Like Weather in New England: New Rules of Digital Communications

There’s no denying that 2011 has brought us some of the wildest weather on record for many regions in the U.S., and we’re only half way through the year with hurricane season just getting started. But I’m from New England, where “weather prediction” is a laughable oxymoron, much to the chagrin of our meteorologists, so we’re accustomed to just going with the flow. Mark Twain captured this sentiment best when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

The same can be said for the rules and regulations of digital communications – like the weather in New England, change is the only constant, so how can marketers keep up, stay on the right side of the law, and make sure their marketing messages get delivered. Unfortunately, shrugging your shoulders in resignation and just going with the flow, like how many New Englanders handle the weather, won’t cut it. You have to constantly stay abreast of the new rules and regulations of digital communications, not only for the U.S, but across the globe.

Permission, Disclosure, and Choice – Close to a Silver Bullet

The good news is that there’s a fairly straightforward and common sense approach to managing the complexity of the digital communications legal landscape: put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Like you, most consumers welcome timely, relevant marketing messages they’ve opted in to receiving from their favorite brands. Anything short of that is at best perceived as a nuisance and in many cases considered spam. Achieving a high degree of marketing relevance will put you well on the road to ensuring compliance with even the most stringent of digital marketing regulations from any region across the globe. Getting there means taking a close look at your marketing practices for permission, disclosure, and choice.

In the case of permission, make sure you take a clear and transparent opt-in approach for all of your marketing channels, including email, SMS, text, social marketing, and tracking. You must also ensure that any and all third-party marketing partners and affiliates follow these same across-the-board opt-in policies.

You also need transparent disclosure when gathering consumer data for your opt-in marketing programs. Make sure consumers clearly understand the following:

  • What information is being collected
  • How the information will be used
  • How and with whom the information will be shared

Finally, give consumers control by empowering them to make their own choices about the use and collection of their personal profile information. Marketers can also provide consumers with tools to access, view, and correct inaccurate profile data. You should always give them the option to delete some aspects of their profile or to opt out at any time by deleting their profile altogether.

Are these approaches the silver bullet to achieving full compliance? Unfortunately, the rules, regulations, and legislative initiatives are changing all of the time, not only in the U.S., but in every region and in many different countries, so there is no silver bullet. But, sticking to strict opt-in and transparency will put you on the white hat side of best practices digital marketing nearly 100 percent of the time. The rest of it is keeping up with the fine print. In my next column, I will take a closer look at each region and some of the specific regulations in progress, first starting with the U.S. and followed by Canada, the European Union (EU), and Asia Pacific (APAC).

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