Ottawa passed anti-spam legislation to shield consumers from unwanted emails. But in going after spammers, the law also made it more complicated for legitimate businesses to communicate with customers.
That’s why the law still hasn’t taken effect, even though it received Royal Assent back in December 2010. It will do so only once Industry Canada has finalized its regulations for implementing the law. Business groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Chamber of Commerce have been lobbying Industry Canada to make it easier for companies to use commercial electronic messages—CEMs consist of emails, texts and social media communications—to attract new clients without breaking the new rules.
The law’s core principle is that companies must have consumers’ explicit consent to send electronic messages to them. For most smaller firms, the biggest downside of the law is its limitations on using CEMs to target prospects. “One of our biggest concerns is third-party referrals, because a lot of businesses get referrals from current clients and then email these potential customers,” says Corinne Polmann, vice-president national affairs at the CFIB.
When Industry Canada initially published proposed regulations for the anti-spam law, companies wouldn’t have been allowed to send any CEMs to third-party referrals, on the grounds that these people hadn’t consented to receive messages. Business groups convinced Industry Canada to change this in the revised set of proposed regulations it published this past January, permitting companies to send one message. Polmann says although CFIB was pleased by this change, “we’d like to see more than one contact allowed. We’re asking for the regulations to allow two or three contacts with a given person, and then if there’s no response you’d have to stop.”
Polmann says the regulations will have more impact on electronic communication for companies that do so intensively and in a wide variety of forms, including areas such as automatic software downloads and electronic billing. But she says most SMEs don’t fall into that category, so their main concern should be about the impact of the new regulations on email.
Industry Canada hasn’t announced when it will finalize its regulations and when they’ll take effect. Polmann recommends that in the meantime that SMEs prepare for the new era of email by:
- Ensuring that it’s clear how to unsubscribe to your emails and easy to do so. Although many companies already follow this best practice, the new regulations will require this and spell out what qualifies as clear and simple unsubscribing methods
- Offering those you’re emailing clear and detailed options for how to contact your business and clearly identifying who you are. It will no longer wash to have nothing but an email address that won’t accept replies. You need to offer consumers or businesses you’re emailing an email address they can use to contact you, plus a phone number and physical address