are you a spammer?

People tend to think of spammers as shady dudes sending emails about questionable manhood pills and Nigerian fortunes, but there are lots of ‘legitimate’ business owners who are email spammers.

It’s because of one of the primary marketing sins of many business owners — “I think my business is interesting, valuable, needed, etc — so therefore everyone does.”

A few weeks ago, I had answered an inquiry from an owner of a speakers’ bureau about my speaking services. We traded a few emails. It didn’t go anywhere. I thought we were done. This morning, I crack my email open and find I’ve been added to their email newsletter that I had never asked for. Looking back through the correspondence, I now think this woman just trolls LinkedIn looking for people to add to a list.

Do you have an email subscription list? Here’s the simple rule:
If you add someone to a email list and they haven’t specifically asked to be placed on that list, then you are a spammer.

The basic definition of SPAM is email that you did not ask to receive.

If you’re adding people to the list who don’t care – or even worse if you’re buying names to add, then you’re wasting time, attention, and money and slowly destroying your reputation. Don’t do it.

An email list that is not opt-in is like sending pizzas to people who didn’t order one.

This is not a hard thing to understand. Permission marketing works better than force feeding. It’s better to have an audience of 50 that want to listen than to have an audience of 50,000 that don’t care and never will. It’s not about numbers; it’s about the relationships.

electing the best spammers

The people who seem to be the most clueless about communication are incumbent politicians.

And the area that they seems to be the most clueless about is opt-in/opt-out communication of any kind. Initiate any contact with them and you’re added to their snail and email mailing lists — whether you want to be added or not.

Today’s example: Take a look at the end of this e-survey form from a member of my state’s congressional delegation:

Politicians are the worst spammers.
Do or die. Opt in is not an option.

The cynic in me says that constiuent input is not really wanted here and it’s just an underhanded way to populate a database. After all, I’m used to members of Congress trying to scam me.

But I like this Congressman and think he’s a good guy. And he actually does a really good job getting out and making personal one-on-one connections with people in the district. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn’t know that opt-in communications are not only much more effective for the sender, but are also just the right thing to do.

It’s basic e-communication 101 and anyone with any common sense should know it, but politicians seem to be blissfully ignorant.

But think about this. These ham handed / bone headed moves are done by the same people who are making big decisions that affect every aspect of your life. Sleep well.

your company’s looming social media disaster

Think about if you’ve met any of these cutting edge people…

  • Remember when the Macarena came out? You probably danced it at some public gathering for the few weeks it was popular. Then it went away. And then a few months later, you were at a gathering and a person played the song and thought they were on the hip cutting edge.
  • Someone in your organization just discovered the concept of viral video.
  • Has someone in the last year or so asked you if you were gettin’ jiggy with it?
  • You get chain emails from them that were debunked on snopes.com years ago.

You’ve met these people, right?
These people are currently signing up for Facebook and Twitter accounts.

We’re over the adoption curve hump of Facebook and we’re steadily climbing it for Twitter which means people who aren’t necessarily online competent are now using online tools.

I’m sure you have at least one friend (probably more) on Facebook that you’re embarrassed FOR them because they post inappropriate things, spam you with requests, don’t realize that their friends can see their conversations/posts, etc. They’re new to the space, and still learning the ropes until they find out the proper etiquette.

For as much as the online world is an open-source / free-wheeling / anything-goes community, we all know there are rules…many of them unwritten ones. The community generally supports, instructs, or ignores individual newcomers when these “rules” are broken. (ALL CAPS, spam, chain emails, etc)

But that only goes for individuals. When a company / organization steps out into the water, it’s expected that they know how to swim. And that same supporting community for individuals becomes a lynch mob for corporate entities who make even minor mistakes. You’ve seen it happen.

And just as there are individuals who are laggards to the social media party, there are now companies who see the train passing by and figure they better get on — even if they don’t know what they are doing.

I am not saying that there is a “right way” to do social media. As I once tweeted

how to spot a true “social media expert” — google their name and the phrase “NO, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!

But if your employees are venturing out onto social networks and are carrying the mantle of your organization, they need to at least understand the basics of social media and somewhat be cognizant of the “online rules”. Anything else is just asking for a disaster.

Many companies don’t see this looming disaster because they just see small numbers of customers engaging in social media with the organization and don’t understand the deep implications of making a mistake there. Remember this: Your email list, facebook fans, twitter followers, etc are some of your most important customers. These are the people who have stood up and said I WANT to engage with your company. They are the 20% of the 80/20 rule.

Why are you leaving this important group with the interns or inexperienced employees who have no idea how to talk to them?

no thanks

So I get this email from a major organization that you’re well aware of —

….we’ve received inquiries from [redacted] members who are wondering about the reports they are receiving from [redacted], Inc. We put together a short FAQ to answer your questions about this free service, at…

I can imagine the meeting that precipitated this email. Why are people emailing us complaining about this list? Why are our emails getting blacklisted?

I don’t care how valuable you think your information is.
I don’t care how much you think I need it.
If you place me on an email list that I didn’t ask to be on, then you’re spamming me.

cyprus snail spam

I’ve been getting alot of pitches lately in the inbox. (You know, because I’m such an A-lister.) But while the spinmeisters sending the email are working hard to find marketing/business blogs, they’re not putting much effort into the actual pitches. Instead of the stale monotony of a data merge form email, it’s typically the stale monotony of a perky intern trying to garner my goodwill.

Most of the time, you can tell they’ve never visited the blog because they’ve gotten some basic obvious fact about me or the blog wrong — or because the product they’re pitching is not even related to the topics I normally cover. But, of course, most pr and ad agencies make money on efforts not results. Some agency or marketing firm has blown smoke up some client’s oriface by ensuring that they can get blog coverage of thier product, book, etc so they just spam every blogger hoping to strike one eventually. (look! we can work the social media web2.0 buzzword train!)

I’m used to it in the email inbox, but not my postal one. Imagine my surprise today when I open my spider-infested mailbox and I have a letter from Cyprus, the small eastern Mediterranean island country where they like to center-justify their address fields.

The letter inside is a pitch for some dvd training system for speakers and lost me after about the first paragraph. But I opened it and looked at it (which is an essential step in any direct marketing campaign).

I suggest all these PR agencies trying to get blog coverage start doing this. Instead of setting up a bunch of interns in a cubicle farm and spamming bloggers, why not send them all to an island nation (Malta, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago) and have them send us postal pitches?

It might work.

(and btw — I am always looking for something to write/blog about. If you have a relevant well thought out pitch and want to reach my millions billions of engaged readers who are all innovators and early adopters, send it along. And seriously, if you’re one of the readers who wants me to take on a topic, please email me. I’m starting to get blogger’s block.)

mediaspam

I subscribe to an industry trade that sent me the following email this weekend —

Thank you for being a Mediaweek customer. Neilsen Business Media, Mediaweek’s publisher, is committed to keeping its customers informed via email about products and services from third party advertisers that might be of interest to them. Each email will be preceded by the name of the company offering the product or service, so that you know the source and purpose of the message before opening it. If you do not wish to receive these informative emails, please register your preference by following this link…

I’m glad they’re watching out for me by making sure I’m “informed” by sending me spam.

No matter how much you think your list might like it…
Or how “informative” you think it is…
Or how much someone is greasing your pockets to let them “borrow” your list…
…if I didn’t ask for it and you send it to me, it’s spam. And you’re a spammer.

A media and marketing trade magazine should know that. Maybe they missed my pizza spam post.

Black PR

While you’re all giddy about the transparency of the new web and the rise of consumer / citizen created content, common sense should tell you that stuff like this is going to happen.

And while there’s no way to know if that specific incident on Craigslist is real (the story is probably a fake — try googling Tomkins and Scott LLC), the potential is there.

If you as one person can develop the conversation, you know that you can also alter the conversation. Just ask yourself how many times you have commented anonymously, used multiple gmail/hotmail accounts to game a site, or did anything slightly subversive to the online conversation.

Now imagine if you had resources and an organization behind you.

And as corporations and media who are used to controlling the message finally learn how the whole outfit works, this will become a problem.

Delivery

You own a pizza company.

You bake a pizza and have the delivery driver randomly pick a house out of the phone book to deliver the pizza to.

The owner of the house has to “opt-out” of the pizza delivery.

Sure, some people might be hungry and accept the pie. But can you imagine how annoying it would be to have to decline pizzas all day because there are thousands of pizza places in your town delivering like this?

And aren’t you wasting a lot of time, energy, and dough by sending out so many wasted pizzas? It would be much more efficient and productive to only deliver pizzas to people who order one. Why are you ticking off your entire market base by randomly delivering pizzas that people don’t want?

Now replace the word “pizza” with the word “email”

I’ve noticed a recent up tick in the number of legitimate companies that are adding my name to their list because they really think I want to hear from them. The emails have unsubscribe options all over them because that’s what the guy learned in the $99 email marketing seminar down at the Airport Marriott.

Just because you offer a way for people to opt-out doesn’t mean that you’re not a spammer. You’re a spammer when you send people things that they didn’t ask for.