Why I Opt-in
Buy anything on the internet. Read any online article or blog. Register for any event. It seems that it really doesn’t matter why you visit a website, at some point in that visit you are likely to be asked to opt-in to receive information of some kind. Privacy laws require that these companies and organizations receive explicit permission from you to store your contact information and use it for future communication purposes. And while they typically couch that request in fancy words that makes it sound like they will be sending extraordinarily valuable information that you will truly want to hear, we all know that it typically boils down to “junk mail”. By opting-in to these requests, you agree to receive an un-ending plethora of emails, catalogs, newsletters, and such that will try to convince you to buy whatever they are selling. Ewwww. Sounds horrible, right? Why would you ever opt-in? Who needs more email?
Honestly, I certainly don’t need more email. Nevertheless, I choose to opt-in in almost every circumstance where the option presents itself. Am I a glutton for punishment? Or is there a method to my madness?
Initially, it was laziness. Strategies to conform to early privacy laws took an “opt-out” approach. That is, by default the box indicating that you wanted to receive such information was conveniently checked for you. If you didn’t want the contact, you had to physically check it off, and I simply didn’t bother. Although you will still likely see this strategy on some sites, this approach is now explicitly forbidden in prominent privacy laws, such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. In fact, you will now often encounter the “double opt-in” approach, which requires you to provide an email address and then click on the link provided in the resulting email to verify that yes, you really, really, really want to be added to the list. This approach is not required by the laws (yet) but is highly recommended by experts. As a consumer, I actually find this approach annoying: it requires more of my time and I must click away from my current activity where I requested the opt-in to find my email and click another link (all so I can receive 10% off my purchase). I must admit that the double opt-in has resulted in less frivolous opt-ins by me because of the same reason I opted into everything at first … laziness.
Nevertheless, while my retail opt-ins may have diminished with double opt-ins when it comes to anything related to my profession – publications, events, or tools – I still invariably opt-in. Will I read every article or blog that I get notice about? No. Will I attend every webinar, class, or conference I’m informed about? No. Am I in the market for a new tool? No. So why do I opt-in?
Although retail sites may bombard me with pleas to come buy more of their various products, the makers of expensive professional tools do not expect to sell their system via emails. These emails are not advertisements for a sale (buy 3, get one free!) or a reminder that I might be running out of something I bought or that it’s time to replace a disposable part. They simply want to stay in your mind so that when you are in the market, you remember them. They want to establish themselves as experts in the field and build your trust, so they provide useful nuggets of information that you can use whether or not you own their tool.
As an industry professional desiring to stay current in my career, opting in serves a purpose:
- It provides opportunity to learn about things that have been on my list, but that I haven’t had time to research yet. Often, they trigger a memory – oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to learn more about this subject and now I don’t have to go look for information; it’s been handed to me on a silver platter.
- It makes me aware of things I didn’t even know I might need to know. I learn about new developments and trends in the industry. In a market-driven by acquisitions or succumbing to lay-offs, this knowledge could be critical in keeping or obtaining a job. At the very least, I may at least have heard of the new tool I must now use; at best, I may be able to show off my knowledge on a subject and be appropriately rewarded for it.
- It keeps me informed about new technologies to ensure my company isn’t falling behind. Even if I’m not in the market for a new tool, a new development in a tool I don’t own might trigger me to ask my current tool about their plans for a similar feature.
- It supports innovation. The ability for a company to learn more about their potential market is critical. Click counts for articles or registrations for webinars provide information about the subjects that currently concern the market and can tell companies a lot about where to concentrate their development dollars. The simple number of opt-ins tell companies that people are interested in what they are doing. If no one is interested in what you are marketing, where is the motivation to keep developing it? And someday, you, as a consumer, may wish they had.
- It keeps the price of professional conferences and events down. All conferences, whether live or virtual, have a hefty price tag for the conference host. Vendors who exhibit at those conferences offset much of that cost. But vendors are not exhibiting indiscriminately or out of the goodness of their heart; they evaluate the results of their exhibiting, and one significant measurement is the number of people they add to their databases from the event. Small numbers of opt-ins make vendors question whether they should continue with the event, forcing the conference host to raise prices or cancel the event altogether.
Do I drop everything and read these emails as they are received? Of course not. First, I’m savvy enough with Outlook to have written rules that all vendor emails go to a Vendor folder, not my primary inbox where they distract or get in the way of emails that I must respond to quickly. I’m still in control. I can read, or ignore, emails at my whim while remaining blissfully ignorant of how much is collecting on any one day. But I also don’t have to go running to find information when I need it – I know where it is.
In addition, that folder is not simply ignored and forgotten. A daily or even weekly scan of the contents of that folder at my leisure lets me quickly disposition each email and keep the folder uncluttered:
- The content of this email is something I should register for or read in the next day or two.
- The content of this email is something that I should read eventually or that might be useful for future research (in which case, I should tag it with some kind of keyword about what it’s about: DITA, markdown, reuse, dynamic publishing, AI, etc).
- I am not interested in the contents of this email. Either the subject is irrelevant or often, it is a reminder for something that I’ve already registered for. A quick click of the Delete button is not going to keep me from meeting a deadline, especially if I’m not reading my email every second I hear the ding of a new message.
- In the event that I do feel a company is abusing my trust and bombarding me way too much, I always have the option to unsubscribe. It’s a basic tenet of privacy laws – it must be readily apparent and easy to remove yourself from a list.
Yes, opting-in greatly increases the number of emails I receive, but careful management of those emails keeps them from getting in the way or being a nuisance, and I receive the significant advantage of being more in tune with what is happening in my industry. I encourage you to re-think your opt-in strategy, overlooking what on the surface is solely an annoyance and recognizing the benefits it can bring. You can start when you register for ConVEx. Registration is now open at https://convex.infomanagementcenter.com/event/convex-2021/.
About the Author: Dawn Stevens, is CIDM’s Director and President of Comtech Services. She has 30 years of practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department, including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming.