Have You Heard About The 'Sh*t' Folder?

I always enjoy attending the Email Insider Summit -- it reminds me that no matter how long you've been in the industry (8 years and counting) there is always something to learn, something you don't know or something that makes you stop and think. And spending time with some of the smartest people I know doesn't suck either. But I had a couple "ah ha" moments at the Summit that I am compelled to share.


We talk a lot about whether our email programs are making it to the inbox or to the bulk folder -- but have you ever stopped to think about what the recipient does with the email if it lands in the inbox? Sure, we contemplate, "did (s)he open it, delete it or mark it as SPAM?" But the options don't end there. There are two situations I want you to consider.

The email address you have IS the junk folder
I credit my first "ah ha" moment to a consumer panel of college grads who have entered the workforce, all in different positions, different households and different majors. There were some interesting tidbits that came out of their conversation (like one grad who said he immediately unsubscribed if a marketer included his first name in a subject line. "You are not my friends and I don't want you to be my friends," he told us all).



What also struck me was that not only did this panel maintain multiple email addresses -- but they would give different marketers different email addresses predicated on whether or not they anticipated value from the email communication. They also seemed to be relatively united in giving their Gmail address to people and marketers they want to hear from -- and Yahoo and Hotmail accounts to those they do not.

The other great takeaway from here was that this group triages their email very effectively, using "from name" and "subject line" to determine if the content is something they want to look at now.

But if they don't want to read an email right now, do you know what they do? They keep it -- unopened in their inbox (or some folder) until they are ready to do business with your brand. Then they search their box for email from you to see if there is an offer in there that they can take advantage of. Did this just decrease the value of an "open metric" for you even more? It did for me, especially when considering communicating with this age group.

Enter the Sh*t Folder
The BIG "ah-ha" moment for me, though, came during the keynote presented by Microsoft's David Barlin, when he shared with the group some really interesting data about the demographics and behaviors of Hotmail users. He shared this amazing conversation cloud that contained words like, "stuff," "info," and my favorite, "sh*t." It was an analysis that had been done on the custom folders created by Hotmail users. Which made me think, we need to strive not to just get delivered, not just make it to the inbox -- but to stay out of the "sh*t" folder.

At least if users report the email as SPAM, you are provided some indication that recipients don't want your email - but what if they just banish you to the nether regions of the "sh*t" folder?

This is where we, as email marketers, need to do a better job of really paying attention to the open (I know, it is a little contradictory based on the first "ah-ha" moment, but it's what we have) and click behavior of our subscribers to start understanding how engaged folks are with our programs -- and build strategies accordingly. Because if not, you may just find that if your subscribers are putting you in their "sh*t" folder -- which someday, may just get you blacklisted.

Thanks to MediaPost for another amazing Email Insider Summit where I got to have an "ah-ha" moment or two -- and then tackled a mountain in an inner tube!!

4 comments about "Have You Heard About The 'Sh*t' Folder? ".
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  1. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., December 11, 2009 at 9:53 a.m.

    ... ok so I've always been adamant about how the statistics say email is a bottom tier channel for engaging consumers - it lies somewhere in between radio and print...

    But I have to say this post - albeit a no-brainer - was definitely a bridge between the generational gap.

    What strikes me oddballed is the reaction from email marketers about usability. If the way "we" use email is striking to you... how the heck does everyone else use email?

    Oh and btw, addressing the fifth paragraph - sometimes users don't delete emails because they do not KNOW if the email is important to them. Eventually they all stay unopened and the user creates a new email account opting to start fresh rather than sort through the unopened.

    My two cents... but email behavior statistically is uniform across the board. Major differentiation between email behavior comes from access more-so than demographic. (E.G. mobile access etc.)

  2. Steven Sevell from Sevell+Sevell, Inc., December 11, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    The reason I read this particular blog was the headline. Thanks for taking the time to catch my attention. And you opened my eyes to an email situation that wasn't even on my radar. Very helpful.

  3. Evan Adlman from Pontiflex, December 15, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.

    my favorite take away was learning that executive assistants do NO WORK!! (ha-ha)...none the less, it was a great show and was very helpful for our business (subscriber acquisition) to learn how people have many inboxes and that addy they give out to which marketer.

    see you in april

  4. Melonie Gallegos from Geary Interactive, January 6, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.

    Great thinking. I've been doing this for years - junk email account (a special place for those forcing my email address on web forms), and a sh*t folder. Never believed in this type of forced lead gen and list building it builds low quality. Sell them on your content if you do a good job they will volunteer it, and....then read it when it hits their inbox. Here's a third trick to consider: checking off emails in your inbox list and hitting 'mark as read'.

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