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A True Horror Story for Email List Marketers

by Vince Emery

Email lists are one of the most productive ways you can market in any medium. Email announcement lists and emailed newsletters are faster and cheaper to produce than Websites and often generate more results. In my experience, email discussion groups always generate a stronger response than chat or forum features on Websites. (Not sometimes--always.)

However, like everything else in life, every silver lining has a cloud. People on the Internet get upset when you send them unsolicited email, so you must go to the work of asking for names to build your list of email subscribers. And sometimes people forget that they signed up for your list and get angry anyways.

Which leads to the problem described by Phil Scanlan in the email message below, and two solutions:

To: Vince Emery
From: Phil Scanlan
Subject: Ouch that hurts


I just got stung bad and thought I would let you know about it.

People can visit our site and sign up for our various mailing lists.
Unfortunately, some people forget they have signed up. Most of the
lists are not terribly active, say one message a month.

So whenever we send a message, we always get one bright spark who
forgets he asked to be put on the mailing list.

The other thing you should know is I do not have access to the list
server to turn it off. Only our webmaster does, who is away.

So I shot off a message to the list the other day reminding people
to update their entries in our IT&T catalog.

One person who had signed up when he visited our site and forgotten
about it took offence at receiving what he thought was an uninvited
message. So he sent the same message complaining about receiving my
message 30 times to the mailing list. Yes, everyone on the list got
the 30 messages.

That prompted 2 other people to forward it back to the list, one 10
times and the other about 15 times. (These numbers are very rough.)

So now everybody on the list had received 40-50 messages and started
emailing the list asking people to stop, abusing me, or asking to be
taken off the list.

So you can see the situation got quickly out of control.

Through all this, I realized how valuable a standard message like the
one below would have been at the top of my message.

> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This is a PostMaster Direct mailing list!  To unsubscribe from this list,
> forward this entire message to
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------

At least it would have made it easy for people who did not know the
unsubscribecommands to get off the list and saved them mailing the list
(compounding the problem) asking to be taken off.

I think this is what you call getting older and wiser.

Phil Scanlan
Senior Export Officer
Information Industries Board
Brisbane, Australia
Export advice and assistance for Queensland technology companies.

Mr. Scanlan's crisis parallels a similar true horror story on page 344 of How to Grow Your Business on the Internet. His tip about adding a message is a good one. By giving the unsubscription information right up front, complainers are given a channel to respond to. I have seen other email lists start with a message that actually says "You have subscribed to the Xyz list." This reminds the bright sparks who have forgotten.

In addition to providing reminders, you can prevent these crises from happening to you by properly securing your email list software. So you don't get angry outsiders sending hate email to your entire list, most email list software has the ability to restrict who can send out messages. Usually it's a switch called something like "Post by owner" so only your email list's owner can send messages. Another option called "Post by editor" lets people you define as editors send messages, but nobody else can. If you use a list, be sure you secure your list before some angry subscriber makes you get "older and wiser," as Mr. Scanlan's did.