Recovering From An Email Disaster

Dear Email Diva,

This past fall, due to a programming glitch, our vendor emailed up to 40 copies of two of our messages to about 12,000 people on our opt-in list. Needless to say there was tremendous fallout, resulting in a 1100% increase in unsubscribes and several thousand more bounces that likely were marked as spam. We also received 2,200 outraged response emails.

Subsequently I sent out a print postcard apology to clients whose street address I could match to an email address and an email apology (to those who did not unsubscribe) with incentive to stay on the email list. We have lost a good deal of our database and much of the good will we've built over the years. Though this incident happened a while ago, perhaps there are other (cost-sensitive) actions you can recommend I take to rebuild our previously solid reputation and database.

Sharon Kurlansky, Agency Director,

Dear Sharon,

This is a reminder to all that, as Jeanniey Mullen pointed out in a previous article,it is always good to have a disaster recovery plan. Sooner or later, you're likely to need it.



Your direct mail postcard and email with incentive were both great ideas. It would also have been wise to put some apology/explanatory copy on your home page, site landing pages and opt-out page for those who missed the other apologies.

While the best response is a quick response, you may be able to make lemonade out of this lemon. Use trade magazines, non-competing email newsletters that reach your audience and banner ads on complementary sites with an "our glitch, your gain" message. Explain the problem and how you fixed it, apologize and offer a special incentive to returning or new subscribers. (This is also a good time to look at your SEO strategy. My cursory search for stock photos did not turn up your site.)

To address your concerns about your emails being marked as spam, you should see whether your sending domain is showing up on blacklists. Since you changed email vendors, this may no longer be a concern, but worth checking nonetheless. If you find you are on one or more of these blacklists or are having delivery problems, consult an email reputation service for expert advice.

Your clients' willingness to forgive is based on the strength of your relationship with them. Your list-building practices may have hindered you here: your list is not opt-in, it's opt-out. Those who create an account are automatically opted in, and have to unsubscribe to get off the list. Those who don't bother to unsubscribe are less committed to you than those who have requested communication from you. Those who request communication and are rewarded with useful information and special incentives in your emails will be high-quality (and more forgiving) subscribers. Moving forward, you should add an opt-in box - and don't pre-check it - on your account sign-up form. This is the industry's best practice, and adhering to it will help rebuild your reputation.

Wishing you...

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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