By Donna Talarico, Interactive Marketing Specialist at Solid Cactus
Ah, summer. A time for interns. Like many other a business, over the years Solid Cactus has hosted many talented, hard-working interns who learned and worked with us through fall, spring and summer semesters. We love our interns. In fact, many of them have came aboard as full-time employees (some of our best at that.)
But how would you feel, as a professional business person, if you received an e-mail from a professional industry organization with the from line, “Intern04?” Last week, that appeared in my personal in-box. No name. Not even a company or general department name. Just “Intern04.” I may not have even opened the e-mail if the subject line did not clue me in that it was actually coming from a reputable source. I am not picking on interns here. Any employee at any company could have made this mistake. It could have said “Employee113.” This incident is just what sparked my idea to write this blog post. In fact, it may not have been an intern who did this. And if that is the case, someone should really be paying attention to their e-mail settings.
At any rate, “Intern04″ was not the most striking error. It gets worse. In this post, I will explain some serious problems I found with this e-mail blast from how it was sent, what was wrongly included, and what was missing.
When I opened the e-mail in Gmail, I noticed the the “to” was not just addressed to me — the standard for e-mail blasts. Instead, it started with a bunch of other e-mail addresses. Since Gmail condenses things in the viewing pane, all addresses weren’t visible. Curious, I hit “show details.”
I scrolled. And I scrolled. And I scrolled. In total, there were 914 e-mail addresses listed, one line at a time, before I could get to the message (see #4 about the message itself). This is wrong on many levels:
Problem #1: Clutter & Overkill
First off, it’s just poor etiquette to list that many addresses. Not all e-mail programs may condense the e-mail addresses like Gmail does, so if someone opens an e-mail with let’s say more than a dozen e-mail addresses, it is just a cluttered mess. This is bad practice for e-mail marketing messages, but also just as bad for personal e-mails. We’ve all received forwards from co-workers that go to everyone. Isn’t it annoying? For usual business correspondence sending something to a few co-workers, I use the TO line, maybe add a few addresses to the CC line. In general if people frequently mail whole departments at once, its commonplace to instead create group mailing lists such as “Managers,” “Sales,” and the like.
Outside of work, when I send a mass e-mail to friends I send it to myself and use the BCC. This way, I avoid cluttering up my friends’ boxes. But more importantly, I protect my friends’ e-mail addresses. I may have several groups of friends who don’t know each other (or don’t like each other), and don’t want to make those addresses readily available. Which leads me to the most critical mistake “Intern04″ made.
Problem #2: There goes your integrity!
This e-mail shared the e-mail addresses of 914 business owners. If I was unethical, I could have easily copied and pasted all of those e-mail addresses into a spreadsheet and uploaded them into my own database. I wouldn’t think of doing that. However, what if one of the other 913 people on this list weren’t as ethical? What if they did something malicious with those names? Since this particular list is geared toward businesses, all subscribers have a product or service to sell. Leads are hard to come by and this error just leaked out 914 e-mail addresses to send marketing to. That’s sensitive material. People make gobs of money selling e-mail lists (sidebar- we do not recommend purchasing lists), but this organization just GAVE AWAY those goods. Any hungry company could have gobbled up those addresses and kept them for their own. Bottom line is, as a business owner or industry organization you need to protect the integrity of your subscribers’ data. Sure, it’s not like a credit card security breach, but this incident sure can make one question the trust and authority.
Problem #3: Sending Method & Approach Way Off
Third, why did this organization even make this mistake in the first place? Why weren’t they using an e-mail software? There are so many reasons to do that, but first of all, e-mails are sent to each person individually. The days of copying and pasting e-mail addresses into Outlook or whatever e-mail program you use are over. There are CAN-SPAM rules out there. Internet Service Providers may shield their subscribers from these SPAM practices by not letting e-mails such as this above even hit the in-boxes. Smart companies use services like Constant Contact, Campaigner, and the like to send their marketing messages. When you are dealing with massive e-mail lists, you need to take your e-mail management to the next level and start using one of these services. If you aren’t, you run the risk of getting yourself blacklisted by ISPs. And not populating a name field is just lazy. “Intern04?” Come on. It’s fine for an intern to send out an e-mail, so just use their name. It’s not hard to change settings after the semester is over to put another intern name. Or, just simply put your company name.
And, this this e-mail had a PDF attachment. We’ll cover this in more details in point #4, but this is a HUGE no-no. Attachments are so frowned upon. While this particular e-mail was more like a ‘membership benefit,’ this practice should still be adhered to because the SPAM filters don’t know the difference. Instead, the newsletter should have been designed in HTML format and included in the body of the e-mail. E-mail programs like the ones mentioned above will have some kind of template you can make the message visually appealing. At the very least though, they should have had a link where the PDF could have been downloaded.
Problem #4: Salutation & Content
One final thing I wanted to point out about this failed attempt at e-mail marketing is this: This e-mail blast was intended to send subscribers a monthly newsletter; however, there was no content; just an attachment. There are three issues I have with the way this e-mail was formatted:
- No greeting. It’s so easy to format your e-mail to say, “Dear <NAME>.” This just dove write into the message. When we are on a list, we know we’re not getting a personal e-mail from the CEO or marketing director, but it’s still common courtesy to greet us by name. Think of when you call a friend. You say, “Hello” or “Hey.” You don’t just say, when you hear them answer, “Harry Potter is playing tonight. Do you want to go?” You buffer the message with a greeting.
- No content. This e-mail contained one line of text. To not give any identifying factors of who this was, I will paraphrase: “Here’s our newsletter. Enjoy!” Four words? Really? That’s it? You may as well have sent a Twitter post. Don’t skimp on content.
- Attachment. See #3 for my take on this. But also, the e-mail should have been engaging. The e-mail should be THE message. Don’t make users do extra work and download a PDF to see your offer. If you don’t know how to create a template, hire someone. Outsource to someone. Adding a line of text and attaching something looks lazy.
- File name. There should not have been an attachment; but, since there was the PDF should have at least been named something better “ABCD_Newsletter_07_09.”
I think this group learned of their mistake and became embarrassed, as a “RECALL” message was sent later. If an intern (or green employee) truly did this, perhaps there should be a better process in place of monitoring or approving e-mails before sent. But the recall didn’t change the fact that I still have the original e-mail in my box, all 914 addresses. I almost wanted to call them, but I didn’t. It’s not my place. But what I can do is take this experience to help our readers.
I almost want to hit unsubscribe, but I can’t even do that. I have to– get this– not hit reply, but send a whole separate e-mail to another a specific contact in the company to request being removed. (That’s also incredible, and an e-mail program would do that for you.) And at any rate, I want to stay on this list. It’s like a train wreck. So bad, but I still want to look.
Clearly this organization does not have an Internet marketing specialist on hand. And that’s sad. With so much information readily available on the topic and so many tools out there that aid in building newsletters, it blows my mind this group is still breaking every best practice in the book. This organization really, and I mean, REALLY needs to get their act together and learn the proper way to manage their e-mail list and subsequent e-mail marketing sends. They cater to businesses so they should be setting the standard.
(P.S. Special thanks to Karen Snyder. Without her Excel superpowers, I would not have been able to come up with the 914 on my own unless I got out my ruler and hand counted.)