Tell A Friend Forms Are Not Opt-In

…and are not in any way permitted for use with AWeber.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions this week about Tell a Friend forms due to several large product launches, including Viral Friend Generator, Viral Friend Dominator and TAFPro.

We have information in our Knowledge Base about Tell a Friend and why we don’t permit it to be used with AWeber accounts.

However, due to the high number of inquiries about this we’re putting it here too, since this is a more prominent part of our site.

What’s a Tell a Friend Form?

A Tell a Friend (TAF) form is one where someone visiting a site enters the email address of one or more other people (in theory, their friends) that they believe would be interested in receiving information from that site.

Those people (the “friends”) are then sent one or more messages from the website owner.

Why Can’t I Use Tell a Friend Forms?

The problem with such Tell-a-Friend forms is that the person whose email address is entered never requested that information, and as a result, any email messages sent to them would be unsolicited.

It doesn’t matter if it’s only one “invitation” message, or if you’re using Confirmed Opt-In. Sending unsolicited email messages to people is spamming. And spam isn’t welcome at AWeber.

So My Subscribers Can’t Refer Others to My List?

They can, and we do recommend that you take advantage of referral/word-of-mouth marketing, but you need to do it in a way that still gets everyone’s permission before you start emailing them.

What we recommend as an alternative is adding a section to your messages that:

That way, your subscribers can forward your messages themselves to their friends, rather than generating a message sent by you through some sort of form.

Their friends can then easily sign up for your list by following the instructions in your message. If their friends have a problem with being sent that message, they take it up with your subscribers (who forwarded them the message) instead of with you.

For Example…

Here’s a snippet you might include in your messages:

Thanks for reading!If you know someone who could benefit from this, feel free to forward it to them!

Not a subscriber yet? Like what you’ve read? Sign up to get future issues delivered straight to you:

http://www.example.com

Until next time!

Referrals are a great tool for building your list, provided you get them in an opt-in fashion.Tell a Friend isn’t.

[UPDATE:] While a lot of you have submitted constructive comments, there have been a number of less constructive and, frankly, downright rude comments sent in as well. So we’ve closed the comments on this post.

You don’t have to agree with our position on TAF. But we do expect you to respect it, as we respect your opinion. If you feel that TAF is a necessary element to your marketing, that’s fine, and your decision to make. Just understand that it’s not at all something that can be done with AWeber, so you need to seek out another email solution if you’re going to use TAF.

We hope that you’ll take our post and follow up comments here into consideration when evaluating the use of TAF in your marketing efforts. Thank you! Tom Kulzer, AWeber CEO & Founder]

By:
Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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22 Comments

  1. The recent ‘viral tell a friend’ promos will have excited many people I guess, but not me. Everything I have learned about marketing says that we should look for targeted traffic. I am not in the Internet mmarketing business and see no benefit whatsoever in generating big numbers of untargetted subscribers. Sure there may be some revenue, but at what cost to my workload, reputation and time and effort. I do however encourage my subscribers to pass my emails on to others who might be interested (note interested) but it is not forced upon unwary random people. There is no replacement for good old fashioned solid marketing techniques. Lots of good value content in your mailings and only conversing with a targetted market is the way forward and, as an aside, well done aweber…you are growing into a mature and extremely useful asset for us marketers. All power to you. Mike

    3/2/2007 7:18 pm
  2. Chris

    The sad thing is that a lot of these tools are sold with claims like "works with aweber" or "compatible with any autoresponder", so people are led to believe there’s no problem.

    3/2/2007 9:10 pm
  3. Wow…

    I just downloaded one of those FREE "Tell-A-Friend" softwares just to find out how it works. Then I saw your posting… so at the end, I can’t use this system along with Aweber?

    3/2/2007 11:09 pm
  4. Dr.Mani

    Tom, (or anyone else at Aweber)

    I’d like this clarified a little bit, please.

    You say:

    "Those people (the “friends”) are then sent one or more messages from the website owner."

    But the way some TAF forms are designed, the email goes from the ‘user’ to their ‘friends’, NOT the ‘website owner’

    A ‘relationship’ exists between the user and their friends – and the form is just a tool to simplify the process of letting them know.

    Of course, if the argument is that it is like an unguarded HTML form with *potential* for abuse and spamming, that makes sense. But the way the blog post is worded makes it seem as if a friend telling a friend is spam – simply because it is done through a web based script.

    Would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this, please.

    Also, Aweber is not involved in the TAF process until AFTER the referred visitor opts-in to the list. So what is the risk to Aweber from this?

    Thanks for your feedback on these questions.

    3/3/2007 12:05 pm
  5. I can’t speak for the other scripts, but I am an owner of Viral Friend Generator.

    The tell-a-friend script portion of VFG does NOT subscribe the friends to the list owner’s mailing list. I believe this is not specifically clear in your article above.

    The only person who is added to a list is the person who is requesting the report/bonus, etc., in the offer.

    With VFG, when a person fills out the form, the message is sent to the friends through a PHP mailer, not through Aweber.

    When those friends respond, they are taken to the same starting page, where they can opt in to get the report/bonus, etc., in the offer. If they tell a certain number of friends, they get an extra bonus.

    But again, the script does not add friends emails to their Aweber account or their email list unless those friends specifically opt in to the list.

    This is why VFG is such a superior list building tool, and is in full compliance with Aweber’s TOS.

    Bob Jenkins

    3/3/2007 6:59 pm
  6. I disagree with suggesting that an invitation generated by a Tell A Friend script qualifies as spamming.

    There is a fine line that’s being blurred here.

    For example… this is a suggested alternative:

    >> Encourages Subscribers to Pass the Message to Others

    In the above scenario, the "friend" receiving the message that’s being passed to them by a subscriber never requested the email. Are they being spammed?

    When we talk of spamming, it commonly refers to sending unsolicited commercial advertising. I’m not seeing how Aweber would qualify the exact same email sent BY one friend TO another as spam in one scenario but a *suggested* tactic in another. Just based on the server it’s being sent from? Seems a bit contradictory. As it should.

    Consider what happens on the large social networks (MySpace, Linked In, Ryze, etc) when a member of the network uses the "invite" form to forward an invitation to their friend to join them on the network. Is this classified as spamming? Hardly. The sender is not the system or website owner or marketer… the sender is the friend.

    Now also consider what happens when a forum member sends a private message to another forum member. The forum script automatically emails the receiving party re: the new message. Is this spam? Afterall, they didn’t request that email.

    It seems Aweber’s tech team is misinterpreting how TAF scripts work. The original sender who fills out the form and enters their friends’ details is a confirmed subscriber from a standard squeeze page. The invitation that goes out from the TAF script (which was sent BY THE ORIGINAL FRIEND) is mailed from the user’s server (Aweber is not involved in this process at all). Nobody was spammed in the process… it’s the basic "pay it forward" concept. Similar scripts are also used on all the e-card sites and viral flash games and videos.

    Now… the friend who just received the invitation has not been added to ANY lists (and Aweber still has nothing to do with the process). This friend can choose to take up their friend on the recommendation and can click through to visit the website where they can CHOOSE to opt-in (again, standard double-optin from a squeeze page). At this point, and this point only… once they willingly opted it because they find value in the offer presented on the website… they would be added to the full mailing list.

    I hope that clarifies the confusion.

    It’s pretty tough to accept that encouraging subscribers to forward messages to their friends (who did NOT request information) is a suggested tactic while having a form do this exact same thing is spam.

    Rob Toth

    3/3/2007 8:21 pm
  7. J.R.

    I’ve just read your TAF post where you say that this method is spamming because it sends email to a friend, yet in this very post you ask people to send an invitation to our friends for your newsletter.

    Here’s the example:

    ===================================================================
    If you know someone who could benefit from this, feel free to forward it to them!

    Not a subscriber yet? Like what you’ve read? Sign
    up to get future issues delivered straight to you:

    http://www.example.com

    Until next time!
    ===================================================================

    3/4/2007 10:46 am
  8. I completely understand and agree that automatically signing people up to an autoresponder list is a no-no.

    However, your explanation makes it sound as if any form of Tell-A-Friend is spam, even if no list subscription takes place.

    Let’s take Scenario One, where John fills out a TAF form where he sends a message to three of his friends: Peter, Mary, and Margaret. Yes, they did not ask for the message to be sent to them. However, the message is coming from their friend, John.

    Now take Scenario Two, where John crafts a message in Outlook because he wants to tell three of his friends about something cool that he found. So, he sends the message to the same three of his friends: Peter, Mary, and Margaret. Same as above, they did not ask for the message to be sent to them. And, the message is also coming from John.

    Why, according to your description, would Scenario One be spam and Scenario Two would not be spam? The only real difference is the email server that sent the message.

    I can understand your rationale if the Scenario One message arrives at the recipient with your (site owner) as the sender. However, some of the TAF software sends the message so that the sender is the friend, John in this case.

    In addition, the more properly thought out TAF software options out there only gives one the option to subscribe the referring friend (John) to any list. Once again, I agree one shouldn’t do that without the explicit agreement of John. However, if you have a check box where John can check off to indicate his desire to be also subscribed to your list, would that still be undesired use?

    I think you can clear up part of any potential confusion by clearly stating that "any email messages sent to them FROM YOUR AWEBER LIST would be unsolicited".

    3/4/2007 5:08 pm
  9. Murray Johnson

    Good for you Aweber !! I have seen several of these forms come across my screen, and I just click them off. One was from someone that I had trusted in the past, but not anymore. I try not to buy anything from a company or individual that even suggests spamming. Thanks for your efforts.
    Murray

    3/5/2007 12:37 am
  10. How is it against the TOS if all emails from the TAF script sends an email from my local sendmail on my server to the friend, who then has to click a link to visit my website, at which point they are then given the option of signing up just like any other person who comes to my site?

    3/5/2007 1:06 am
  11. Nick

    Thank you for putting this post into your Blog.

    I have been looking at the Viral Friend Generator and have been thinking "so what’s the catch?" and now I know.

    You saved me time and money on something that you can do effectively and honestly with what I’ve already got i.e. Aweber!

    Thanks

    3/5/2007 6:34 am
  12. I understand your point regarding the Tell a Friend form. I’ll share my point:

    You guys know i left the competition after 3 years of service. One of the features I liked was the ability to track everything. We could tracked exactly who clicked what and who sentv what.

    As marketers we are constantly tracking the efectiveness of our campaigns. That way we know what works, what doesnt and what needs to be improved. Just like the awesome Split Test features you guys have.

    But tracking the effectiveness of a Tell a Friend form is an important part of our word to mouth campaigns. Which we use as Case Studies for our clients. Which in return benefits Aweber because we use it as another way to recommend you.

    Aweber should implement a simple Tell a Friend form which is only sent once and no way for the owner of the list to know the email and name of the person receiving the message.

    Thanks for reading me.

    3/5/2007 8:07 am
  13. Aroy

    But I can always tell my friends to check out a website and TAF is the easiest way to do it. Do I have to take permission from my friends to send them mails ? I don’t think so. This not spam? When I recommend a site to my friends, I know what I am doing and it is between us friends.

    3/5/2007 9:53 am
  14. Kenny Lindsay

    Dear Aweber,

    The ironic thing about your decision is that there have been people using Tell A Friend Scripts for years that are on the spammy side and yet there have been no restrictions made against it. Hotmail & Google just to name a few have made their online empires in no small part to the use of TAF.

    Now Mike Filsaime releases one of the most clean and SPAM Free TAF Scripts and then it gets banned by you.

    I find it really disappointing since I know that Mike has put a lot of effort into the product and that it is definitely not spam.

    I hope that you will reconsider your position with regard to this issue.

    3/5/2007 10:32 am
  15. As is evident by the comments here and in threads on other forums
    around the net, this post has met with a bit of controversy. I wanted
    to provide a bit of clarification and more detail about why our policy
    forbids them and why we believe that TAF forms are dangerous.

    * Technical aspects:

    TAF forms in nearly all instances work the same way. A website visitor
    sees your TAF form and types in 1-3 different "friend’s" email addresses.
    The website itself uses a script or some other backend program to
    physically send those emails on the visitors behalf to the "friends"
    that have been entered. Those emails are physically sent from the
    website owners machine and not the friend themselves.

    This is most frequently where trouble is found. Since the emails
    originate from the website and not the friend, any complaints or
    spam as a result of that form are the website owners responsibility.
    As such, any other services being used by that website owner on
    the mentioned website fall into the scope of the spam complaints.
    Thus, using an AWeber form on sites with TAF forms puts AWeber at
    risk of spam support services. That’s a very, very bad thing if
    you’re trying to maintain top email deliverability.

    * Others are doing it, why can’t I?

    If you’re driving 100mph on the freeway and get pulled over, the
    officer is going to laugh if you try to tell him he shouldn’t give
    you a ticket because others were going 100mph as well. If you have
    your ear to the heartbeat of the email, ISP, and deliverability world
    you would hear a huge grumbling about the myriad of social networking
    sites and the vast quantities of complaints generated from emails
    of this type. Many of those sites suffer deliverability issues due
    to this type of email communication.

    * Bottom line:

    It’s your business, your reputation, your website, and your
    ultimate decision on how you market your business. Whether you use
    TAF forms or not is a decision you need to make in how you would like
    to promote your business. The issue comes in the services that you
    use along with your website and business. While TAF forms being
    spam or not spam depending on where the email originates is open
    to debate, the truth is that it is entirely debatable and therefor
    risky. That risk is not something we’re willing to bear for a
    small minority of our customers when it comes to the bigger picture
    of providing a rock solid, responsible opt-in email marketing
    platform with top email deliverability.

    We simply ask that if you use AWeber, you not use TAF in connection
    with marketing a website containing AWeber opt-in forms.

    I’ve spent nearly 9 years in this industry and seen a lot of things.
    We try to use our experience and judgment to help educate and keep
    customers out of potential troubles that could have a long lasting
    impact upon their business. This is one area where in our previous
    experiences has been fraught with issues and problems. It’s not
    something that we see "potential" issues with, it’s one that we’ve
    already seen issues with ex-customers on.

    Just trying to save you from experiencing those same issues.

    3/5/2007 10:50 am | Follow me on Twitter
  16. Sorry Aweber but I think you have got it wrong this time. Please carefully examine the scripts again and note how they work and at what point the opt-in to the aweber list actually occurs and who is doing the opt-in.

    As many have posted above, the TAF scripts are simply that – just a form providing an opportunity for a one-time email to some friend(s). There’s no adding them to a list without their permission.

    The TAF scripts are asking for the SENDER’s email and name, so it’s not as if it’s coming unsolicited from an unknown person.

    If the TAF scripts did some sort of cloaked subscriber signup in the background or added the recipient email addresses to some spam database then yes you are correct. But the ones I’ve seen don’t do this.

    I think you need to check this out further.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    3/5/2007 11:04 am
  17. Tom,

    You said in your comment, "We simply ask that if you use AWeber, you not use TAF in connection with marketing a website containing AWeber opt-in forms."

    Are you really saying that a website owner cannot have any form of TAF anywhere on his/her website if they have an Aweber opt-in form anywhere else on the same website? Even if the TAF form does not at all subscribe or attempt to subscribe people to an Aweber list, and the TAF form and Aweber opt-in form have nothing in common, except for appearing on the same website?

    3/5/2007 11:04 am
  18. Just adding to my previous comment.

    If your concern is the presence of an Aweber opt-in form on a website that might (or might not) be accused of spamming techniques, then you have just loaded yourself with the responsibility of banning Aweber opt-in forms on any website that contains a vulnerable contact form, which could be exploited by spammers, amongst other things.

    My opinion is that you are opening a huge can of worms for yourself with this one. It appears as if you are telling website owners what they can and cannot have on their websites if they want to have an Aweber opt-in form on their site. To be consistent, if you feel it is within your rights to do this, then you have to compile a mile long list of other "things" that a site owner also cannot have on his/her site.

    The point that many are making, and I still cannot understand how it can be seen as spam, is that with a reputable and properly written TAF form, the friend INITIATES the action of sending the email to his/her friends, and the email is addressed to others from their friend, not from the website owner or any other email address. He/she is simply using a convenient service provided by the website owner.

    We all agree that subscribing people to an Aweber list without their express action/request must not be done. But what you have said has taking this discussion far beyond that point.

    3/5/2007 11:31 am
  19. Dewald,

    * How TAF forms can be seen as spam:

    A visitor comes to your site and enters someone elses email address into
    a form which you as the site owner then email with information about
    your site. That information was not requested and is being sent
    on behalf of a 3rd party. The friend didn’t request information
    from you and you have no way of authenticating if that person even
    is a friend to begin with.

    It’s one thing if a person emails their friend directly from their
    own computer and tells them about your website. It’s another thing
    entirely when you as the site owner are sending that email on behalf
    of the friend. The chain of responsibility is different and it
    opens you, your webhost, and any other service used on that site
    to spam complaints.

    Opt-in is all about permission. A 3rd party friend can not give you
    permission to email someone else.

    3/5/2007 11:47 am | Follow me on Twitter