Over the past few months, I have received a ridiculous amount of “high-quality spam.” It’s bulk mail that I have invited into my inbox, but it’s coming far too frequently for my tastes. Even more frustrating is that some of this is coming from individuals and organizations are supposed experts in communication!
I know that I’m a grumpy old man (get-off my lawn!), but if you let me explain, I think you’ll agree.
Philosophy of the Inbox
A person’s inbox is an extension of their life. Don’t believe it? Check your work e-mail at home, get an angry e-mail from a customer or supervising, and notice how your blood pressure rises. There is this tendency to disassociate the inbox from the person, the digital from the emotional/spiritual. When you press “send,” that message doesn’t got out into the ether: it goes to a real, live person, who may or may not be ready to handle what you’ve just unleashed. Besides, do you have any idea how much other e-mail they have received? You’re not sending your message into a vacuum. You maybe dog-piling on to a very overwhelmed individual.
In short, this my “philosophy of the inbox”: keep “real life” in mind and never forget that every e-mail has a cumulative impact.
Plan Your Updates
With all of that in mind, how do you update your followers on what’s going on with you, your company, your blog, etc.? The first step, as with anything, is make a plan. Decide if you’ll do daily, weekly, or bi-monthly updates. In fact, if you system will allow it, let your subscribers decide. Ok, do you have you plan? Good. Now, stick with it.
“What if I have an urgent update that I have to get out now?” Good questions. Emergencies happen, and unscheduled updates have to be released. However, I wonder if we jump to e-mail too quickly when it comes to emergency updates. Maybe it’s just me, but I follow individuals and/or companies that are really important to me on more than one platform. I follow Jon Acuff on Twitter, Facebook, and in my RSS feed. If he needs to contact “me” (because we’re tight like that) with some major update, he has several methods with which to do that. So, I think my first answer to the “emergency update” question is to diversify your avenues of communication.
One of the issues here might also be that improper planning events/releases has left you with a limited window for getting the word out. This is not your subscribers fault. Don’t punish them vicariously through their inboxes because you couldn’t get your act together. When you craft your weekly/monthly updates, think long-term. And I mean long-term. Provide a small, vague glimpse of what is/might be coming. This can help to spike your readers’ interest, which will cause them to keep their eyes open for more info, thus making your next update more effective. You don’t have to have it all nailed down to tease it. Just communicate that it’s tentative but that you intended to do/release/announce XYZ in whatever month.
At the same time, I don’t think anyone minds an unscheduled e-mail in the case of something urgent, important, or cool. However, there are a few individuals/organizations who get into the habit of sending out two or three or four “emergency updates.” I’m sorry, but if your subscribers ignored your regularly scheduled e-mail regarding your event/book release/album release/whatever and then also ignore the unscheduled e-mail you sent, then you need to stop.
Know Your Audience & Steward Their Trust
If you don’t stop, if you persist in “making it rain” e-mails, then you are abusing the privilege of being allowed into your subscribers’ inboxes. Don’t be surprised, then, when you start seeing some cancellations. Nothing makes me want to hit “unsubscribe” faster than a rash of unwanted/unwarranted e-mails.
Unwarranted? Yes, unwarranted. Remember, the words “emergency” and “urgent” are subjective. You need to know your audience. If you don’t think that what you have to share is going to be of interest to more than half of your subscribers, then maybe you should find a different way to put that information out there. Again, don’t fool yourself: having direct access to someone’s inbox is an invitation into their lives on a deeper level than a Facebook like or a Twitter follow.
I sit down to read through my e-mail. I merely check Facebook and Twitter. Being able to e-mail your updates/information to your fans is a huge deal, and it’s built entirely on trust. They trust you not to sell their data. They trust you to provide them with quality content/information that will help/interest them. They trust you not to squander two of the most precious things they have given you: their time and attention.
Lastly and most delicately, I don’t want to “put anyone on blast,” but one particular organization has been particularly annoying with their lack of awareness of their audience. It’s an organization dedicated to helping ministers, and they provide a number of very cool resources. However, for some unknown reason, they have decided to send out their weekly updates on Sunday’s at 10am CST. Now, maybe it’s just me, but 10am on a Sunday is when I’m getting ready to take the pulpit—or at least it wall until my position changed in January. I cannot tell you how many Sunday mornings I would be moments away from preaching to my youth group when I would lose my YouVersion passage behind an e-mail notification from such-and-such organization.
I know that with iOS 7 I can set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” quite easily, but that’s not the point.* The point is that Sunday morning is a fairly busy time for ministers. Why shoot an e-mail their way? Why not at least wait until that afternoon? Or even Monday? To me, this tone-deaf scheduling made the organization seem out-of-touch with most ministers.
When it’s all said and done, realize that everyone is vying for everyone’s attention. You’re not e-mailing into a vacuum: it’s an overcrowded and incredibly distracting world. Respect the inbox; respect the subscriber.
*And even then, that was problematic because I needed to have my phone ready to receive a text/phone call in case my church had a security threat. Safety first.
Have you been barraged by high quality spam? How did you feel about it?