailing list, we do offer some best practices. Even if not required, it is a good idea to police lists and purge the names of those who do not want the mailings. Most large companies and marketers actually belong to associations that are bound to remove any customer who requests to be removed – both for goodwill and for environmental reasons. You can read about many of the ways people get removed from mailing lists and consumer rights here. In an era in which consumers are empowered by social media and other outlets to express their dissatisfaction with companies, failure to remove prospective clients from mailing lists may antagonize them.
For most real estate companies, there is no centralized “list” – most agents maintain their own lists. As a result, requests for removal need to be made directly to each agent. As it is a reflection not only on your business, but on the broker you represent, here are some tips for removing consumers:

  • Have a system in place to permanently remove addresses, no matter the source of your original list
  • Apologize for any inconvenience
  • Explain you can only remove them from your individual list
  • If necessary, explain how your list was created and why they originally began receiving your mailings (some consumers do not realize that their information is often public)
  • If they are receiving additional mailings from another agent in your broker, offer to reach out on their behalf (and follow through)


Conversationsis where we help agents deal with common client concerns and detail best practices.  Are you being frequently asked a question by your clients? Or are you unsure how to handle a situation? Trouble talking to your clients about a tricky situation? Send us an email (blogs@apr.com) and we will try to answer it in a future entry.
*These are not meant to serve as official legal advice.