Editorial: Electronic Communication Trends

By Len Monheit
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Whether we like it or not, the phenomenon of e-mail is here to stay - a part of our personal and professional lives. I've seen articles claiming that the number of messages sent per day around the world is as high as 30 billion, with about 25 percent or more being 'spam'. If the studies analyzed how much of the e-mail was read, or how much is not 'permission-based', I suspect the level of unwanted electronic communication on a daily basis is about 50 percent or higher.

This has significant implications for today's business environment, where an increasing amount of communication happens electronically. And if you're trying to reach a consumer audience, the fact that at least 30 percent of any consumer population is likely to change e-mail addresses in any twelve month period, means that maintaining a legitimate database can be an ongoing nightmare, to say nothing about differentiating your message from all the other noise bombarding your audience.

Both AOL and the soon to be released next version of Outlook have increased their e-mail management capabilities, and corporations are becoming more strict regarding what types of messages they will allow through corporate servers. On top of these trends, third party applications designed to prevent spam (spam-filters) are increasing in popularity. Observations suggest that most of these solutions, while certainly limiting an individual's access to mail, can very easily prohibit desired communications, especially if loaded with default settings.

My own personal experience several months ago attests to this. Across the company, we loaded a filtering agent, which, at first glance, seemed to work exceptionally well. My e-mail volume dropped by about 50%, and I received meaningful communications from business partners, communicators and colleagues. I began to get a bit worried the first time I spoke with someone who commented that they had expected to hear back from me and had not, and a pattern emerged of communication I had missed that was important for ongoing business activities. Going back to the 'filtered' messages in any given week, we determined a mix of messages that for various reasons were not getting through. (In one case, the subject line of the message reads, '¡­.productsexpo¡­' ('sex') which had been filtered out as 'spam'.)

Realizing the increasing volume of communication is becoming an impediment to business, it's less clear what to do. Privacy and anti-spam legislation is being developed, the filtering technology and capabilities are becoming more sophisticated, so it is becoming easier to eliminate or restrict messages--which is fine, if this is your objective. An alternative strategy is to join those who change e-mail aliases on an annual basis to get a few clear months without being bombarded with spam. Even if you're quite comfortable with your filtering strategy, it may be a good idea to check filtered messages every once in a while.

If you are using electronic communications in any way, if you gather news and information electronically, and if you manage and develop relationships using e-mail, then you need an alternate strategy and approach. You need to be aware of the trends and perceptions, and that in some cases, even as a 'trusted' source, your messages will not get through, and any time the technology changes, there may be a period of time where you'll become a non-trusted source.

As an e-mail generator, processes such as a double opt-in procedure help for a variety of reasons. First of all, they enforce responsibility and privacy by providing the subscriber another opportunity to verify subscription, but only through their own e-mail address. You cannot subscribe someone without their permission, and a subscriber has a second chance, simply by not responding, to back out. Secondly, this process of potential subscribers responding to your initial message (from your specific address), in some programs, ensures that future e-mail messages from this address will be accepted as a ¡®trusted source¡¯.

Another impact of this issue is the difficulty in managing an electronic mail-list and name database. With your audience changing aliases, changing companies and changing technologies, it can be a challenging exercise. As with many issues, when you understand the issue and the drivers, you can take steps to manage your programs.

For instance, a look at fatal e-mail bounce-backs at any time gives you an indication of those addresses which should be immediately culled from your list. If they represent critical relationships, then this group must be followed up to reactivate the relationship off-line, and also, by eliminating them immediately, it saves the bandwidth of sending out useless messages. Examining the domains affected may also give you insight on companies you need to contact.

Another useful tool is developing a subscription notification that is monitored by someone within your organization. This will provide immediate awareness of a new subscription, and taking pieces of this information and matching it against the database can be very effective in maintaining database and list integrity.

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