Email Etiquette 101: Don’t Add People to Your Email List Without Their Permission

A social media follower does not a subscriber make

Jul 16 · 4 min read
Licensed from Adobe Stock // © olly

Every marketer with a pulse loves to talk about customer journeys. Ten years ago, everyone was battling it out, Hunger Games style, over whether the marketing funnel was linear (it’s not) or a loop. Then everyone wanted to talk about customer journeys, physical and digital touch points.

We marketers are a riveting bunch.

A customer journey is precisely what the phrase implies — it’s a series of actions that a prospect might take before, during, post purchase and the period between points of purchase. The marketer’s job is to understand their customers’ triggers, pain points, motivations, and influences so they can target message and market.

For example, let’s say I want to read a new novel. I’ve subscribed to several lit newsletters, and I frequently read roundup articles reviewing the latest season’s list. in one of the newsletters, I read a review about a debut novel that piques my interest. I scan the book’s editorial and customer reviews on Amazon — homing in on the 3-star reviews to get a more balanced take. I’ll read an online excerpt to determine whether the first few pages pulls me in. At this point, I’ve amassed all the information I need to make a purchase decision. I’ve moved through the traditional funnel/loop stages in my journey:

  • Trigger: I want to read a good book.
  • Awareness: Based on the content I consume, an intriguing title surfaces.
  • Evaluation: I check out the reviews and read an excerpt to determine if I want to buy the book.
  • Acquisition: Amazon has my cash money. The book is en route.
  • Loyalty/Repeat Purchase: If I love the book, I’ll likely purchase other books the author may have written or be more receptive to algorithmic suggestions (i.e., “for more books like this…”)

During this brief process, you get insight into:

  • Motivation: I live to read. Over the course of a year, I’ll read 100–150 books. Reading is tactile, calming, and is one of the few times I can get lost and not reach for my phone. I want to feel satiated, nourished. And I’m also a novelist so I’m also reading to support other authors as well as be inspired by their work and style.
  • Who/what influences me: People who I trust, editorial and customer reviews.
  • Buyer behavior: I tend to buy my books off Amazon and I’ll always read an excerpt before purchase.

Marketers need this information about their various customer segments in order to know how and where to market and what to say and when to say it. The point is to follow the rhythms of the customer, how they behave and the pace with which they engage. Sure, they’ll try to steer or influence the process, but customers are ultimately in the driver’s seat.

So what does this have to do with email etiquette? I am SO GLAD YOU ASKED.

It has everything to do with it.

When you add someone to your email list without their expressed permission, you’re going against their inherent behavior to try to control their buying process. You may not sell anything in your newsletter, but it’s the equivalent of dragging your friend out of bed in their underwear and strapping them in for a cross-country road trip. They’ve taken day trips with you, so surely this is a no brainer. Of course, they’ll sign on. Even if they’re wearing their underwear in your car.

Think again. You didn’t bother to ask if they wanted to go. You didn’t wait for them to put on pants. You made the decision for them, and I’ll guarantee they’ll resent you for it.

Just because someone has interacted with you on social media, or exchanged emails, or even followed you does not give you trespass to their inbox. They chose to engage with you in medium (s) where they feel most comfortable right now. That may change, for sure, but you’ve made the decision for them before they were ready — all because you were aching for a vanity metric. You wanted to hock one more sea-of-oh-not-this-again-same course or product.

In your desire to prod them along the journey to you before they’re ready will likely earn you an unsubscribe, an unfollow, a please refrain from speaking to me ever again. And every marketer knows that it costs more to win back the trust of a prospect you’ve burned than going after someone fresh and new.

Because it boils down to trust. If I invite you into my inbox, I’ve moved passively scrolling to engage with your work in a personal way. I devote time and attention to the newsletters I follow, and I’m more likely to comment directly to someone then post a comment publicly. The subscription signals my trust and a passport to the elusive land that is my attention span.

If you want people on your list, promote signups on your stories and bios. Add it to your email signature. Even write individual emails inviting people to subscribe and explain what they gain for giving you their attention.

Remember, you don’t control your customer and you most certainly don’t control the whole game. Let them come to you when they’re ready.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter.

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Published Novelist & Seasoned Marketer. I build brands + tell stories. Newsletter: Hire me:

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