Recently there was an interesting discussion on the Museum-L listserv about email marketing and if it can become spam. Several people said it wasn't because you opt-in to these mailing lists. I thought I would share my responses here too.
I have to say I have felt spammed by email lists I have opted into before. It is a slippery slope and I think businesses need to be considerate when using contact information given to them. Here are some of my guidelines.
1. Have clear opt out instructions (I also appreciate the chance to tell you why I'm opting out. Do I think you abused my email or had I just joined for the past six months because I was getting ready to take my vacation there and I wanted to do research). Also when I opt out honor that. Don't stop sending me emails for a month or so and then start up again.
2. If possible have opt out options for specific topics or events (if I have a conflict and know I can't go to your event I appreciate not hearing more about it, if possible).
3. Have clear subject headings (I REALLY appreciate this because if I can't opt out for specific events I can tell by the subject if it's the aforementioned event I have a conflict with and I can delete it with out reading it).
4. Frequency is a biggie with me when it comes to multiple emails about the same thing. I feel there should be a week minimum before sending out the next email. The frequency of emails can increase the closer you get to the event to act as reminders, but I feel you should stop at one reminder the week before and then one the day before. The exception is if you have breaking news (i.e. only so many tickets left, it's sold out, tickets were returned so more are available now, weather cancellation procedures). Also include more details in follow-up messages, perhaps behind-the-scenes information. What hors d'oeuvres are going to be served? What's the color scheme? What has the staff had to do to get ready? Don't drop names like who the caterers are or what company the wait staff is from. That seems too PR-ish and is off-putting.
5. Give clear information as to how often you are going to be emailing me. Am I going to be getting daily specials/sales, weekly event listings, only big event details? Also give me the option of what I want to get from you. I'm a huge podcast listener so I like getting the frequent iTunes email about the podcasts they want to highlight. I'm not interested in a weekly email about what hardware products are on sale so I did not opt-in to getting those emails.
6. Use multiple means of communicating. Don't just use email, use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media apps as well. I think it would be cool to get an email from a museum then see a video on YouTube that they made wherein they ask one of their volunteers why they are looking forward to the event. If it comes from a different venue and in a different medium it doesn't feel like I'm being inundated by spam.
7. Make it feel personal. Write in first-person when possible, give the tone a person to person feel. Don't use a lot of the standard PR phrases and view point. If you use the “marketing talk” I'll feel like you are trying to sell me something and I'll often shut you out, but if you make it personal then I feel special and I feel like you are personally inviting me, as your friend, to your party and that makes me want to attend.
So there are my thoughts.