There’s a new piece of legislation in Canada — known as CASL — that has some content marketers rattled.
It goes into effect on Tuesday, July 1, and it’s a wide-reaching attempt to regulate electronic communication (email, but also texts and social media conversations) that’s commercial in nature.
As usual when you’re talking about change on the web, there’s a lot of flutter and noise around the issue. But if you’ve been following email marketing best practices, it isn’t as scary as it might seem.
First things first: I am not your attorney and I can’t give you specific advice about whether your business’ particular email practices are in line with the new law.
But I can share with you what I’ve learned while researching it for our own business, and provide some general reassurance. Despite some nosebleed-steep potential fines, the law overall is very much in line with what good content marketers are already doing.
This post won’t cover every line of the act, but it will give you the general guidelines as well as additional resources for you if you want to dig into CASL in more depth.
The major points
First, CSAL stands for Canada’s anti-spam legislation, and it applies to email and other electronic addresses in (wait for it) Canada. For email addresses, that’s being defined as those ending with the .ca top-level domain. Such as:
So no, technically you don’t need to worry about any of these provisions for your audience members who live outside of Canada.
However, for the most part, this legislation is aligned with the way you should be handling your content and communication anyway, both to comply with various international laws and to have an effective, productive relationship with your prospects and customers.
Update: To clarify, the law does apply to anyone living in Canada even if they are not using the .ca domain. This is stuff you should be doing anyway, so be smart and do the right thing for every subscriber.
CASL has three key provisions:
- You need to have the consent (permission) of your audience in order to send them commercial messages.
- You need to provide specific identification information on your messages, such as a website address, address and phone number, company name, etc. Home-based business owners are not required to include your home address.
- You need a simple unsubscribe process on your messages.
You have implied consent if this is an existing customer — it’s expected that you will have some communication with the people who are already in a commercial relationship with you.
I’m hoping this doesn’t strike terror into the hearts of too many Copyblogger readers. These are all well established email marketing best practices — you can read more about those in our ebook:
The twist with CASL is that these provisions apply to other forms of electronic communication besides email, including texts and messaging on social media services, such as Twitter direct messages and even public @ messages.
That last point is the subject of a lot of murk, and the email experts I talked with were skeptical that the law can be applied as broadly as it seems to be written.
What to do to comply with the law
First and foremost, run your email marketing program on the principle of permission. In other words, send content to people who have asked to receive it.
That means no buying email lists, and no using “email appends,” which ClickZ explains is “the practice of matching known customer data (first name, last name, and postal address) against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses.”
If you’re someone who adds an email address to your list when someone at a meeting or conference gives you a business card, I’d quit doing that as well. While the CRTC itself (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) say in their FAQ that it might be okay, it’s frankly rude and a bad habit. And it could potentially leave you vulnerable to a spam claim, since you have no evidence of the person’s consent to receive your email.
Take this as your opportunity to quit doing something you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.
ClickZ suggests in their comprehensive article on CASL that you should also get out of the habit (if you’re doing it now) of using “FTAF” (forward to a friend) calls to action in your email messages. Instead, I’d put these on your content, encouraging social sharing of web-based content rather than passing along of commercial email messages.
Until there’s better clarity on how broadly the social media component of the law will be applied, it would probably be safer not to send commercial messages to Canadian individuals on social media platforms unless they have some relationship with you. (They’ve followed your business on Twitter, “Liked” your business page on Facebook, etc.) If you have staff handling this kind of outreach, be sure and let them know about CASL.
Finally, although this isn’t spelled out in the law, it’s just smart to make sure you have an engaged, positive relationship with your email list. (Otherwise, what’s the point of having an email list?)
Send content often enough (without flooding their in-boxes) that your subscribers know who you are and have a positive association with you. Keep readers engaged and attentive with beneficial, interesting content. Do that, and follow the best-practice rules, and you should be in good shape.
If you’d like to read more about CASL, here are some of the most useful resources I found while researching the new law:
- ClickZ’s in-depth piece on the law’s implications for marketers
- The CRTC FAQ on how CASL affects businesses
- Feedblitz’s discussion of CASL’s implications, including some of that “murky” social media territory I was talking about
- AWeber’s simple distillation of the law, which will probably be enough detail for most content marketers
- And finally, just on general principle, Blame Canada
If you still have questions, head on over to our discussion on Google+ and we’ll see if we can uncover the answers. As always, if you want to be 100% sure that you’re in compliance, your attorney is the right person to talk to.
I’ll let Hunter Boyle, Senior Business Development Manager of of AWeber, have the last word:
CASL underscores the importance of using email and digital channels as relationship-building tools. That is, not just “blasting” names, but sending relevant information to people who want it, and have confirmed that by actively opting in to updates. If that’s how you’re growing your digital audience, and you’re keeping your lists clean and active, you’re in great shape. If not, or if you’re buying email lists, consider this your wake-up call.