The Terms of Your Terms of Service

Most of us have a terms of service document on our websites, even if they’re mostly contained within our privacy policies. We reference these documents in much of our correspondence, including our business and marketing emails. Your privacy policy or terms of service sets the expectations for what your customers will receive from you as a company

Most of us have a terms of service (TOS) document on our websites, even if they’re mostly contained within our privacy policies. We reference these documents in much of our correspondence, including our business and marketing emails. Your privacy policy or terms of service sets the expectations for what your customers will receive from you as a company.

Recently, Google upgraded its terms of service to explicitly inform its customers they have automated systems analyzing content in order to deliver relevant ads and provide customization and security. General Mills in a separate, yet oddly related move, has changed its terms of service to inform customers who “like” their products on Facebook that they have given up their right to take the company to court if there’s a problem with the product.

As mentioned in previous articles, Google is already camped out in courtrooms for these business practices, and I am confident that General Mills will find similar legal challenges over their new draconian policies, which potentially create an adversarial relationship with their customers.

In both of these scenarios, and for our company, when the need arises to make changes to our policies, the new language is probably more enlightening to current customers, followers and subscribers than it is giving future customers sufficient warning—after all, when was the last time you read the terms of service of a new company with whom you’ve chosen to follow or create an account? Most of us are good about sending notices when we have a change in policy, and our subscribers are much more likely to read that than the original TOS.

The Trust Factor
As marketers and builders of brands, we know honesty is paramount. Building credibility and trust sells, whether it’s product or service. It’s why many of us choose to include a link to our privacy policies in our emails. We want our subscribers and customers to know we value their information and will do our best to protect it. When our privacy policy changes in a way not congruent with the original version the client may—or may not—have read, we run the risk of damaging the credibility we’ve worked so hard to build.

Companies such as Google and General Mills have the means to defend their companies against customers who object to the TOS changes, but for those of us who represent small- to medium-size businesses, lawsuits challenging a policy change could easily bankrupt even the most successful. What’s more, negative policy changes put us at odds with the very persons with whom we are trying to build a trusting relationship; and that is likely to land us, like Google and General Mills, on the social-media hot seat.

While truthfulness in our policies is necessary, it’s also important to give consideration to the delivery. Of course there is a need to have a TOS that protects us when a beautiful relationship becomes discourse, but a candy coating can make it that much easier for our customers to swallow. For a great take on how to deliver your TOS or make changes or updates to it, Daily Conversions did a great piece on this topic a couple years ago.

Our marketing emails are difficult to deliver and getting more so. We need to consider each component of the email to ensure deliverability improves over time, and a friendly, yet firm, privacy policy most certainly will have a positive effect.

Treat your recipients with respect—and humor when you can—and you will continue to create a nurturing, healthy, trustful relationship.

UPDATE: After I completed this article, General Mills announced (due to the severe roasting they took in social-media platforms), they will reverse their new policy. You can now safely like General Mills and reserve your right to sue them—not as though there was a whisper of a chance they could have defended their position in court, IMO.

Author: Cyndie Shaffstall

Email marketing is the most effective way to increase sales, improve service, and keep your customers engaged. Email campaigns are best bolstered through an integrated strategy that crosses channels and meets your constituents where they congregate and in the media they prefer. “The Integrated Email” provides best practices and ideas for developing strategies and deploying email campaigns and initiatives while keeping an eye on revenue attributable to marketing.

Cyndie Shaffstall, founder, Spider Trainers, is a successful entrepreneur and prolific author, with many books, dozens of eBooks, and hundreds of articles to her credit. She is the former founder of ThePowerXChange, editor and publisher of X-Ray Magazine, and the current founder and managing member of Spider Trainers, a managed automated email services provider for companies around the world. Connect with Cyndie on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, or join her LinkedIn Group, the Marketing Resource Library for daily links to marketing-critical resources.

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