Considerations for building an email list while keeping health in mind

Posted on November 18, 2015

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Ramit Sethi’s site, despite the tacky title, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, used to have some solid personal finance info. But in the last few years Ramit’s stuff has wreaked of Manhattanite Syndrome. (It’s not a coincidence he moved there.) Maybe it’s that old quote of “Money doesn’t change you; it reveals who you really are.” What money may have revealed for Ramit is he really loves money. Because it’s getting to be obnoxious what he’s doing to get it.

He recently had a post where you could enter your email to get a couple ebooks and access to some other content. This is a pretty common list building strategy. “I’ll give you something if you give me your email address.” Of course, no one is told how you will be bom-fucking-barded by emails once you do this. We learn it the (not) fun way instead.

The common retort here is, “Those who love your stuff enough won’t mind hearing from you more often. They can’t hear from you enough.”

This is a bewildering statement. Most spouses enjoy a break from one another. People who’ve declared they will always be together still enjoy a break. The random internet marketer is a little egotistical to think they surpass marriage vows. You can saturate someone. It’s tough to know what contacting someone too much is, but everyday certainly is. One to two times a week seems to be solid ground. Maybe a little more (sometimes), and you can certainly get by with less. (See below.)

It’d been a while since I looked at some of Ramit’s stuff, and the guy does seem to have a solid online business, so let me plug my email in again and take a look. I’ll likely unsubscribe right away again once the first barrage of emails come in, but oh well.

-> Of course, in most instances, to unsubscribe from this type of nonsense you have to scroll all the way down, and find the smallest print imaginable. This is very much on purpose. If it’s more metabolically costly, it can also be a business opportunity.

What I didn’t expect was for another company to start sending me emails. Sure, the page said “I’ve partnered with Lead Pages to offer you x, y, z” but it didn’t say you were going to give my email to Lead Pages.

-> The circle of irony: Lead Pages apparently sells stuff to help build leads and email lists. They got my email by using one of their email list strategies (joint venture; “free” giveaway (not actually free (my email))). My email would then be used to pitch me strategies and products on how to build an email list.

Not too dissimilar from the “buy my $25 ebook on how to sell $25 ebooks.” Ramit’s online business also took off when he started a course on how to start a business. These aren’t necessarily bad moves, but when this is your sole business, it comes off as scammy.

With everything going on the last couple years, with companies selling your info to anybody who will buy it, the whole Ashley Madison thing, how nobody, including Larry and Sergey, is sure whether Google’s mantra “Don’t Be Evil” applies to everyone but them, the fact Zuckerberg uses “connecting everyone” as a defense for “steal and sell everything about you,” I can’t see this being a good longterm strategy. Yes, short-term, I’m sure you’ll sell more things. Longterm? I’m never giving my email to Ramit again.

“That’s business” but it doesn’t need to be

The other time many of us have found our inbox flooded is after purchasing a product. Where to get a product you give your email, but you didn’t realize you were also giving your email to sign up for a list. “Why am I getting emails from such and such company?” Or how we are all automatically opted in to receive “future updates on new products and exclusive deals.”

Things do not have to be this way. Earlier this year Louis CK sold out Madison Square Garden four nights in a row. This is what his sales page says when you’re about to purchase something:

Louis Ck Opt OUT

You are automatically opted OUT. And do you know how often he emails people? One to two times a year. If it’s regarding a show, and you’re not within a certain radius of the show, he won’t even bother. He is really trying to make sure whoever he emails, wants the email and will be interested in what it says.

I love this. I’m not sure I’ve seen it anywhere else. It’s why I purposely don’t collect any email stuff, at all, after product purchases. You have to do that separately. Now, I’m nowhere near Louis in terms of sales, but few are anywhere near him. If he can sell out Madison Square Garden using an approach of this nature, I’m sure many can do alright simulating it.

It doesn’t have to be the shitty way. The way where you are automatically storing people’s information. Sending them emails they likely didn’t know they were going to receive. Where you feel like you need to trick people into buying things. (It doesn’t need to be the creepy way either. When my girlfriend is in the vicinity of a Nordstrom’s, they email her. She doesn’t know how that started.)

“It’s no big deal. Worst case a person has to spend a little time unsubscribing.”

Whenever you’re cool with wasting people’s time, that’s a problem.

It might take longer to do things a different way, but you should have more peace of mind. No one is bitching how Louis CK didn’t store their email automatically. But a lot of people are talking about how their information got in hands they didn’t intend it to.

ESPECIALLY if you do anything health related

Besides Ashley Madison, I don’t think there is any information more sensitive to people than their health information. Going back to Ramit giving my email to a company I didn’t know he was going to give it to- let’s say that product I wanted to take a look at was, I don’t know, for masturbation addiction.

Then, a couple days later, a different company or person is emailing me about masturbation addiction. How’s that going to come across?

Many years ago I had a client confide to me they had AIDS. Would I ever, in any moment of lucidness, say, “Hey, give me your email and I’ll shoot you over an ebook on that.” And then give that email address to someone else, and tell them this person had AIDS? “I thought you’d want more info on it.” Sounds insane right? Then why is this approach everywhere on the internet?

“That’s an extreme example.”

Let’s say the issue is knee surgery. You let a website know you’ve had knee surgery. That website then sells that information to something like a credit reporting agency. Some agency that then sells it to various corporations. Someone like Amazon gets a hold of it, notices you have a knee history, and decides they don’t want to take you on as a factory worker. “Too risky. Don’t want to have to pay for any missed days due to the knee.”

“You’re too paranoid.”

“Libert found that 91% of health-related pages relay the URL to third parties, often unbeknownst to the user, and in 70% of the cases, the URL contains sensitive information such as “HIV” or “cancer” which is sufficient to tip off these third parties that you have been searching for information related to a specific disease […] Here are some of the most common (invisible) partners which participate in the third-party exchanges:”

If you’re unaware, Experian is a commonly used service by corporations for background information when hiring. The above chart means they are acquiring health data from various websites. Experian is also used for things like credit checks for housing. I know because I got a copy of mine from the apartment complex I just moved in to.

“Privacy is dead now anyways. Once you’re online, you’re screwed.”

When hearing this argument, one has to wonder if you were the person who was like, “Look, I know racism and sexism probably aren’t that cool, but that’s the way it is. Plus, everyone else is doing it and I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t.”

It may be true. Privacy may very well be dead. But that doesn’t mean you, or I, need to be part of that above chart. Part of any chart where you’re willy nilly with people’s information because “everybody’s doing it.”

Back in the day, people weren’t snooping over your shoulder whenever you were in the library trying to find something to help your health. Now they are, but because it’s so easy. Not because they should. Because they can. These websites and corporations are taking moments, sometimes which are deep, private, intimate moments, and profiting off of it.

The openness of the internet is a wonderful thing. Sometimes the anonymity of it is also wonderful. (Though that can be a double edged sword.) But plenty of people are happy to voluntarily be open. To voluntarily give you their email address. To be a case study. To tell you about themselves, AND pay you at the same time! There is a much easier, ethical, more mentally peaceful, way of going about all this.

1) Make the default option no,

2) Ask the person if they’d like to say yes,

3) Be clear everyone knows everything they are saying yes to.

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Posted in: Business