It's so, so tempting sometimes.

Someone doesn't respond to your email, you email them again. Days go by, and still no response. "Did you see my previous emails?"

YES, I WAS IGNORING THEM. PLEASE STOP.

There was a while there when it felt like we couldn't escape from LinkedIn emails. Someone would send a connection request with no context, and I'd look at it. Maybe I'd remember where I knew this person from later. That name sounds vaguely familiar. Hmm. Oh well, I have stuff to do. I'll leave it pending and deal with it later.

Like many people, I also have a few email addresses. Different people have had different versions over the years. Not all have been connected with LinkedIn. So when an email was sent to those, it was asking me to join LinkedIn. And asking me again. And again. I'm not sure how many times.

And that's why LinkedIn has settled a class-action lawsuit about its spammy emailing ways. LinkedIn was so aggressive in sending reminder emails to people who weren't even part of the network that they got ticked off enough to sue. (Find out if you're eligible to be a part of that action - but basically, if you used "find my connections" between Sept. 17, 2011, and Oct. 31, 2014, you're eligible.)

It probably seemed like a great way to build their user base at the time. From sheer numbers, maybe it even worked. I don't know. But it doesn't matter. It didn't work because then people got so annoyed that they weren't ever going to join LinkedIn, no matter what.

So how can you build your network or user base without resorting to such tactics?

Spam no inbox.

If someone hasn't subscribed to your newsletter or signed up for your platform, you shouldn't be emailing this person. If someone attended an event, it's perfectly acceptable to send this person a thank-you note and offer a link to use to subscribe to the newsletter or sign up for your service. But unless this person opts in for your emails beyond that, stop right there.

Services such as UnrollMe, SaneBox, Mailbox and more have sprung up over the last several years to help people regain control of their email. The need is so vast that Gmail even has built-in filters to extract newsletters and other automated emails from the main inbox.

If people actually do want your newsletter, they'll subscribe and they will open your email. Provide value and make it super-easy to opt out. People remember when it takes multiple steps to opt out of an automated email. They also remember when it doesn't. Just because someone doesn't want to get email from you doesn't mean they don't know other people who do. And maybe, just maybe, if you aren't a jerk, that person will recommend you despite not subscribing to you.

Opt-in, never opt-out

People are sick to death of the opt-out nature of everything. When they are asked to opt-in, instead, it's such a breath of fresh air that they remember this. They appreciate this. Some might even opt in just because you asked, even if they weren't sure they really wanted the newsletter. OK, sorry, let's not get crazy. But still, people will appreciate you treating them like people.

If you require opt-out, people get annoyed. "I didn't sign up for this!" "Why do I have to opt-out?"

I see messages like that on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere all the time. People don't want to have to do something to get rid of you when they didn't ask you into their inbox in the first place.

Treat people with respect

If you treat people like, well, people, they might regard you as something less than a jerk. Provide value to them. Don't send an email when you have nothing to say.

You know, all of the above really boil down to this last one: Treat people with respect.

The last thing you want is to find yourself at the business end of a class-action lawsuit. Or at the other end of the "delete" button.

Published on: Oct 5, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.