Not sure if your list is okay to use with MailChimp? We've helped a lot of customers and we've seen lots of lists. We can tell you if your list is going to run into some trouble. Below are some common scenarios that'll help you decide whether or not your list is okay to use with MailChimp. You should know that MailChimp is a tool for sending email newsletters and permission marketing. It's not for "sales" or "prospecting" to people who've never heard of you. We've got nothing against sales people sending emails to prospects. But you should use your own server, not a hosted solution like MailChimp. Every situation is unique, so if you don't see a representative example below, refer to our terms of use.

Scenario OK? Advice

"I bought a list of 30 million emails from this guy on the Internet, and..."

Stop right there. Don't use MailChimp. Don't use anything. Throw away the list. Turn off the computer. Snip the power cord, so this doesn't happen again. Now go punch yourself in the gut.

"We setup a booth at a tradeshow, and the tradeshow host provided me with a list of all attendees who came, so they're obviously interested in what we're selling..."

No. Too risky. When people sign up for tickets at a tradeshow, they are NOT opting in to every single list from every single vendor there. Sorry, it doesn't matter how much you paid for that booth. In our opinion, if the tradeshow host collected that list, they should be sending the emails on your behalf.

"We recently presented at a tradeshow, and we had an email opt-in form/kiosk at our booth. We want to send them a thank you note, plus some followup information."

Okay to use. So long as each attendee/visitor knew they were going to be receiving emails from your company, you may use MailChimp. We recommend setting up a new list for these recipients, and sending a "hey, thanks for visiting us at the so-and-so show" email. Ask them to subscribe to your regular email, or let them know you'll be sending them regular newsletters soon, and provide a link to opt-out. Send this email as soon as possible after the show. It's better for sales, and it'll prevent the "who the %$*& are you!?!?" effect from waiting too long to send.

"A few years ago, we collected email addresses at a tradeshow/seminar/conference, and now we're ready to finally start sending them email newsletters!"

Okay, but these people have already forgotten who you are. So don't just start sending them full-blown email newsletters out of the blue. You'll get tons of spam complaints (at MailChimp, this is the #1 reason we've had to shut down users' accounts). Even though you collected your list responsibly, you probably waited too long. Now, you have to send a "remember me?" email. Details.

"People who sign up for my service sign in through Facebook and hand over their email addresses by signing up."

You can only send to those emails collected by Facebook Login through Facebook, not MailChimp. Signing into your App with Facebook does not necessarily equal permission to be added to a mailing list. Feel free to send them a link to your signup form, or place a signup form on your Page.

"We're a PR agency, and we want to send announcements on behalf of our clients."

Touchy situation. If you're sending announcements to people who have a "business relationship" with you (or your client), and who know you, then you'll probably be okay. Otherwise, there is no difference between "blasting out" an email announcement to a list of reporters who have never heard of you, and sending a Viagra offer to 5 bazillion people who have never heard of you. Sending unsolicited commercial email to a list is spam according to the FTC. PR firms are in a weird gray area in our opinion. You'll definitely need to consult your lawyers about CAN-SPAM.

"I've been running an e-commerce site for years. Now I'm ready to start sending my customers email newsletters. They're my customers, so I have a 'prior business relationship' with them, right?"

Maybe. Problem is, permission goes stale after about 6 months. So weed out the recipients that haven't ordered (or heard) from you in a while. Send a "Thanks for being a customer. Would you like to subscribe to our newsletter?" email. You might even include an e-coupon as a gift for opting in. Use common sense. How would you like to suddenly start receiving full-blown email newsletters from some convenience store you bought milk from 5 years ago?

"We want to BLAST an e-promo to..."

Blergh! You need to read up on email marketing etiquette, because the word "BLAST" is only used to describe: missiles, machine guns, bombs, junk faxes, and spam. Using the word "BLAST" in email marketing is like wearing a ski mask into a bank. Read about best practices for building a list, then look into starting a permission (opt-in) email marketing program.

"I'm a photographer. I bought my list from Agency Access, and I want to send art-buyers an e-portfolio..."

Sorry, but that's a purchased list, and will generate too many spam complaints for MailChimp to handle. Yes, we do realize it's "a totally legit and opt-in list" from art buyers, and we realize you probably spent a pretty penny for that list. But it's a violation of our terms of use to send to purchased lists. In our opinion, Agency Access should be doing the emailing, since they collected the list. They seem to be offering a delivery system now, so you should use their tool to send an initial invitation to view your sample work. Feel free to invite those recipients to then join a MailChimp-managed list you've setup. Those people who do opt in will be more responsive, since they obviously liked your work enough to give you permission to email them.

"I set up a fish bowl by my cash register, so that customers can drop in their business cards for a chance to win a free lunch..."

No, no, no. Those people wanted a free lunch. Not emails. Sorry. Remember that with email, the recipient pays for the cost of receiving your advertisements, too. That's why spam is so much worse than regular postal junk mail (which only the sender pays for). Feel free to send them an offer or newsletter via snail mail. In that letter, include a link to sign up for your email newsletter (which you can set up on MailChimp) or a QR code they can scan to sign up. Better yet, just ask people if they'd like to "sign up for our email newsletter, e-coupons, and menu specials" when they're in your store.

"I set up a fish bowl in my store, and asked people to drop their cards in to subscribe to my email newsletter."

If you explicitly told people you'd be sending them emails, it's okay to use MailChimp. But keep in mind that since these are "offline" subscribers, you'll have difficulty proving they gave you permission (no IP address, or date/timestamp of opt-in confirmation). If you get lots of spam complaints, and ISPs or anti-spam organizations threaten to blacklist you, how will you prove each subscriber opted in? You may be asked to fax or email a scanned in image of the complainers' business cards (assuming the complaints weren't submitted anonymously).

"I'm a real estate agent. I got this email list from our local real estate organization and..."

Sorry, but third-party lists are not allowed. In general, if you're a real estate agent, you can only use MailChimp to send to your own list of recipients who subscribed to your list, at your own website. We realize that in real estate, you sometimes have to get aggressive, ambitious, and creative. We admire that entrepreneurial spirit. But you have to be very careful with email lists. No third-party, rented, or purchased lists on MailChimp.

"I own a restaurant, and we leave a little card at every table, asking people to subscribe to our newsletter."

Great, feel free to use MailChimp. Be sure to contact people fairly regularly, because permission goes stale in 6 months. People will forget you and report you for spamming if you wait too long. Then, it's difficult to prove you have opt-in permission, should an ISP threaten to blacklist you. Save a copy of those little opt-in cards you used (here's a nice example, by the way).

"We've got some big, exciting changes coming at our company, and we want to send an announcement to our customers."

Okay, but keep in mind that since MailChimp is built for sending email newsletters, every single email must include an unsubscribe link. Don't ask us to disable that function because "it's just an announcement to customers who need to know this."

"Our company is moving. We want to send our new address to all our customers."

Okay, but keep in mind that since MailChimp is built for sending email newsletters, every single email must include an unsubscribe link. Don't ask us to disable that function because "it's just an announcement to customers who need to know this."

"I'm a freelance web designer, and I've got this weird client, and I'm not so sure about their list, and..."

Nuh-uuuh. If you don't like your client, why would we? Don't be dumping jerks at our door. If they've got a sketchy background, tell them to use their own server to send their emails. They can install email marketing software, instead of using an online service like MailChimp. Let them jeopardize their own server and IP address.

"We want to send a thank-you email to everyone who came to our event."

How did you get these email addresses? When people gave their email address to you, were they explicitly told they'd be receiving your email newsletters? Or did you just get their email address because they purchased your tickets online? If it was the latter, then chances are, you used an online RSVP system. In that case, use the RSVP system to send a (transactional) thank-you email. In that thank-you message, include a link to subscribe to your MailChimp-hosted email list. Do not just assume that attendees to your event also want to be subscribed to an email list. If you just start sending newsletters to them, they'll report you for spam, and we'll have to shut your account down.

"When people buy from my online store, I ask them if they'd also like to subscribe for email newsletters and promotions."

They checked a box to subscribe to emails? Sounds like they gave you permission, and they'd like to hear from you. You might also look into our API, so that you can automatically pass those members into your MailChimp-managed list.

"We want to send an email survey to our customers."

You can use MailChimp to send a survey invitation, so long as these are your customers, and they gave you permission to send them emails. Keep in mind that if the list is older than 6 months, and these people haven't heard from you in a while, they'll report you for spam. Briefly remind your recipients of who you are, how you got their email (include the date and time they opted-in, if you have the data), and make sure your unsubscribe link is very, very prominent. Some companies use third parties to conduct the surveys (to keep the data unbiased). That's fine, but the email should prominently display your company name (and logo), so that recipients see in the blink of an eye that it's from someone they know. Include your company name in the subject line, too.

"I'm sending an email to other members of this local organization..."

Just because they're members of the same interest group as you, it doesn't mean they want emails from you. In fact, a bunch of those members are probably your competitors, so you can bet money they'll report you for spamming them. We've had to boot people because they were sending emails to "other members of" real estate agent groups, alpaca farming groups (yes, we said alpacas), local musician groups, political groups, and teachers groups. If the head of some organization sold or gave you their members' email addresses, shame on them. To do it right, that organization should be sending the emails on their advertisers' behalf.

"We want to send an announcement to our employees."

Employees need to read your announcements whether they want to or not, right? But since MailChimp is for permission email marketing, every single email must include our opt-out link. If someone unsubscribes from your list, our system will not let you send them another email (unless they go through the double opt-in process again). You may want to send "internal" emails from your own server, not from an online service like MailChimp.

"We're an agency. We're helping this huge client get their email marketing act together, and their sales and marketing team has assembled a list of emails from their address books, CRM, and..."

Here's the problem. Sales people keep contact information for anything that breathes. Hey, it's their job to spot opportunities anywhere, anytime. We love 'em for that. But those "prospects" did not necessarily give their permission to send them emails. You have to weed out anybody that didn't give their permission, or you're going to get reported for spam. When we shut down your account for spamming, it makes you look bad, and it makes your client look worse. So try to use language they'll understand. Ask them to keep out any contacts that are just "prospects." Tell them email can't be used for "cold calling." If they have a CRM, they probably have fields that indicate opt-in status. If they're just importing from their email program's "Address Book," make sure they filtered their recipients before exporting. Remember that some email programs are set to automatically add contacts to an address book if they've ever hit "reply" to someone's message. We've had users get spam reported because they just exported their entire address book, and then started sending email newsletters to their ISP Tech Support. Address books can get very, very messy. Be sure they were well organized before they the exporting process.

"CASL says I can contact anyone whose contact information is publicly available data to gain consent."

CASL's regulations are a little looser in some areas that in MailChimp's Terms of Use. As a rule of thumb, you want written consent from all of your subscribers, but sending an unsolicited email to someone whose email address is publicly available doesn't fall into an approved category in MailChimp's book. Find out more about CASL and how you can stay compliant using MailChimp.


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