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Dear Firstname – how forgivable are email blunders?

May 24, 2016

Another week, another email blunder. This time it was the beleaguered Labour party. Their email opener of ‘dear firstname’ in an email asking for party donations did not go down well with its members. Earlier this month we heard about the ICO fining an NHS trust for a second time after an HIV clinic used the ‘CC’ field rather than ‘BCC’ thereby revealing everyone’s details. When we refer to ‘sensitive’ data rarely are we talking about something so sensitive and private as this healthcare data.

But are we unfair to jump on these errors and criticise? No form of marketing is without its mistakes and email is very prone to mishaps because once you hit send it is too late. Emails are sent by busy humans and with all the checks in the world you can easily have an ‘oops’ moment. It happens even to the best email marketers. But there’s a difference between a one off mistake and a fundamentally flawed email plan.

Take the HIV clinic for example. On paper it can be passed off as a mistake in that someone typed the email addresses into the wrong field. Could happen to anyone. Or could it? I don’t believe that this was a gaff or a mistake but is actually the result of an unprofessional and poor communications strategy. An email communication of this size (700 people) should never be done via one person’s Outlook account especially when it is acutely sensitive. The entry level pricing for an Email Service Provider is a very small and there’s no excuse for not using the correct tools for the job. Indeed, the ICO commented that no training or system change had been put in place since they made a similar error last time.

For the Labour party ‘first name’ gaff it’s hard to comment without knowing how they go about their email marketing and what tools they use. They almost certainly use a professional email marketing system so my guess would be a human error with the data. Likely causes would be that the data was uploaded with the first name not mapped or that the data was extracted from a database without the first name included. Either way there was a breakdown at the testing phase that meant it wasn’t picked up. The effects were far reaching in that the email was asking for donations and the impersonal touch upset its members.

I think my litmus test (if you pardon the pun) on these mistakes is looking behind the mistake to see what it tells us about the way email is treated by the offending organisation. Often the mistake reveals a lack of respect for the personal nature of the in box rather than a fallible human having a bad day.

Posted by Jenni Malley

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