Sean Donahue

Ask for Permission, Not Forgiveness

February 18th, 2010

I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I admit I wasn’t paying much attention when Google added Buzz to my personal Gmail account last week. Then I started seeing blog posts and articles outlining some pretty serious privacy concerns about the new social networking feature — and they got my attention.

Sure enough, when I clicked on the Buzz icon in my account I saw that Google had manufactured a list of followers for me, and a list of people to follow, all based on names in my inbox. Some of those names represented friends of mine, who I didn’t mind sharing information with — but some certainly weren’t friends.

Then it hit me: I’d just been opted-in to a social network without my permission.

I wasn’t pleased, and spent a long time trying to figure out how to un-enroll in Buzz. Turns out, lots of people are mad – suing mad, as a matter of fact.

So, Google’s big misstep is a great reminder for other marketers: Social media and email work because they represent permission-based marketing channels. Prospects and customers have to proactively reach out and say, “Yes, I want to hear from you” by subscribing to your email newsletter, becoming a Facebook friend, following you on Twitter, and so on.

So if you’re launching new social media features or thinking about ways to get social media followers onto your email lists, don’t assume every name in your database is open for enrollment. For example, a lot of B2B vendors are launching branded, private social networks. Don’t be like Google and automatically create accounts for every prospect in your database.

Just ask them first. It’s so much easier than countering a firestorm of bad PR and potential lawsuits.

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  1. February 23rd, 2010 at 08:10 | #1


    Fantastic example. I appreciate the brevity of your post too – makes the point that much more understandable.

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