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The Day I Became a SPAMer

Is the function of email changing? It used to be that the easiest way to stay in touch with somebody was by sending them an e-mail.  Send them a quick note and often a response would be back in your inbox in under a few hours.  However, in my current work, I have come to a recent observation. Direct e-mails to people often now require a follow up call to see if the information was received.

I believe the issue is truly one of overload.  Almost everybody has at least one email address and often it is required by work.  When I see my friends’ inboxes, the unread emails often range in the hundreds.  We just don’t have time to respond appropriately to every message and get our daily work done.

According to Pew Internet, in 2008 62% of Americans use email at work. “Email remains the most popular activity online. Spam and email overload are perennial issues, but the major threat to email is irrelevance in the era of social networking sites and text messaging.”

Similarly, Jay Conrad Levinson in his book Guerilla Marketing makes this observation: “88 percent of adult Internet users have personal email account… and 147 million people across the country use email almost everyday.” Featured products and services are the biggest reasons people open and respond to email. Think Groupon. The lowest? Special offers and discounts.

It seems to me that Facebook and LinkedIn have stepped in to replace email for sharing stories and staying in touch – the first for personal, the second for business. No need to cut and paste that long travel adventure write-up from one e-mail to the next – one post and everyone can see it instantly.  And the conversation stays with it!  The place where email still rules is for direct, private communication.  Additionally, it is useful in more professional settings when a social network would be too informal, a tweet or text too short, and many people – who may or may not be on the networking sites – need to be reached at once. This brings me to my recent mis-adventure with email.

A couple weeks ago, I wanted to get the word out about Telaeris’ new blog – the one you are probably looking at right now.  My conclusion was that the best way to reach out to people I had contact with, through business or otherwise, would be to send an email.  After combing contacts through Outlook and Gmail, I was able to identify over 1000 people I personally knew.  Some of these people I had not talked to in many years, but I still felt that they would likely be interested in what we were doing.  I composed the text, broke it up into three 500 address lists, and clicked “Send”.  Little did I expect what would happen next.

The first problem I encountered was that many people had changed their e-mail addresses over the years, so of these 1000+ e-mails, I received 100 bounces.  Why?  Who knows – maybe they all went to war and died.  Maybe they changed companies.  Maybe they have an over-exuberant spam filter.   How does one track down old contacts?

I found searching Facebook to be hopeless.  Too many people had the same name and few had specifically identifiable pictures.  LinkedIn turned out to be much more successful – your profile follows you from company to company.  More importantly, you and your contacts often share known connections, so it is far easier to identify the correct Bob Smith from the hundreds available.

The second problem became apparent when I had collated this list of old contacts and wanted to send a follow-up e-mail to these folks.  Because of the high number of bounces, Our Google Apps account had identified my account as sending SPAM.  I was prohibited from sending e-mails for 24 hours because my actions resembled those of a SPAMer.  Since we use Google Apps for our company, I’m not sure how we would have gotten around this limitation – especially as I wanted to send it as a personal e-mail.

So what is the best way to now stay in touch with people? People switch ISPs. Businesses fold. Email addresses change. I think for my money, the best way to keep in sporadic touch with individuals or groups is through a social network and use e-mail only for the critical day to day stuff.

What do you find is the best way to stay in touch with people?

Interesting Links on Email and Spam

By David Carta, Telaeris CEO

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