Not long ago, I began receiving emails from Twitter. I, like many users, do like reading responses to my Tweets, so I have been attuned to pay attention to these emails. They help me engage on Twitter after some time away and legitimately they are useful and serve a purpose.
But, then about three months ago, the purpose, frequency and the contents of those emails changed. Dramatically.
Twitter began sending me messages containing updates that were not related to me. It started with one or two messages a month, then escalated to one or two messages a day. The contents were unimportant— receiving updates on Tweets my friends have favorited, recommended Tweets to read and noteworthy Tweets that were retweeted. It wasn’t long until I would just automatically delete these messages. And after three messages a day, I clicked the unsubscribe link because it was clear I wouldn’t be interested in receiving these messages. Currently, all messages from Twitter are auto-filtered to a folder on my Gmail. Basically, my version of a blackhole that I never check.
I discovered how many ‘lists’ Twitter automatically subscribed me to. There are 21 different email notifications Twitter sends. Yes, twenty one. I never shared my consent for these and the sheer volume of them took me by surprise. Look at it yourself:
I can only venture to guess they had good intentions here. Initially, this screen used to only have a few options and was easy for users to enable or disable email notifications. Now, it is so overwhelming, users would grow frustrated at trying to interpret what each option means and leave the page. I did for a few days, but eventually the Unsubscribe links brought me back here.
So, here’s the problem with this irresponsible activity.
1. It is intrusive and lowers the trust of your communications.
I had trust in these emails. It has since faded and now I look at their emails to first determine if it’s relevant — and if not, Delete. What once was a utility is now a nuisance. I did enjoy seeing when people replied, but beyond that, I really didn’t care.
2. It will result in lower engagement.
I’m picking on the growth-hacker mentality here because it’s valid to criticize. While email opens and clicks are key metrics, measuring the overall outcome is relevant. Since being bombarded by these emails, I had used Twitter much less. The emails were not inducing the outcome they (probably) had intended. I am presuming that the purpose of these emails is to increase user activity, increase time on site and to somehow keep me retained on the site longer. This is a short-term benefit with a long-term cost.
In the mix of all the emails, there probably was a handful of great ones. But when you’re sending a flood of emails to users, it’s easy for the good ones to get lost.
3. This goes against the guidelines ISPs have for email senders.
I previously used to work at the AOL Postmaster Help Desk and later joined Infusionsoft. Say what you want about AOL, I believe they were once the leader in managing inbound spam from the web and providing resources for concerned email senders. I believe that some of the standards and practices around whitelisting senders and handling bulk email have been led by them.
Email permission is a matter that people hold differing opinions on. The reality is that only the recipients can make the decision if an email is spam. Even if you have a T&C page or a disclaimer stating you will email people any time you wish, you still shouldn’t do it.
There are three rules to live by:
- Obtain permission.
- Set and deliver on expectations.
- Don’t be evil.
Since Twitter is a large social network, that does not exempt them from these simple rules of email marketing. The consequence of doing this leads me into the fourth problem.
I compare this activity to the expectations we hold at Infusionsoft. Small businesses who import their customer data into our sales and marketing software. If a small business just started sending emails out of the blue to their customers after not emailing them for the past three years, we would restrict their email sending capabilities and possibly result in termination. Yes, email permission is that serious.
… And I don’t think we’re callous or capricious for this. It’s what the ISPs expect us to do. As such, we send over 100M emails every week with industry-leading deliverability — so maintaining this policy works.
4. It lowers the reputation of sender domain by sending poorly targeted, lowly-engaged emails.
The name of the game today is to send relevant, targeted and actionable emails. Sending dozens of messages failing to meet this criteria means that the engagement per message decreases and ultimately, Twitter may find their messages in the Junk folder. Maybe they won’t because they are as much a communication utility as Facebook, but the risk is still present.
And yes, the ISPs do track opens, clicks, deletes, unsubscribes and spam reports. They do this to determine what messages should appear in the inbox versus other folders or even rejected.
So, here’s my plea.
Do not unilaterally assume that all users will love to read your automated communications. In fact, assume they won’t want them. Instead, gain permissions before sending.
I’m not so much questioning the contents of the emails — indeed they were somewhat interesting if I held an interest into them— but my critique is more into the basis in why I was receiving them.
Thoughts? Comment away on any of the pargraphs above by mousing over and clicking the green square on the right side — or shoot me a Tweet.