Tag Archives: spam

Everything That You Know About Spam Is Wrong

At least, if everything you know about it is everything that I knew about it before last week. I attended an NTEN 501TechClub event where Brett Schenker of Salsa Labs spoke on how the large mail services identify Spam emails.  It turns out that my understanding that it was based primarily on keywords, number of links and bulk traits is really out of date.  While every mail service has their own methods, the large ones, like GMail and Yahoo!, are doing big data analysis and establishing sender reputations based on how often their emails are actually opened and/or read. You probably have a sender score, and you want it to be a good one.

Put another way, for every non-profit that is dying to get some reasonable understanding of how many opens and clicks their newsletters are getting, Google could tell you to the click, but they won’t.  What they will do is judge you based on that data.  What this really means is that a strategy of growing your list size could be the most unproductive thing that you could do if the goal is to increase constituent engagement.

As Brett explained (in a pen and paper presentation that I sadly can not link to), if 70% of your subscribers are deleting your emails without opening them, than that could result in huge percentages of your emails going straight to the spam folder.  Accordingly, the quality of your list is far more critical than the volume. Simply put, if you send an email newsletter to 30,000 recipients, and only 1000 open it, your reputation as a trustworthy sender drops.  But if you send it to 5000 people and 3500 of them open it, you’ve more than tripled the engagement without soiling your email reputation.

I know that this goes against the grain of a very established way of thinking.  Percentage of list growth is a simple, treasured metric.  But it’s the wrong one.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Make sure that your list is Opt-In only, and verify every enrollment.
  • Don’t buy big lists and mail to them. Just don’t! Unless you have solid reasons to think the list members will be receptive, you’ll only hurt your sender score.
  • Put your unsubscribe option in big letters at the top of each email
  • Best of all, send out occasional emails asking people if they want to keep receiving your emails and make them click a link if they want to.  If they don’t click it, drop them.
  • Keep the addresses of the unsubscribed; inviting them to reconnect later might be a worthwhile way to re-establish the engagement.

Don’t think for a minute that people who voluntarily signed up for your lists are going to want to stay on them forever.  And don’t assume that their willingness to be dropped from the list indicates that they’ll stop supporting you.

Even better, make sure that the news and blog posts on your web site are easy to subscribe to in RSS.  We all struggle with the mass of information that pushes our important emails below the fold.  Offering alternative, more manageable options to communicate are great, and most smartphones have good RSS readers pre-installed.

One more reason to do this?  Google’s imminent GMail update, which pushes subscriptions out of the inbox into a background tab.  If most people are like me, once the emails are piling up in the low priority, out of site subscriptions tab, they’ll be more likely to be mass deleted.

Is It Only Spam If The Other Guy Does It?

This was originally posted on the No Nonprofit Spam blog on November 3rd, 2011. Hat tip to Deb Finn, who started that blog.

You work for a great org.  What you do is important and meaningful.  To you, it’s not just a job — it’s a mission.  And it deserves funding and support from the public.  I get that.  But if your next logical step in that progression is to assume that I want to be on your email list, you’ve stepped over a line.  It’s a line that does not markasspaminvalidate your mission, or your devotion to it.  But it doesn’t serve your mission, or your goal of garnering my support for it.  Because I reserve my support for organizations that merit my attention, not ones that abuse it.

We live in a world where most of us wrestle with two common priority-setting challenges:

  1. Most of us are not Bill or Melinda Gates; we can only afford to financially support a handful of the organizations that we would like to support.
  2. Our inboxes are already overflowing.

I spend as little time as possible assessing unsolicited emails before I delete them or mark them as spam. It takes longer if the email is from a nonprofit, because I never assume that an NPO is deliberately spamming me, although it does, sadly, prove true on occasion.  It’s time that would otherwise be spent doing a lot of things, many of them in service of the causes that I work for. Accordingly, the message that a nonprofit sends when they subscribe me to their list (without my approval) is: I am willing to set your priorities for you.

That’s not an appeal — it’s an edict.

It’s not an engagement — it’s invasive.

If their goal is to make it on my short list of organizations that I support, then the way to do that is by being the organization that pops up when I’m looking to add to my list. Those orgs have websites with solid descriptions of their work; metrics and testimonials to back it up; and good ratings with the organizations that assess non-profits.  My friends and family advocate for them. They garner support by being good at what they do, as opposed to being good at getting in my face, or inbox, as the case might be.

I know that it seems like it might be less effective.  And I know that we all want to be effective, because the missions we work for are critical.  But I support organizations that address their missions with good strategies and tactics.  Spam is not a strategy, and it’s an abhorrent tactic. And the fact that what a nonprofit is spamming is important doesn’t change the nature of it.

Two Thoughts On The New FaceBook Timeline


Photo by
smemon

Facebook announced that, on October 3rd, our profiles will all turn into “Timelines” that describe our lives (as Facebook knows them) in a glossy, magazine like format. And, as of right now, you can enable magazine apps (for WaPo and Guardian, more to come) that will randomly post what you’re reading to your wall without asking your permission first.I have two thoughts on this:

First, I feel sorry for the early adopters. I came to Facebook late, long after I had reason to distrust Zukerberg and co, in response to the cajoling of some of my more notorious nptech friends. I never believed that anything I posted there was private, and I had been well trained in online reputation management by my prior years of activity on bulletin boards, Usenet, mailing lists and Twitter. For many of you, all of your early mistakes are about to be unearthed and offered for everyone to see, from new friends that you’ve made since you got your FB voice modulated, to advertisers who are eager to know that, three or four years ago, you were really into SpongeBob.

Second, this new API feature that allows an app to post your activity when it wants strikes me as the epitome of anti-social networking. I really appreciate that I can peruse my wall and see articles, pictures and clips that my friends, co-workers and family thought I might like to see. This is, perhaps, the biggest boon and focus of social networking: curated sharing. It’s not random; it’s not based on a metric; it’s based on someone I like enough to call a friend saying “I found this worthwhile”. But, were I to install the WaPo app, it would decide which articles I want to share with my community for me. So I might click on some very boring report on a White House policy effort, or a review of some TV Show that I’m checking to verify that I was right to ignore it, and WaPo will happily tell my friends that I’m reading about this or that. This sucks the value out of social networking and turns me into a spammer.

Reports came in today that Spotify, the popular online music service, now defaults to posting every song that you listen to to your FB profile. If I have twenty friends who listen to Spotify all day and do this, I’m afraid that I’ll never bother to read my FB feed again. It’s cool if you’re listening to that awesome Gillian Welch cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star” and want to share the occasion; it’s not if you follow it up with the Hall and Oates hit, the Eddie Veder Beatles cover and the Indigo Girls or Beyonce or Five for Fighting song that follows. I’m not THAT interested.

So Facebook is apparently about to take sharing into the realm of spamming, and make all of us the perpetrators. Nice move…

Do Nonprofits Spam?

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2011.

Supporters at the gates

NPTech maven Deborah Elizabeth Finn started a blog last week called “No Nonprofit Spam“.  As a well-known NPTech consultant, Deborah is far from alone in finding herself regularly subscribed to nonprofit email lists that she has never opted into.  But, as opposed to just complaining about what is, in anyone’s definition (except possibly the sender’s) unsolicited commercial email; Deborah took the opportunity to try and educate.  It’s a controversial undertaking. Nobody likes spam.  Many of us like nonprofits, and aren’t going to hold them to the same level of criticism as we will that anonymous meds or mortgages dealer; and the measures that we take against the seamy spammers are pretty harsh.  Even if nonprofits are guilty of the spamming crime, should they be subject to the same punishments?

Spam, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So, for the purposes of this conversation, let’s agree on a definition of nonprofit spam. Sending one email to someone that you have identified as a potential constituent, either by engaging them in other media or purchasing their name from a list provider, is, at worst, borderline spam, and not something that I would join a campaign to complain about.  If I delete the message and don’t hear from the NPO again, no big deal.  But subscribing me to a recurring list without my express buy-in is what I consider spamming.  And that’s the focus of Deborah’s blog (which is naming names) and the action that goes from email engagement to email abuse, for the purposes of this post.

In my post to the No Nonprofit Spam website, I made the point that we’re all inundated with email and we can only support so many orgs, so NPOs would do better to build their web site and their Charity Navigator rating than to push their messages, uninvited, into our inboxes. It’s a matter of being respectful of constituent priorities.

There are two motivations for overdoing it on the emails. One is the mildly understandable, but not really forgiveable mistake of overenthusiasm for one’s mission.  Believing that the work you do is so important that subscribing people who have expressed no interest to your list is warranted.  That’s a mistake of naivety more than anything else.

The less forgivable excuse is the typical spam calculation: no matter how many people you offend, enough people will click on it to justify the excess.  After all, it’s cost-justified by the response rate, right?

The downside in both cases is that, if you only count the constituents you gained, then you’re missing something of great important to nonprofits and little import to viagra salesman.  The people you offended might have otherwise been supporters. The viagra spammer isn’t going to pitch their product through other avenues.  It’s a low investment, so any yeild is great gain.  But you likely have people devoting their full hearts to your cause.  You’re in the business of building relationships, not burning them.  And you will never know how many consttuents that you might have gained through more respectful avenues if you treat them callously with your email initiatives.

Worse, the standard ways that individuals deal with spam could be very challenging for an NPO to deal with.  In the comments to my No Nonprofit Spam post, some people advocated doing more than just marking the messages as spam, but also reporting the offending orgs to Spamcop, who then list them with Spamhaus, the organization that maintains block lists of known spammers that large ISPs subscribe to.  By overstepping the bounds of net courtesy, you could not only alienate individuals, but wreak havoc with your ability to reach people by email at all.  My take is that reporting NPOs — even the ones who, by my above definition, spam — is unusually cruel to organizations who do good in the world.  But I’m a nonprofit professional. Many of the people that we might be offending aren’t going to be so sympathetic.

So, what do you think? Is spam from a nonprofit any different from spam from a commercial vendor?  Should nonprofits be held to the same level of accountability as viagra spammers? Are even single unsolicited emails spam, or are they permissable? I searched for some nonprofit-focused best practices before completing this article, and didn’t come up with anything that differentiated our industry from the commercial ones, but I think there’s a difference. Just as nonprofits are exempt from the Do Not Call lists, I think we deserve some exemptions in email.  But I could be wrong, and what would serve us all well is a clear community policy on email engagement.  Does anyone have any to recommend?

Cartoon borrowed from Rob Cottingham’s Noise To Signal collection.

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

usedcar
Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

Communicative

The contact form is back, with an annoying little verification routine that will hopefully be enough of an annoyance for my spammer friend that I won’t have to upgrade it to a full-blown captcha (which I have the code for, but I hate those things – they always take me three tries).

This interesting research article suggests that phishing scammers make such a ridiculously low amount of money at it that it’s insane that they bother. They could deliver newspapers or beg in the street and be much more profitable. I have to think that the same kind of dogged stupidity is a trait of my spammer, as he obviously spent some time perfecting his script, maybe up to three or four hours work, that sends messages with links to, um, nature sites – or sites where wildlife and humans, if I’m guessing correctly, do inappropriate things together — to me. Only me. I don’t click on them, reply to them, or forward them to my Mom.

Anyway, I’m ready to continue the battle, and I’ve fired a salvo by restoring the form. But I hope this idiot is as bored with it all as I am!

Uncommunicative

I’ve taken down my contact page for a while. If you need to reach me, leave a comment – I have a good spam filter on those that should lock out the pest who has been sending upwards of 50 messages a day through my contact form containing links that, from the descriptions, I would never click on, even if I was foolish enough to click on a link in a message that I had no context for in the first place, which I’m not. I’m on vacation; when I return I’ll use some of the methods I’ve used on other web sites to discourage this type of creep.

Message to the Krazy.com Spammer

Okay, so I understand that you have a lot of time on your hands, and that you choose to, apparently, spend a significant amount of that time trying desperately to post spam advertising gambling and prescription drug websites to the guest book on my Krazy Kat web site. Let’s review:

First, you started posting very large HTML spams to the guest book. Since the guest book is moderated, those came to me for approval by email. My guestbook is set up to email me the post, followed by a link I can click on to automatically publish it. I approve anything that’s remotely on topic, the exceptions falling into three categories:

  • People posting obscenities or other childish, inane comments;
  • Messages that seem to be of a commercial nature – krazy.com is only interested in advocating for the works of George Herriman and entities that directly support Herriman’s memory, such as Fantagraphics publishing, and
  • People doing obvious test posts that have little or no content.

I’m certain that you didn’t intend for this, but the giant, heavily-coded spams that you initially posted had a nasty habit of hanging not only my web-based email client, but also the web server that hosts it (which is not the same server that the site is on). So, after verifying that you are crafty enough to come in from a variety of IP addresses, which rules out simply blocking you, I added a little code to make the maximum post size far smaller than your average post (which is still four times the size of anything that has ever been legitimately posted).

Here’s the thing: At this point, I had no idea that you were so personally committed to poisoning my guest book. I assumed that this was an automated effort going after numerous guest books on the web, and that my size block would simply automate the process of rejecting your spam; you might not even notice. Boy, was I wrong! You actually think the ten Herriman fans or so a day who read my guestbook are the prime demographic for your online gambling and Cialis marketing. Amazing! What do you base this on? Did you pay for this market research?

So you noted the size limit, and then spent, what, about 90 minutes figuring out how to edit your spam enough to fit my restriction? Then you posted two spams, which came to me for approval, and guess what? I didn’t approve them. What a shock to the system that must have been!

So, an hour later, I get a guest book submission with one word: sex. I don’t approve it. Was that you, using the full breadth of your imaginative powers, doing a test? A few hours later, a benign post: “I love Ignatz; I must be Krazy”. Well, that’s on topic! If that one was you testing, congratulations! You passed. I published it.

And today I get yet another gambling spam post, this one cut down to just a few lines. I can only imagine the anxiety you must have felt, waiting for me to review it, waiting to see if maybe… maybe… perhaps, this attempt to use my guestbook as a further voicepiece for offensive spam will work! And now I’m imagining the dejection, the despair, as it becomes increasingly clear that I have used my god-like editorial powers to censor you once again.

So, at this point, I don’t know how resourceful you are. I don’t know how obsessed you are. All I really know is that you don’t make good choices on how to enjoy life – that I’m sure of. If you want to continue, and you come up with some way of making this really annoying for me, then, yes, I’ll shut down the guestbook. You will have succeeded in single-handedly removing the ability for people who appreciate Krazy Kat and want to discuss the strip at the Krazy Kat website from doing so.

You do understand — this is not a business. I make zero money for running krazy.com. I am not going to let it become someone else’s commercial venture, and I’m really perplexed as to why you are pursuing this as vigorously as you are. There are a lot of web sites out there, that get far more traffic than my site. My recommendation, and request, is that you move on. And consider that there are ways of making a living that don’t involve being a blight on the Internet. I mean, what do you do now if you’re out on a date, or at a family gathering, and someone asks you what you do for a living? Do you say, “Well, you know all of those offensive ads for rip-off online gambling and penile erection drugs that you get in your inbox; that your children get in their inboxes? I’m the guy who sends them!”

Self-esteem issues, perhaps? Sheesh!