Data protection and viral e-marketing

Can data collected by viral marketing be legally used?

Recommend-a-friend and viral marketing promotions are used by many website owners to acquire prospect names.

There are data protection issues with this form of promotion as the individual is not present at the point of collection and cannot, therefore, give the necessary permissions for future marketing.

However, viral marketing can be used if you obey some simple rules.

Typically, the referrer is asked to send an email to their friends to tell them about your offer.

In absolute terms this could be asking them to break the law by sending an unsolicited email, so when writing the copy it is important to stress that they should be sure their friends will be happy to receive these messages.

The referrer should be told when they submit the friend’s details if their name will be referenced in the forwarded email.

If you capture the email address of the friend using this “send to a friend” mechanism, the friend’s information can only be used once to send the original offer.

The email addresses should be checked against your in-house suppression file. Only if there is no previous objection, can you use the data to send the offer.

When you send the offer the new contact must be given the opportunity to give permission for further marketing via a response mechanism.

The friend cannot be marketed to again unless they respond and give their permission to receive future emails. This would usually mean that response will need to be incentivised.

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