Talk to me, don't talk to meCould a simple code ease conflict over email marketing?

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You're at a business event, meet someone, talk, and exchange business cards. A few days later, you discover they've subscribed you to their email newsletter. Is that legit... or is it spam?

Chris Brogan recently posted about his online business card... and about one of the reasons he's giving up on the paper kind: "Every time I give someone a business card, I have about a 70% chance of receiving someone else’s dumb email newsletter that I didn’t opt into receiving."

That got me thinking, because I saw a lively (at times heated) conversation on Twitter not long ago on that very topic. And that led me to leave a comment on his blog that went something like this:

There's a natural human tendency to project our own self-interest onto others. So (some) marketers conclude that someone giving you a business card is permission, not just for personal contact, but to be added to any communication channel the marketer wants. ("Wha-a? You don't want a sound truck parked outside your house blaring my radio ad 24 hours a day? Then whysoever did you give me your business card?")

I don't think it's insincere, either; a number of folks I respect and love have taken that point of view. (Maybe it's self-serving - but then, so is my "Who WOULDN'T want to be mentioned in a cartoon?" belief.)

One of the ways that we overcome that tendency in other areas is to establish a common set of social norms and expectations: etiquette and protocol. And while the centuries have helped various cultures develop sets of shared expectations, we're still in the early days of online courtesy, and it's still taking shape.

So in the meantime, maybe something more formal could be useful.

What if we had a "contact permissions" code for business cards? A card could have the heading "Use this info for:", and then one or more letters representing categories like...

  • S - person-to-person social (i.e. non-business) communication
  • B - person-to-person business-related communication
  • M - marketing communication

At least it might help to eliminate some ambiguity. Think this could get some traction? And are there codes I'm missing?


Joshua McGee says

June 3, 2010 - 11:01am

Perhaps -- but I would expect a five-year-or-so introductory period in which the options would need to be spelled out.  "M: Marketing communications", for instance.  If this system were to be adopted, eventually the codes would be known well enough for the explanation to be ommitted.  But certainly not at first.

Rob Cottingham says

June 3, 2010 - 11:33am

I've wondered about that. Maybe the message could read something like "(clever URL) permissions: M" - in the same way as you'll sometimes see coded abbreviations for Creative Commons licenses, plus a link to see the full version.

Yes, it's a kludge. :-)

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