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business tips for culture makers 54 gdpr

Business Tip for Culture Makers #54: The GDPR is Good for Consent Culture

I’ve seen a little fear and worry — and some complaining — from women entrepreneurs about the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect on May 25.

As I understand it, the GDPR means that if you’re giving away a freebie to people for joining your email list, the ‘subscribe’ button isn’t enough. You also have to have a tick box underneath saying that yes, the new subscriber consents to join the email list.

The reaction in the entrepreneur communities I’m a part of seems to be this: this requirement is overkill.

Many online entrepreneurs worry it will decrease conversions unnecessarily. They feel like it’s obvious, if you’re signing up to get a free gift, that you’re also consenting to join an email list and receive marketing email.

I disagree. I don’t feel like it’s obvious, at all.

I believe that it’s obvious to us as online entrepreneurs because this is the model and the list-building system we learned: offer a freebie in exchange for getting people on the list, market to them.

But it’s not always self-evident to people who aren’t trained in online marketing.

And accepting a free gift doesn’t mean consenting to ongoing communications.

If, for example, I accept a flower on the street in front of my house from a stranger, that does not mean she has the right to leave notes on my gate every day.

Again: Consent for one thing — a free gift —  does not mean consent to an ongoing relationship or ongoing communications.

I’ve written about this in groups, on Facebook, in newsletters, in blogposts (and previous Business Tips for Culture Makers) across the last few years. I’ve talked about in podcasts and interviews. I’ve held workshops on the topic.

I problematized the sequence for my culture-making entrepreneur clients and worked to come up with other strategies they could use — all because I believe that combined opt-in/sign-up tactic degrades the consent culture that we as culture-making entrepreneurs should be CHAMPIONING rather than undermining

I also know that free gifts subconsciously trigger reciprocity instincts in the receiver and obliges them to offer what the initiator wants. Which is why this tactic was invented and prescribed.

This tactic is arguably an abuse of reciprocity and this abuse perpetuates rape culture.

We want a culture based on consent, right?

So we have to affirm and practice consent everywhere, including our businesses.

And even our subscribe processes.

Here’s the thing. As I understand it, if the only thing you’re offering is for people to subscribe to your newsletter, then you don’t need the extra tick box.

My subscribe page, for example, doesn’t offer a gift. The only reason people ever join is to receive the newsletter. My subscribe also specifically says I’m going to send marketing material.

As I understand GDPR, I don’t need to add a tick box because there’s only one thing to consent to: receiving the newsletter.

But if you’re offering a free gift, GDPR is asking you to also make sure you have consent from the gift-receiver to be on your list, so in addition to the regular sign up button, you also need a tick box. The button we usually use refers to consent to receive the gift; the new tick box is to affirm consent to join the email list.

Yep, the 2-step process — the button and the tick box — will likely decrease conversions. Fewer people will end up joining the list.

And that’s revealing. It means they only wanted the gift, not to subscribe. They didn’t want the other thing. We didn’t have their consent.

This is an issue of consent.

What the GDPR is asking us to do is affirm consent for each specific thing we’re offering.

I’m surprised women and culture-making entrepreneurs aren’t connecting those dots and really appreciating that affirmative consent is being underlined and strengthened by regulation.

Why would we ever worry about too much consent?!

So that’s my Business Tip for Culture Makers: the GDPR arguably strengthens and enhances consent culture, and pushes each of us to increase our own personal and business standards for affirming consent.

The work we have to do now to make sure we comply with GDPR will make our businesses and our culture more consent-based.

So it’s not busy-work or unnecessary. It’s culture making work.

And #WeAreTheCultureMakers.


h/t Toi Smith and Murielle Marie for the conversations and correspondence that prompted this blog post and also to Bear Hebert for a conversation in 2017 that called this dynamic into even sharper focus

For more on reciprocity and how it can be triggered and abused in sales situations, read Dr.Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence (aff). 

For insight into how abuses of reciprocity — including in our own online businesses — facilitate rape culture, read my newsletter from 2016, here.

To see how online marketing models pervert Cialdini’s insights into our mental triggers, check this book out from the library: Launch by Jeff Walker.  (If you want the abridged version, I wrote about the relationship between Jeff Walker, ALL OF ONLINE MARKETING, and Robert Cialdini’s work trying to protect us from predation, here.)

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