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.

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.

zero tolerance social media

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on the receiving end of Peter Shankman’s thrice daily HARO email blast.

I think it’s great — on many levels. I have functioned as a source for a few reporters doing marketing and/or business stories. But I really enjoy HARO more as a great example of how the web2.o (sorry) economy functions and how that new economy is sometimes a threat to the mainstream establishment. Like a typical web2.0 (sorry) service, HARO is free — both to reporters and sources. And that’s a problem to HARO’s old school competitor, PR Newswire. It’s a great case study of the conflict between the economies especially when Shankman and PR Newswire head David Weiner have discussions in public comments about their businesses.

But even with all that, what I enjoy most about Shankman and the HARO are his reprimands and banishments for the good of the list. You can imagine that publishing email addresses and phone numbers for reporters at major media outlets to a public list of over 24,000 sources would be like crack cocaine for PR flunkies who enjoy spamming and pitching irrelevant topics to those reporters. But if someone steps over that line, Shankman severely punishes the offenders. Take the lead of tonight’s HARO for example:

Hey listen – I hate to bring this up again, but it would see that WOW Public Relations, specifically Nan Murray and Chris Burres, continue to SPAM HARO reporters. Now, I know for a fact that I’ve kicked them off the list, but for whatever reason, these people don’t get it. Here’s the problem: They continue to spam on behalf of their client, [redacted] – I’ve talked to [redacted], and he’s told them to stop, yet WOW public relations continues to SPAM reporters. So, if you get an unsolicited email from them, know that they’re not welcome on HARO, ever. I’d never, ever work with them, nor would I ever recommend them. I personally have added @[redacted] to my killfile, and you all might want to consider doing the same. It’s sad – some people just continue to do the wrong thing, despite being told repeatedly why it’s wrong.
[Edited: Peter said he thought he was too harsh on the client in the next morning’s HARO and has asked me to omit the client’s name.]

I’ve noticed that these outings and banishments happen rarely. But there’s usually an uptick after a massive influx of new members. (Shankman got a plug from Seth Godin earlier this month — so now is a tumultuous time.)

Shankman warns offenders, but some don’t listen (see above) and face the consequences. It’s very much like the first week in a prison or boot camp, learn the rules or face the wrath.

Look on the web and you’ll see a lot of criticism of his tough stance. I think some of that has been generated by the PR establishment or people who have been on the receiving end of a public lashing. But Shankman’s zero tolerance policy is necessary. For HARO to work or even exist, he needs the trust and respect of the reporters. They have seen he means business.

The problem with the web being open for anyone is that the web is open for anyone. Anytime we see a major step forward with communication, the snake-oil folks show up with viruses, spam, and other noisy junk. I wonder if email spam would have gotten to its current critical mass if people could have punished those who abused the system.

While you hear alot from web2.o evangelists about the goodness of open source / cluetrain / kum-bah-ya / feelgood communication, it needs to be remembered that there will always be people who will take advantage of the system. And that needs to be accounted for. Shankman’s HARO is a good example of how the community can deal with it.

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.

call me – or not

People are discovering the Do Not Call List has an expiration date.

And telemarketers are ready to pounce.

But here’s the thing that someone with common sense would understand:
If someone didn’t want to be marketed to 5 years ago, they probably still don’t today.

Organizations that think things like the do-not-call list, and email unsubscibes are a hurdle are also organizations who like to waste money and resources by trying to market to people who have stated they are not interested.

A smart marketer understands that by only talking to those who have expressed an interest to listen makes your marketing ROI go way up.

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.

I wonder what they call it in Hawaii

“We want to be a household name.”

That may be the wish of some businesses. But be careful what you wish for. Ask the folks at Kleenex, Xerox, Google, Reynolds Wrap, Windex…who became “household names” and the brand became a verb/noun for a generic item.

That’s bad. And sometimes it gets worse.

Hormel Foods has lost a bid to trademark the the name of it’s own product. It seems Spam is no longer spam.

Perhaps Hormel Foods could develop a email marketing campaign to educate the public that the gelatinous meat was first. They could send it un-solicited. It would be Spam spam.

(sing it with Monty Python’s vikings…)

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