Why Spam Doesn’t Work

The other day I got an email (along with 76 other people who had signed up to the Brighton and Hove Council “Buy Local” Campaign) asking me to do something.

Unfortunately, the guy who sent it out just put all 77 email addresses in the “To” line, which meant that all of our email addresses were clearly visible and able to be copied by everyone else. I complained (no response, but that’s a different post about customer service) and all was quiet.

Until one person decided to press “reply to all” and send some details about his business.  I pressed delete, because I hate spam.  And then because he’d done it, a dozen others did the same thing. And then there was a big debate on twitter about this, and lots of other people got to hear about the Council’s mistake.

So I thought I’d write something about why sending out emails like this is a really bad idea.

When you communicate with someone, especially when you communicate with the idea that they might buy from you, you want them to think well of you.  So just sending something into their inbox, when they’ve never heard of you is not going to create a good impression.  At best, they’re just going to press delete and never remember you (so you gain nothing) and at worst, they’re going to think that you’re a pushy idiot that they never want to buy from.

And you’ve just damaged your reputation.

When you communicate with someone and want them to buy from you, they are much more likely to buy if they’ve already got some sort of relationship with you.  This might be because they have read about you in the paper, seen your website, been recommended to buy from you, or if you’ve had a chat about something.

No one is going to buy from you if you just wave it in front of them.

People get particularly annoyed if you wave something in front of them, with no regard for who they are.  We all like to think that we’re a little bit important, and we don’t like being treated as if we’re just one of a herd of sheep. People have an intimate relationship with their inbox.

Research shows that children get very upset if their computer doesn’t work or if they’re banned from using it, because they view the computer as their friend.  And I think that we do this as adults as well.  We spend more time looking at it than we do our loved ones, and probably more time communicating through the computer than we do talking to our partners.

So if you slam your junk mail into someone’s inbox, they’ll get upset. We usually think of spam as being people trying to sell us dodgy blue tablets, or trying to get us to give them our bank details for nefarious purposes.  But spam is any unsolicited email – it’s email from someone I don’t know, who has no reason to have my email address, and therefore someone who is unwelcome in my inbox.  So make sure that you’re not seen as one of these people.

The rules of making email work for you

  1. Only email people who you have a reason to have their address, ie, you’ve met/talked to them, they’ve opted in to your list (you can opt in to the Joy of Business email newsletter here) or they’ve got in touch with you.
  2. Be personal. You’ll get a much better response from me if you say “Hi Julia, how’s your cat doing these days, last time we spoke she was poorly” than if you just say “Dear Friend”
  3. Be brief and specific. Ask someone to do something for you as a friend (see rule 1 for who your friends are) or tell them about something that you’re sure they’ve be interested in. Do not just say “my company provides high quality 3D architectural visualisations” as one of the spammers did.  I don’t know what this means, and even if I did, how would I know that he’s high quality?
  4. Make it useful.  If you send someone an email that says “I saw some brilliant examples of 3D achitectural animations at this website, and thought of you” then you’re starting a conversation and doing someone a favour. If you’re having a conversation and doing people favours, then they might buy something from you, or recommend you, which is what you wanted in the first place.