best practices

One easy step to guarantee improved email marketing results

I go to a lot of networking events and hand out my business card on a regular basis. I talk to a lot of business owners and end up meeting quite a few who offer services that I am (potentially) going to be interested in. I always try to have a little more conversation with business owners that I might call for help one day. I like to get to know more about who they are and how they work. It gives me greater comfort when the day comes that I make the call to ask for help. It also helps me remember their name and what they do.

Apart from giving out my card, I take a lot of cards as well. The give and take is usually reciprocal. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you know how it goes.

In the aftermath of almost every networking event, I inevitably start receiving newsletters that I have not personally subscribed to or given my permission to add my email to the list.

This bothers me.

Not because I don’t want the newsletters (sometimes I do). 

It bothers me because it’s not the best way to grow an engaged email list. In fact, in just a few months, this tactic could put some of those very business owners I was thinking of doing business with in the position of breaking the law in Canada.

Canada’s new legislation - in effect July 1, 2014

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation has been in the works for years. While it’s long overdue and has its challenges, some of the basic principles of consent have long been considered best practices for “commercial electronic messages” (a.k.a. email marketing). The CASL’s information page about commercial electronic messages states:

Generally, the sender will need to obtain consent from the recipient before sending the message and will need to include information that identifies the sender and enables the recipient to withdraw consent.

Three requirements:

Make sure you have permission to add someone to your list.

An opt-in form on your website is one way to gain consent. If you want to subscribe everyone you meet at an event, ask first. We actually use a double opt-in to protect our subscribers from having their email added by someone else. This means that if you subscribe to our newsletter (a very good idea, by the way), you will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. We don’t do this to annoy you. We do it to make sure you’re only subscribed if you truly want to be. Without the email confirmation, anyone could enter your address and subscribe you. We wouldn’t know you hadn’t consented, but you sure would.

Identify who you are when you send an email.

We have a statement in every email that goes out to our newsletter list - it tells the recipient why they’re subscribed to our email list. I have gotten emails from businesses that had me scratching my head - why am I getting this? I look through and if they don’t have a statement like this to remind me, I will probably hit unsubscribe. (I might anyway if I haven’t given permission.)

Make sure there is a clear, easy way to unsubscribe.

The phrase this information page uses is “withdraw consent”. I like that phrase. It describes perfectly what that action is. Unsubscribes are telling you they don’t consent to receive content anymore. It doesn’t mean the person isn’t interested. It doesn’t mean they won’t come back. But that decision must be respected. Ultimately, it improves the quality of your email list if the people who are subscribed truly want to see your content. I do a mass unsubscribe every 12-18 months to start fresh and declutter my inbox. I often resubscribe to the lists that deliver value in areas I need.

It was best practice long before it was law

Seth Godin coined the phrase Permission Marketing (affiliate) in his book in 1999. If you haven’t read the book, you can get an idea of the permission marketing philosophy from Seth’s Blog. Asking permission requires patience and level-headed focus on the end goal. Getting distracted by vanity metrics such as newsletter subscriber counts leads to practices like adding every person you meet to your list whether it’s relevant for them or not. Wouldn’t you rather have 100 relevant subscribers with a 50% open rate than 5,000 with a 1% open rate?

What’s that one easy step?

Get permission.

Don’t assume you have it; know you do. I guarantee your email marketing will go much better with a list of people who have invited you into their inbox.  

Buzz and Brilliance: Week ending May 11

Over the week we go through a lot of content - news and blog posts, how tos and conceptual posts on the state of the internet.  Every Sunday we share some of our favourites with you.

Check out the links and let us know in the comments if you have any questions or if you read any great posts this week!



I often see people complaining about ads on Facebook and Twitter but they don’t bother me.  Why?  Aside from the fact that they are tools I want to use for my own business, I also know as a business owner that businesses need to make money, and Facebook and Twitter are businesses. These are free services we enjoy, most of the other channels we have to deal with ads on we pay for! (newspapers, tv, etc)

How will we ever create all the content that seems to be demanded of us to build a good online presence?  Re-use and recycle, and plan for it right from the start.

Video video video - it’s a big buzzword this year and I can’t disagree with it.  Video is important, but it needs to be done well.  James Wedmore is an expert I’ve recently found and his videos have a ton of useful content to help you figure out where to start and what to talk about.


I don’t like to say that there are rules when it comes to using social media, but it’s certainly good to know the etiquette or best practice guidelines

It’s ridiculously easy to use any old image you find online. But it doesn’t make it legal and you can get in a lot of trouble. In fact, often it isn’t and you’ll want to know how to use images in a way that won’t get you sued. (We have a whole session at Social Capital about this!)

Social media is about building relationships, which is why I really like the ideas in this post about having fun with your blog readers. Would you like to interact this way with your favourite blogs?

If what you write helps just one person, it’s valuable. Viral is overkill and not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. (We’re going to have a session at Social Capital that touches on “viral” videos, too.)


Social Capital is quickly approaching (it’s May 31 and June 1). Join us this Tuesday for our second #socapott Twitter Chat.  We’ve also announced a lot of great speakers that you won’t want to miss, including Gini Dietrich and Danny Brown!


Making a case for Google+

Happy Mother’s Day!

As mothers ourselves, we know the work that you do every day. Today, we celebrate you and everything you do for your family. Enjoy this ad from Google:

Skip the gimmicks, share engaging content, and don't annoy your fans

It hasn’t been that long since Lara and I posted about our social media pet peeves, but one of them needs a bit more attention. In the post we wrote a couple of weeks ago, I said this about the practice of posting links in the comments:

Oh, EdgeRank dodgers, there are easier and far less annoying ways to reach your audience!!!

Consider this, you’re a user and you’re on a phone and clicking to the comments slows you down (A LOT), so you actively avoid clicking through to the comments to click the link. 

What, my dear EdgeRank dodgers, will that do to your EdgeRank? 

The bottom line is that if annoying your audience is the cost of reaching them, then the price is too high. We recommend avoiding that particular problem. A far simpler way to have a text update is simply to click X and close the thumbnail preview. There’s no need to post the link in the comments. 

Page admins are trying everything under the sun to keep EdgeRank from thwarting their efforts to capture eyeballs and clickthroughs. A friend tipped me off to one page admin that put a period in the status and posted their entire update, with link, in the comments.

Can we agree that things have gone a bit too far?

A while back, Mari Smith shared an image on her Facebook page that referenced the stats from the PostRocket blog (link above). In the image description, she said:

One way I use regularly myself is exactly like this post - upload an image with the link! Another way is to ‘x’ out the link preview (and it then posts as if a regular text status update).

I’ve conveniently left out her advice to post the link in the first comment because I think it’s advice that will hurt page engagement and EdgeRank in the long run and here’s why:

  1. Mobile users. In Q4 of 2012 mobile use of Facebook finally surpassed desktop web browsers. That means that people who want to see your link in the comments have to tap to a new screen to expand comments, then they have to tap on the link.
  2. Close the thumbnail. As Mari pointed out, all you have to do is paste the link in the status and close the thumbnail once it loads. Voila! Text update. Why annoy users when you don’t have to?
  3. Comment barrage. As soon as you start racking up enough comments that they get nested and you have to click to load more, you’ve lost people. It doesn’t matter where they’re accessing Facebook, they shouldn’t have to work that hard to get to your content. (Ever heard of the three click rule?)

What works for your audience?

I recently posted a whole series of about 10 articles to our Facebook page with thumbnails intact and no link in the status. The reach was comparable to any other post we’ve shared. And this is my bonus reason #4: Just because the stats say it works, doesn’t mean mean it will for you. Every audience is different. Test out different post types and times and don’t get caught up in the stats. I can find you a different study that will give you totally different results.

It’s frustrating to know that EdgeRank can have such a dramatic impact on what your followers see, but gimmicky trends are not the answer. A frustrated fan is not an engaged fan and that will hurt your reach/EdgeRank more than it will help.

I think it’s more sensible to use solid tactics that work to increase engagement rather than potentially damaging ones.

What are your thoughts on this practice? Do you like it or hate it?

The anatomy of a blog post

We’ve been talking about blogging a lot lately because we believe that a blog is one of the most valuable tools a business can use. Here’s a great post from the archives on how to create good, sharable, clickable content for your blog!


I don’t know about you, but I’m a blog post skimmer.  I wish I could promise that every blog post I open gets all of my attention and I take the time to read it all - but I don’t.

Here are some tips on what I find makes a blog post easy to read, skim, and decide if I want to spend more time reading all the words.

1. Clear content

Introduce what you’re going to be talking about and what the goal of the post is.  I did this by introducing the topic by saying I need blog posts to be easy to skim and saying I was going to give tips on what I find works to achieve this.

2. Section headings

If the post is broken down by section headings that jump out at me and give me a feel for the topics in the post, I’ll have a better sense on whether or not the post is hitting points of interest for me. It lets me quickly skim the post to see if it’s what I thought the post was about and whether or not I want to keep reading what the person has to say.

3. Bullet points

  • skim-able
  • succinct
  • don’t require full sentences
  • people don’t like to read long paragraphs of text

4. Photos

Photos in a blog post make your post more readable by:

  • giving a visual relating to what you’re talking about
  • breaking up the text making it more appealing to the eye
  • making your posts more clickable

Here’s why: When posting to other sites (like Facebook) it will pull in a few lines of text as well as an accompanying image. It has been proven that having a thumbnail image in a link update increases click thrus.

5. Questions

If you want to make it easy for people to engage, ask a question so they know you want their opinions and input. The more specific and easy to answer the question is, the more likely you are to get a response.

What additional tips would you give for generating good blog posts?

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10 Don'ts of Twitter Etiquette: How to engage without annoying

Officially, there aren't many rules on Twitter, but there are definitely a lot of best practices that can help you fit in to the community a little more easily. Think of it as Etiquette for Twitter.

Here are ten practices for savvy users to avoid (in no particular order):

  • Don't send automatic direct messages (DM) - people don't like them because they are impersonal.
  • Don't fill your feed with only broadcasts of your message - engage others. A good rule of thumb is that less than 1/3 of your feed should be new messages from you and the rest should be replies and retweets.
  • Don't call someone out for unfollowing you, most of the time it isn't personal. And often, there's a twitter bug. Politely ask if it's someone you regularly engage with, but don't make assumptions that it was intentional or that they will resume following.
  • If you're having a personal discussion with someone don't move their name to the middle or end of the tweet with every reply.  By keeping it as the first thing in the tweet only people who follow you both will see the tweets. Those who see both sides of the conversation can follow along (if they want) without losing the context of what's being said.
  • Don't reply to every tweet by retweeting (RT) and commenting. This breaks the thread of the conversation and it can be frustrating to your followers when there isn't enough context to understand what is happening with a RT.
  • Don't beg people to follow you. People will generally follow you back if you engage with them in some way. It would be far more meaningful if you replied to something they were talking about instead of simply asking them to follow you.
  • Contrary to what some experts believe, you don't have to follow back everyone who follows you. Twitter is about creating your own unique user experience.
  • Don't use Twitter to complain about every bad experience you have with businesses, services or products - social media isn't meant to be a place to air every grievance. It doesn't look good when a business owner uses it that way.
  • Don't autofeed from other social networks unless you're sure your tweets won't be cut off. People don't want to have to go elsewhere to see what you're talking about. More importantly, it is obvious when you're feeding from other services and it can give the impression that you can't be bothered to take the time to tailor your message to more than one social network (because it doesn't have to take that much time).
  • It isn't necessary to thank everyone who follows you. If you want to make a point of acknowledging them, go read their profile and start a conversation. Make it natural. The thank you is a nice gesture, but it isn't impolite to skip it. 

The most important things to remember are to be friendly, personable and add value. The practices above are "frowned upon" because they are perceived as not adding any great value. Spend your time finding other ways to connect so that followers stay actively engaged with you.

What other Twitter Don'ts would you add to this list?