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How social media affects email deliverability

How social media affects email deliverability Spencer Kollas

In my last article, I talked about how to deal with unengaged customers and some of the factors that should be considered before sending to these users. After the article was published, I received a number of comments and emails supporting various sides of the argument.  Given all the interest, I thought it would be helpful to respond publicly to some of the feedback.

Most of the emails I received were around the same topic: How email marketing should be treated just like any other marketing channel and whether ISPs should be able to block emails. A number of people also questioned my assertion that email marketing is much more successful as a retention channel than an acquisition mechanism.

So here are responses to two of the most popular questions I received.

Why are ISPs increasingly relying on automated system to filter incoming mail?
You have to understand that email is a cost center for the ISPs. While it is true that most ISPs run display ads in their email clients, it is still considered a cost center and is becoming more and more costly all the time. Between the costs for the servers, filtering systems, storage space and everything else involved, the ISPs see email as something that they must provide to their users but not something for generating revenue.

Based on this fact alone, many of the folks who held postmaster roles at ISPs and helped to keep the legitimate mail coming through have been laid off and replaced by automated filtering systems. Additionally, as more and more people use smart phones to check their email, they are bypassing the ads that they would normally see when logging into their email on the web, which means even less revenue for ISPs.

This cost mentality is completely different from any other marketing channel available today. For all other channels, the delivery of marketing messages is a profit center. Think of direct mail -- the more mail you send, the more the U.S. post office makes in revenue. The same is true for TV and radio ads, so it is in their best interest to allow any marketer access to their channels and to send/market to as many people as possible.

ISPs spend a lot of effort protecting their users from malicious email, and technology is much more scalable than human intervention. So don't expect ISPs to be rehiring postmasters anytime soon.  As a marketer, you should work with an email service provider that understands the deliverability protocols of the ISPs most used by your customers. According to a recent Return Path study, only 76.5 percent of legitimate email makes it to the inbox, so having ready access to deliverability experts can be critical for ensuring maximum response rates to your email programs.

How has the rise of social media affected consumer interaction with email and overall deliverability?
I remember hearing industry folks talk about Web 2.0 (and now 3.0) and how the rise of social media meant that users now get to decide how they want to interact with brands. This is more true today than ever before. While legally, America still has an opt-out policy, end users still expect an opt-in policy to be the norm rather than the exception. These users have come to expect that while they don't control the mail that comes to their house, they should be able to control their email inbox. Americans like being able to mark unwanted email as spam instead of simply deleting, with hopes of keeping future messages from that sender out of their inbox. By removing unwanted messages from their inbox, users are able to more easily focus on the messages they want to receive from their friends, family, and favorite brands.

While many companies have privacy policies that allow them to share data with other parties, and a number of them even have specific opt-in and opt-out options for third-party offers during their sign-up process, I have found that most users don't really want or expect these types of messages. In an extremely unscientific focus group of my family and friends, I found that the majority would accidentally leave the box checked (in an opt-out situation) as a result of not paying close enough attention to the process for receiving the information they were requesting. The problem here is that when a message arrives from one of these third parties, the consumer doesn't recognize it and hits the "this is spam" button. Sure, they might have technically signed up for it, but that's not going to stop them from damaging the offending company's sender reputation.

As digital marketing continues to grow, we as marketers must begin to change our focus from what we want to send to what they want to receive. And this "they" includes ISPs as well as consumers, because in the end, it's their system and rules. I know it isn't going to be easy for many of you who believe email is just another form of direct marketing, but during your next planning sessions simply ask yourself, who is this campaign for -- me or my end-user? See if this one question changes your approach and test it.

Good luck and good sending.

Spencer Kollas is director of delivery services at StrongMail

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"Email spam mail conceptual graphic" image via Shutterstock.

Spencer Kollas is a recognized industry leader in email deliverability and subscriber engagement. For more than a decade, Kollas has worked with the world’s foremost email marketers to help them connect with their customers and increase the...

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