The Spam Jam: Should Consumers Use The Unsubscribe Button?

The sparks are flying in Denver over handling of unsolicited email. Should people unsubscribe or push perceived spam into the junk mail folder? 

It’s an apt subject, given that email volume is expected to hit 319.6 billion worldwide by 2021, up from 269 billion this year, according to a roundup published yesterday by eMarketer.

Denver Post columnist Tamara Chuang stepped into it last week by offering some tips on spam.

Chuang wrote that "the advice from the security industry is universal: Ignore, delete or send spam to a junk folder. And whatever you do, proceed with caution if you’re tempted to click that ‘Unsubscribe’ link, since it could open the gates for even more spam or something much more malicious. "

Sounds like good advice, but  Linda Browning, a Denver marketing director, confronted Chuang:



“You advised:

Don’t bother checking your spam folder. I completely disagree. Both Microsoft and Google do a horrible job of deciding what is spam. For example, they routinely send to spam emails that are replies to a personal email I sent someone. No matter how many times I mark “Not spam,” neither system ever “learns.” (And my settings are correct.) Not checking the spam folder means missing emails you need to read.

"Don’t bother unsubscribing from spam emails — either complain or delete. As a marketer, I rely on customers to tell me when they don’t want to receive marketing emails. And I honor their requests. Unsubscribing is exactly what someone should do, to make the emails stop. "

As we all know, columnists always get the last word. Chuang replied:

“Really Linda? In general, the definition of spam is that it is an unsolicited email. If you’re sending messages to people who did not ask for them, that’s spam. It’s certainly not my job to help marketers make sure unwanted messages get to consumers.

“Think about what you’re asking me to do — tell readers (several who have asked me whether they should have paid that online stranger $300 to access their PC) to open that spam message anyway AND click on a link! — now that’s irresponsible.

“The industry — which includes Google and Microsoft — needs to fix the problem that not only annoys readers to no end, but threatens the security and privacy of their computers and personal data.  Please find a better way to do your job.” 

So who’s right?

Both parties are. Chuang is correct that people should not be inundated with unwanted email, and that companies have to do a better job on cyber security. 

But Browning is on target when she says that the unsubscribe button is a better mechanism for getting off email lists than the junk mail folder. And it’s what people are actually doing.

In a recent survey, Adestra found that 73% of consumers are hitting the unsubscribe button, up from 65% in 2016.

That means your customers care enough to say "’No, thanks,’” instead of deleting it or clicking the spam button, Adestra writes.

Those stats put the lie to the idea that people prefer the spam folder.

To the extent they’re prospecting by email, reputable companies use permission-based lists. The term “unsubscribe” implies that someone subscribed to something.

Best practices — and CAN-SPAM — require that you let people unsubscribe. If you can, find out why they did: It could be your content, or maybe the person just isn’t a prospect. But leave them alone if they have opted out. 

Want to avoid unsubscribes? Send more relevant messages.

“While there is concern that newer messaging platforms will cannibalize the email audience, in general younger cohorts remain loyal to email,” writes eMarketer analyst Jillian Ryan, author “Email Marketing Benchmarks 2017: Metrics Steady as Data Creates Better Context and Relevance,” a report being offered by eMarketer. 

Ryan adds that “as email volume increasingly grows each year, it’s likely that users are becoming more particular about their desire for more tailored messages.”

That’s the answer — that and education on what emails not to open.   

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