Email Marketing and Protecting Online Reputation

Written by Paul Cunningham on April 21, 2010

damagedOn the internet a company’s reputation consists of two parts:

  1. What your customers (people) think of you
  2. What other systems (computers) think of you

In an environment such as the internet where everything that is said or done lives on forever, protecting company reputations becomes a top priority and must be taken seriously.

Outsourced Marketing and Shifting Blame

Even today with spam volumes reaching record levels year after year companies will dismiss the opinions of experts and customers alike and use email to send marketing information to people who never asked for it.

The companies don’t necessarily do it themselves; sometimes they farm it out to a marketing firm or pay affiliates for lead generation.  This allows the company to claim their innocence in the face of spam allegations caused by aggressive affiliates.

Damaging Customer Reputation

Does this excuse work on the average person?  We’re all used to seeing spam dressed up in legitimate company logos and branding.  The experts might know better, but unless the spam contravenes the law in that jurisdiction and a public fine and reprimand is given most customers won’t know better.

Except when the spam is sent directly from the company to their customers.  This has been the recent trend in which companies believe that opt-out email marketing is acceptable practice, and that an email address acquired through any means is open for unsolicited communication.

This is the type of email marketing that damages company reputations, even just one customer at a time.

Damaging Systems Reputation

The other reputation you damage by directly spamming customers is with other computer systems on the internet.  As Microsoft’s Terry Zink states:

90% of spam can be caught with IP reputation and another 5% with URL reputation

In other words, if an email comes from an IP address that is a known spam source, or contains URLs to a site associated with spam, it has a higher chance of being blocked by anti-spam systems.

This approach to fighting spam makes email marketing a big challenge in the technical sense.  Your company sends email to the internet in one of three ways:

  • Directly out via your own public IP addresses
  • To a hosted email gateway service that then sends onwards from their IP addresses
  • From a hosted email service provider that sends directly from their own IP addresses

If you spam a customer directly you run the risk of your IP being blocked by other email systems.  This will impact the delivery of all of your business emails, which is a very serious impact.

If you spam a customer via a hosted email gateway service, they run the risk of their own IP addresses being blocked.  Which is why they will react quickly to any complaints by other parties, and often rate limit your email traffic or even cut you off completely.  Again this is a very serious impact.

A hosted email service provider has some additional protection for both you and themselves, as long as they require double opt-in for mailing lists.  This ensures that a person has gone through a deliberate two step process to subscribe to a mailing list and is therefore less likely to have been added against their will.

Protecting Both Reputations

For customers who want to engage in email marketing the right way they should be aware of the risk of damaging their reputation and safeguard against it.

Smaller companies can use email service providers to ensure double opt-in is used, and restrict access to customer address lists to only those people who need to use them.

Larger companies may need to integrate their email marketing into an existing CRM system which usually means sending via their own IP addresses or a hosted email gateway.  In those cases restricting access to that system and ensuring only necessary staff can access and use the email addresses.

If outsourcing to a marketing firm is required then choose your partner carefully to ensure they will act ethically and legally to protect your reputation, and be prepared to take full responsibility if they don’t.

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