It is hard to believe how many small businesses try to collect their customers’ email addresses and social networking contact information during face to face contact at their retail outlets, only to realize that all their time and effort results in nothing more than a hard bouncing email and non-existent Facebook account.

There are five primary ways to glean a customer’s contact data in any other way than having the customer directly key that info into an online subscription form… and each and every one of them is a fool’s errand:

1. Guestbook or Self-Registration – Out of all the misbegotten ways to obtain online contact information, this one has to be the worst. Placing a form whereby your customers can write in their own email addresses, Facebook identifiers, Twitter accounts, etc. is a total loss strategy. Most people these days can only scrawl illegibly, so you’ll spend the rest of your days trying to figure out all the possible permutations of what looks like

2. Checkout Registration via Staff – This is only mildly more acceptable than having your customer jot down their email address in crayon. In this process the customer spells out their email address to your personnel at the checkout counter and then the entire address is spelled back to them to ensure that it’s accurate. As soon as you get, the next person in line is ensured to check out with their Christmas presents by Valentine’s Day.

3. Extrapolate Their Facebook Name – This one is a “winning” strategy if there ever was one. At last count there were 17,204 john.smith names on Facebook and 129,369 jsmith names. Good luck finding the John Smith who bought your last widget. Also keep in mind that even though Facebook has been trying hard to squash the nicknames, there are still millions of people on the social network who are not using their legal first and last names.

4. Tie a Quota or Incentive to Staff Collection – A truly genius ploy. You can reward your staff with cash or paid time off correlated to the number of email addresses and social media identifiers that they can collect. Maybe you can even give a flatscreen TV or a trip to the Bahamas to the top collector of the month! You’ll gain thousands of email addresses this way, with the vast majority guaranteed to have been made up by the employee who wants to beat the others for the prize.

5. Offer a Cash Incentive to the Customer – If you provide your email address, we’ll give you $10! A tenner is certainly well worth it to gain the email address of a customer, right? Not exactly, as any customer can just sign up for 20 hotmail or yahoo email accounts in about as many minutes and then walk away with your $200. If you have a chain of stores they can make a career out of milking you dry going from one to the next and dropping off a different useless email address at each checkout counter.

Since the collection of the email and online contact info is next to impossible to perform accurately and reliably at the point of sale, there is no substitute for the creation and implementation of a proper and functional email and social media contact information collection form on your website.

You can link to it from your email newsletters as well as all of your social networking presences, and then you can feel free to offer valuable incentives, motivations and rewards in exchange for real and verifiable contact data. Double opt-in allows the subscriber to respond to a confirmation email sent to the contact they have listed, and serves as legitimate proof of subscription request.

You are guaranteed to receive more usable customer online contact information in this manner and you won’t be staying up nights trying to decipher what 2#5p]fR51x@l&p3wq4.6om really is!