It’s every e-mail marketer’s worst nightmare. Maybe it’s someone who contacted your firm to lodge a complaint. Maybe it’s a client whose relationship with your firm ended on bad terms. Maybe it’s someone you sued. You don’t know exactly how they ended up on the list, but they did. You sent them an innocuous e-mail update from your firm. And they were not happy about receiving e-mail they didn’t ask for. They’ve marked you as SPAM. They’ve lodged a complaint with your e-mail marketing platform. They’ve e-mailed your boss. Despite your best efforts, some of the damage they’ve caused can’t be undone. There’s a reason it takes a long time to ensure a list is “clean” — that is, only contains contacts who have given implicit or explicit permission to be contacted by your firm. When you’re a small firm, often your e-mail marketer is not the holder of that knowledge: your firm’s employees are. And to get them to effectively transfer that knowledge can be tricky, because employees almost certainly don’t understand the consequences of mistakes. The fallout can damage not just your productivity, but your long-term marketing efforts. The following consequences are by no means exhaustive — but they are more common than you’d think.
1) Your e-mail marketing platform freezes or removes your account.
This is the most straightforward consequence: if you get too many abuse complaints, most major e-mail marketing platforms (Constant Contact, MailChimp, Vertical Response, and Mad Mimi, to name a few) will freeze or close your account. Often the next step is a time-consuming account review, but the process may not work out to your liking: if you can’t demonstrate permission to their satisfaction, they may decide you are in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act and shut down your account — permanently. You’ll lose your templates, your data on past campaigns, and (worst of all) your list.
2) The wrong people are held accountable.
When your marketers are the ones who send the e-mail, it’s easy to assume they’re the ones who made the mistake and sent the e-mail to the wrong people. While that can occasionally happen — oh no, we sent an e-mail about our Construction Services to our Restoration list! — the consequences are mostly embarrassing. Those users have opted to be on your e-mail list, so a quick e-mail acknowledging the error will fix it. When a user’s e-mail address is incorrectly submitted to a list, it should be tracked back to the source who submitted it. To blame your marketers will cause frustration and resentment, because it’s likely they were communicating very clearly about what contacts were appropriate to add. Plus, it won’t address the source of the problem. If your employee exports their entire Outlook mailbox and says “add this to our marketing e-mails” — they’re doing you much more harm than good.
3) Worst of all: You’re blacklisted.
This one is the hardest for non-marketers to understand, because it’s more technical: but it’s also the most damaging consequence. When a certain percentage of recipients mark you as SPAM, you are at risk for being blacklisted — that is, added to a list of senders whose e-mails are simply not accepted by an ISP (such as Google or Hotmail). It can also happen if you send “spammy” content — think lots of exclamation points, big flashing text, etc. Because blacklists are not maintained publicly, you may not even be aware of it. And there’s nothing you can do to get “de-blacklisted” once you’re on the list. The threshold to end up on a blacklist is very small: usually .5% or less. (That means if your list is 1000 people, it only takes 5 spam reports on a campaign to blacklist you.) Blacklists usually roll over every few years, but the meantime there are hundreds or thousands of people who aren’t receiving your e-mails — and there’s nothing you can do about it once the damage has been done.
So what can you do? Be proactive and don’t let things get that far.
When in doubt, get explicit permission.
Don’t send to people you assume might be interested in hearing from your firm. Instead, have employees e-mail their contacts inviting them to opt-in to the e-mail form on your website.
Triple clean your lists — every time.
Don’t trust that someone who sends you an e-mail marketing list knows how important it is not to make a mistake. Have marketers take the first and last pass at making sure the list is up to standards. Make sure if an employee sends you a list you’re following an opt-in process, not an opt-out process: they’re marking people they know have agreed to receive e-mails, rather than “removing problem names.” Your list will be smaller, but it will be higher-quality.
Trust your marketers.
If they refuse to add names to the list or have questions about your source, there’s probably a good reason. Ask them about it — and trust them when they say the reason is complicated. If you want an explanation, be prepared to spend some time learning about the technical aspects of e-mail marketing. It’s not all GIFs and memes out here.
Elissa Y. Schufman has a passion for efficiency — she enjoys the challenge of achieving goals with limited resources and time. She develops deep relationships, continually implements best practices, and perpetually explores new ideas. As a project manager for PSM, Elissa ensures constant progress and focuses on achieving the client’s goals. She loves timelines and deadlines. Her diverse skillset was honed in the nonprofit industry, where Elissa specialized in creating web and print marketing materials with a focus on ensuring measurable results. She is experienced in e-mail communications, copywriting and copy editing, website design, social media, CRM management, and graphic design. Elissa graduated from DePauw University with a B.A. in English Writing and Spanish Language, and has lived in Spain and Japan. She likes bicycling, books, and harvesting the vegetables she grows in her back yard.