Opening Up a Dialogue About Spam

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

As a result, online marketing services provider Q Interactive and marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa conducted a survey to look into consumers’ definition of spam. What did they find? For starters, that there is a big disconnect between what consumers see as spam and what is considered to be spam by the interactive community.

According to the two firms’ “Spam Complainers Survey,” the definition of spam has changed from the permission-based regulatory definition of “unsolicited commercial e-mail” to a perception-based definition centered on consumer dissatisfaction.

In fact, according to the survey, more than half of the participants–56 percent–consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is “just not interesting to me”. In addition, 50 percent of respondents consider “too frequent e-mails from companies I know” to be spam and 31 percent cite “e-mails that were once useful but aren’t relevant anymore”. (Respondents could select more than one answer for multiple questions in the survey.)

When it comes to using the “report spam” button—the primary tool Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide consumers to counter the problem—nearly half of respondents (48 percent) provided a reason other than “did not sign up for e-mail” for why they reported an e-mail as spam. In fact, underscoring consumers’ varying definitions of spam, respondents cited a variety of non-permission-based reasons for hitting the spam button, including “the e-mail was not of interest to me” (41 percent); “I receive too much e-mail from the sender” (25 percent); and “I receive too much e-mail from all senders” (20 percent).

The surey also found that there is a pervasive confusion among consumers regarding what they believe will happen as a result of clicking the “report spam” button. Over half of respondents, 56 percent, for example, reported it will “filter all e-mail from that sender” while 21 percent believe it will notify the sender that the recipient did not find that specific e-mail useful so the sender will “do a better job of mailing me” in the future. Even more indicative of the lack of understanding, 47 percent believe they will be unsubscribed from the list by clicking “report spam” while 53 percent do not believe the button it is a method to unsubscribe.

Not surprisingly, accompanying this confusion is the frequent misuse of the “report spam” button. The survey found a large number of consumers, 43 percent, forgo advertiser-supplied unsubscribe links in email and simply use the ISP’s “report spam” button to unsubscribe from an advertiser’s list—regardless of whether or not the email fits the consumer’s definition of spam. Moreover, a full one in five consumers (21 percent) use the “report spam” button to unsubscribe from e-mail they specifically do not consider spam.

To address this problem, Q Interactive has called for ISPs, marketers, advertisers and publishers to come together with industry associations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau to agree on a solution that is beneficial to consumers and all interested parties. To begin the dialogue, Q Interactive suggests two points for discussion:

* Replace the broken “report spam” button with buttons that more clearly indicate consumers’ intentions such as an “unsubscribe” button and an “undesired” button.

* ISPs should categorize e-mail senders based on their practices to identify and reward senders who follow best practices in transparency and permission.

For the good of our industry, we should all pay heed.