list buildingLinkedIn is a great place to network and form business connections. But used incorrectly for list building, you can quickly become a pariah – and get into hot water with the Federal Trade Commission.

Unlike other social media sites, LinkedIn allows you to download your contacts’ email addresses. You may have thought about uploading them into your business CRM software to use for email solicitation.

Or maybe you’ve already done it.

If so, you are spamming. Spamming is illegal. Unless you have been given permission for someone’s email to be added to your list, you are violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, a law enforced by the FTC.

What can happen to illegal list builders

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Just imagine if you send out a mailing of 1,000 illegally obtained email addresses – you could very efficiently go bankrupt in an afternoon!

There’s more to the CAN-SPAM Act than just getting permission to email – things like giving email recipients an easy opt-out link, honoring the opt-out request quickly, telling recipients where you’re located – read the whole list. If you’re using a commercial email fulfillment program such as Mailchimp, Constant Contact or Hubspot, they’ve got you covered on those requirements. If you start sending mass email from your own email client, not only are you probably violating your Internet provider’s rules, but you’re more than likely not following best practices regarding spam (not to mention, it’s a terribly inefficient way to send email blasts).

Frankly, the chance of prosecution is fairly low for spamming. You’ll more than likely not get in trouble with the FTC, unless you do it on a massive scale. Prosecution has been limited to the worst offenders, so being charged is not your biggest concern.

Don’t screw over your contacts

No, your biggest concern is violating the trust and privacy of your LinkedIn contacts. When you form connections with other people on LinkedIn, they are for business networking; they are not for list building. Just as with anyone else, you may not add them to a list WITHOUT PERMISSION.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve accepted connections with many people on LinkedIn that I don’t know. In fact, I have more than 5,000 connections in my LinkedIn network, making it impossible for me to know more than a small percentage.

Recently one of my LinkedIn connections added me to their list without asking and sent me an email about her new book. There was no indication in the email that we were connected in any way. The headline on the email said the purpose of the email was to “celebrate” with her friends and contacts the overcoming of a difficult time in her life and the resulting book she was publishing about that experience.

I politely replied that I didn’t know the sender, that she didn’t have my permission to email me and to please remove me from her list. She responded that perhaps I didn’t recognize her, but that we were connected on LinkedIn. I emailed back and explained the CAN-SPAM law to her. That didn’t satisfy her, and after a few more nonconciliatory exchanges, I ended up removing the connection on LinkedIn.

This is not the result you want when you are marketing! And yet, this is what happens when you send unsolicited email to people. They are not happy to see your promotional material – regardless of how wonderful the product or service – if they didn’t choose YOU. If they didn’t invite YOU into their email box, you don’t get to invite yourself! It’s that simple!

How to use LinkedIn correctly for list building

So, how do you get invited to the party using LinkedIn? Let me count the ways:

1) When you invite someone to connect with you on LinkedIn – or when you are invited to connect – don’t just use the default message. Write and save your own “default message” to share, and then personalize it somewhat for each person. Your message should include a comment about why you want to connect to the person – perhaps you know someone in common or you’re in the same organization or career field. Then, invite the person to download a piece of your free content, subscribe to your blog or newsletter and/or join your LinkedIn group.

2) You can message up to 50 of your contacts at a time in LinkedIn. Send them a message periodically offering them a free ebook or white paper they have to sign up to download. (Hint: If you have an assistant/VA, this is a terrific task to delegate.) When someone fills out a form on your site requesting a free download, they are giving you permission to add them to your mailing list. Another thing you might do is message them with a link to an interesting blog article and ask them to sign up for your blog and/or newsletter.

3) If you own a LinkedIn group, you can send weekly announcements to your entire group, regardless of the size. I have a group with more than 500 members, which means I can send one message to 500 LinkedIn contacts at a time weekly. This provides a platform where I can invite people to download my content, join my mailing list, find me on social media – whatever I want to do that is enhancing the overall group value. Obviously, you need to tread lightly on being too self-promotional or you will lose group members, but done with discretion, you have the ability to grow your list significantly using groups. The way to do this is to send your group content that is relevant to the group topic and provide links to material on your site where they can find more information. Those links could be to ebooks behind firewalls where they will have to provide their email addresses.

4) Promote your blog and other content on LinkedIn business pages. You do have a business page on LinkedIn, right?

5) Post links to your blog on your profile and in appropriate groups to which you belong. Make sure you have a highly visible blog sign-up box on your website, as well as a call-to-action at the end of every blog post that links to a landing page where you’ve got premium content such as an ebook, white paper, check list, template, drip email campaign or some other goodie that your visitors will value and for which they will gladly trade their contact information.

There you have it! Five rock-solid, legal ways to grow your email list that will not make your LinkedIn contacts sorry they invited you to go cyber-steady. What about you? Can you think of other ways to use LinkedIn to get sign-ups for your list? Share them in the comment section below.

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This post was previously published on The Buzz Factoree Blog.