Tuesday, July 7, 2009

E-mail blunder causes erosion of human decency

I was sitting in my hotel room in Houston this afternoon innocently working away, preparing for a conference call when I received my first UNSUBSCRIBE!!!!!!! message about 3:07 p.m. from someone on a list who wanted off. I ignored it as spam and kept working. Then another arrived, and another and another, until I counted upwards of 50 messages from people involved in a thread, trying to "unsubscribe" from the original email sent out a few hours earlier.

The problem was, the small business who had sent out the original message had inadvertently included (in the CC field for all on the original message to see) the name of their distribution list which therefore went out with their original offer message. So as people tried to unsubscribe by hitting "Reply All" to the message, their message went back to the originator AND all the folks on the dist list in the CC field. And you can imagine the comments as we all then began getting these messages in addition to the first one.

It just got nasty.
Here's an example. I have hidden the name of the person who wrote this, because I can't believe they would be proud of this statement: "You dumbasses. If you're going to spam a bunch of people be smart enough to do a BCC so that assholes don't reply to all of your clients. Now all of your clients have to read my vulgar email. Anyways, take me off this shit hole list as well."

And that is so incredibly sad. First problem was no one actually took the time to READ the unsubscribe instructions, and then when they starting getting re-sent around by people in the e-mail loop those people also saw fit to Reply to All again and kept making the situation worse.

Flames were thrown. Egos were flexed. People threw insults at others they have never and will never meet, and it degenerated into some of the worst examples of nameless faceless online communication I have seen in a long while. Truly, what gives the medium a bad name.

So I calmy decided to assume that it was a mistake, and sent an email to an address I could easily discern was the originator (sales@urbanlighting.net) that went like this:

Hi there;

I am sure someone over there has their tail between their legs after the fiasco of today, since it appears you likely built a building industry list (maybe from PCBC?) and have sent an eblast and CC’d your specific distribution list (friendsofurbanlighting) who are now all sending emails back to get off the list.

Here’s an idea that would make you a great corporate citizen and give you a chance to regain your reputation and apologize for the mishap – send another email to your ENTIRE list, telling them you have UNSUBSCRIBED them all, and that they will NOT need to reply to UNSUBSCRIBE, that you have done that for them.

Then maybe the madness will stop. I have received probably 40+ messages from people on your list in the past 4 hours.

Please really consider this solution – tell them you have taken them off the list, and DON’T cc your distribution list, so if someone decides to reply to you it is only YOU who gets it.
Thank you.

Teri Slavik Tsuyuki
SVP, Chief Marketing Officer

No one but the person I addressed it to had to see it, and I simply took a shot that they would want the advice. Someone wiser than me, when I ran my small business for 10 years, once taught me of the value of just owning up to it when you make a mistake like this in public, and though it is scary at the time (remember the Tylenol scare in the 80s?) it is better in the long run.

Regret. Restitution. Reform.
Not 15 minutes after hitting "send" on my email I had a call on my cell from a guy named Tim at Urban Lighting, who sounded like he was having the worst day of his life. Not only did he PROFUSELY apologize, and explain what happened, but he thanked me for taking the time to give him some advice, and asked me how I thought people on that list would receive it if he sent them an apologetic email. I suggested he might want to get some PR or marketing help in crafting the message, but that if done right, and quickly I hoped it would defuse the situation.

I hope I am right, because the kind of vile and immature comments flying around from folks who received the initial message were unbelievable. The guy made a mistake. Even those who thought they were "helping" left a lot to be desired when it comes to decency, and a little critical thinking to actually solve the problem.

It is an interesting study in the anonymity of online communication, yet again, and it is still unfolding.

For Tim's part, I may not be in the market for lighting in the near future, and yes I was choked by the email onslaught just like everyone else, but the fact he wanted to make reparations, and the tone in his voice when he called made me remember the cardinal rule of life - let's not forget basic human decency. He deserves a little respect and he has mine. So I'm saying a little prayer for a guy running a small business who just tried to embrace the technology and made a little blunder. No one died. No one lost an eye.

And I'm hoping those who saw fit to forget human decency in their responses never get treated the way they treated Tim and his team today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bumper sticker recruits Twitter followers in traffic

If you don't know someone there are still many good reasons why you would follow them on Twitter. I get the obvious reasons, if you are trying to build your business, create a larger network, or start a community based on shared interests.

But just following them because they drive the same route you do everyday and sit in the same traffic seems a bit of a stretch for the online social media "community" don't you think?

That feels like social media loneliness to me, and reminiscent of the "masses of asses" direct marketing approaches of old.

Or maybe it will transform Twitter into another online dating service, allowing drivers to pick people up based on the make, model, year and color of their car?

If you are curious, get your own Tweet My Bumper sticker here. I know I am going to be wathcing for them, if for no other reason than the sociologist wants to see what else forms of it.