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When email goes wrong, with Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise

Email’s Not Dead: Season 3, Episode 7

When email goes wrong with Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise

Email's Not Dead

About this episode:

It’s the season finale and we’re excited to bring you this final episode: When email goes wrong, with Laura Atkins. Laura has over 30 years of experience fighting spam and collaborating with large enterprises to enable them to become better senders. Listen in for a fun-filled episode as we cap off Season 3 – we’ll see you soon for Season 4.

Meet your presenters

Jonathan Torres

Jonathan Torres

Manager of the TAM team at Sinch Mailgun

Eric Trinidad

Eric Trinidad

Technical Account Manager II at Sinch Mailgun

Laura Atkins

Laura Atkins

CEO and founder of Word to the Wise


Email’s Not Dead - S3, E7: When email goes wrong, with Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise



Eric Trinidad: Welcome to Email's Not Dead. My name is Eric and this is Jonathan.


Jonathan Torres: Hello.


Eric Trinidad: Hello. We're here to give you your dose of email and email trivia, fun facts and all things e.mail Today on this episode, we actually have a very special guest. Laura Atkins, CEO of Word to the Wise. Laura, how are you doing today?


Laura Atkins: I'm doing great. How are you?


Eric Trinidad: Doing very well. Very well, thanks. So thank you so much for joining us. You know, this is our final episode of the season. So I think, you know, go out on top, go big or go home. And here we are. We're all in our homes together. Speaking with you. So thank you for taking the time to meet with us.


Laura Atkins: I am so excited that you guys invited me and that we get to talk email today.


Jonathan Torres: Yes. Yes, it's always fun talking email like this is definitely the funnest part for me. Just to kind of get started. I know we wanted to get a little bit of background from you, Laura. Like what you've been through. We love kind of, you know, digging a little bit into the past seeing where you've come from and where you've been and what you've done. So just to get a little bit to know you and we'll kind of go into some other stuff. How did you get to the spot that you're at in email? The brief summary, the high level overview, if you will. Not that you have to give your whole life story because that might not be so fun.


Laura Atkins: So I actually I am a scientist by training. I started interning at the FDA back in like the late 80s, early 90s and then went to graduate school, and that was actually my first introduction to email was I had an email address. I had a .gov address many, many years ago and then had a .edu address at my grad school. But actually, that all predated spam. We didn't have spam you know? There was like, you got mail from people you knew, and that was it. But what happened was spam started to become an issue. And we started to get all this junk mail. And ironically enough, there was a problem that I had when I was interning at the FDA. My boyfriend at the time actually had an email address at the university we were at. The university didn't give out email addresses, so I was at the FDA and I had an address and he was at the university and he had an address and we couldn't actually email each other because there was and I still, to this very day, I don't know what the problem was, but I have a feeling it has to do with bank pass. So when I started, you know, when I started getting spam, I actually used getting spam as a way to learn about how email works because, you know, I couldn't figure out how to email my boyfriend in the 1990s. We kind of got into it just as a learning how to read headers and learning how to report spam and then getting more involved in some of the net abuse groups over on Usenet. That's how old I am. Meanwhile, I'm like, you know, I'm working on my Ph.D. and developing chicken vaccines, and then I moved to Wisconsin and I was working on getting chickens drunk again. I did a lot of work with chickens over the years. It's very strange. We were using chickens as a model for fetal alcohol syndrome, so I was getting chickens drunk and doing all this stuff actually with the eggs. It wasn't the chickens themselves. We were injecting eggs with alcohol. I wasn't like, you know, force feeding chickens. We were injecting eggs anyway.


Eric Trinidad: You weren't giving chicken shots.


Laura Atkins: We were doing all of this. But in the meantime, you know, kind of my hobby was fighting spam. And through all of this, I ended up meeting Steve, who was in Boston at the time, and he was developing  and we were doing all this stuff and then any way, long, very long story short, we ended up getting married in 1999 I think? I don't remember, I've been married for a while. Anyway, so we met over spam and then we got married and then he got a job and we moved out to California. And then I was like, I kind of applied for a few jobs like, you know some of the other tech bio startups out there, and none of them sounded really great. And it was like, what am I going to do because I spent so much time on Usenet at the time and had posted a lot in the Netabuse newsgroups? I was kind of a known quantity. Well, I'm pretty sure I'm still not a known quantity, but I was kind of a known quantity. And so the folks over mail abuse prevention service, MAPS who started the RBL and who are now, I think their trend micro. They said, Hey, we're trying to start up a consulting division and we're trying to start up an outsourced abuse desk project. And do you want to come work for us? And that's how I got into it. I came in, they hired me. They basically then farmed me out to a couple of large network providers to handle their abuse desks and to handle incoming abuse until, you know, deal with all of these things online. So that was how I got my start in email, and I worked there for about a year and then the dot bomb happened and we were basically being funded out of the founders pockets. And so they just laid off half the company, which was, you know, it was Silicon Valley. It was 2001. Everybody got laid off. Then what happened was the chairman of the board of Steve's company, who had basically moved to south California to do all of this. He was Rodney Joffe, and he is well known in the marketing space, but he's also very much in the anti-spam space as well. And he started when he would get colleagues and his friends and people going, Hey, we're being blocked. We don't know how to get off the block. We're on the RBL. And he would say, go talk to Laura. And so he opened a lot of doors for me and, you know, started me on this whole consulting business in terms of just saying, Hey, she can help. And then I'd go out and I tell them what to do, and they do it and they'd get off the list and everything would be peachy keen. So we get towards the end of 2001 and Steve's now laid off because everybody in the valley is being laid off at the time. And we thought, Well, we could start a company, you know, and we'll start a company and we'll both work on it for a year. Steve can do some programing and he can build more tools and he can write more code and I can do consulting. And then in a year when the economy is better, one of us will get a job and find a real job. And that was fine, you know, we were just kind of taken along and we were doing the thing and everything. And then we got to about a year point and we kind of looked around and went, Wait, this is a job. So that's how I got started. And I've been doing deliverability consulting since 2001.


Eric Trinidad: That is like a roller coaster of a ride. Like, I don't know, I don't know, like, I think we wanted to talk about like when email goes wrong, but it seems like like it going wrong made it oh so right for you because one, it made you separate from your boyfriend and you met your husband. You know who is your partner, love of your life. Now you're in it 20 plus years and you all found a great job. And now you're doing exactly like this is like real fun work. Like consulting and working in team with your husband. Like, this is amazing. So maybe we should change the title of the show. You know?


Laura Atkins: Oh, I can talk about when email goes wrong, though.


Jonathan Torres: Oh yeah. I think that's the bulk of the conversation, right? When email goes wrong. So, you know, that's awesome. Like, I don't know if I know anybody else in the email industry or people that I talk to, like that have anything to do with email that have worked in any capacity with chickens previously. Like, it's like the first time, I think ever. So that is awesome. And really like reading headers like if you haven't read headers, you don't really work in email. Like if you hadn't had to go through headers and see and like, analyze and look and, you know, just kind of pay a little closer attention, you know, you may think you work in email, but you're just a step away.


Laura Atkins: It is definitely a skill and it does. I do kind of see sometimes people are like, I don't know where this email came from, and it's like, Hand it over to me, and they don't know how to read headers. And I'm kind of like, how can you not? I kind of feel like we need to start a class so that we can teach people how to read headers because it's so fundamental to understanding what's going on.


Jonathan Torres: I love that, let's do it.


Laura Atkins: As long as we don't have to read Microsoft Headers, that's fine.


Jonathan Torres: I think , people that know, know.


Laura Atkins: Right?


Jonathan Torres: That would be amazing. We can graduate people into really working in email by teaching them how to read some headers.


Eric Trinidad: So language class. I think we'll be fine.


Jonathan Torres: Yeah, yeah, that's perfect. Definitely jump into that stuff. I know like a big bulk of that story and the thing that kind of, you know, triggers it off is like unsolicited mail, right? Spam, like when it comes in, why it's there, like what's going on? Like, how do you stop it? Most importantly, I think is definitely a side of that. You've worked in the past. I know I've worked in the past like we've, you know, before doing things where like, I'm trying to get good people to send out good email, right? Like you need people to do the right things within email. I've worked in that side also where we're trying to stop bad email from coming in. So like, what does that difference? What is the differentiator? I guess the ultimate question is like, where's the line? Where's the line between? This is good email, this email that I want and then where's the line that where it will become spam or things that I don't want? I don't know, Laura. I'll pose a question to you first and see, what your thoughts are on it?


Laura Atkins: So I'm kind of old school. Spam is unsolicited bulk email or unsolicited commercial email. Take your pick, you know? But basically, if I didn't ask to get your advertisement or I didn't get asked to get, you know, this particular mail or I am not a customer of yours and you send me email, that's it. It's spam. That seems like kind of a hard line, and in general, my line isn't really that hard. So, you know, and when we talked about it, when we were kind of the number of people that were around in the NANE days when we were back on Usenet and fighting spam on Usenet. Who are now like VPs and C level folks and professionals in the industry is crazy. I mean, some of these people in the industry, I really have known for 25 years because we all kind of started out and we all kind of started out. We were actually one of the things we were trying to do was define what spam was and define what was good and what was bad and what was OK and what wasn't. And one of the things that we said a lot was it's about consent. It's not about content. So I don't care what weird email you're getting. If you've asked for it and you said, yes, that's fine, you have permission to send me mail, then that's not spam and so I think, you know, that's the perspective where I come from. Now, I think that was an oversimplification, and as I kind of look at where we are now and where we're going, there's companies out there that have permission and then take that permission and kind of go, Well, you gave me permission so I can send, you know, 17 emails a day to you.


Laura Atkins: You know, I think the classic example for that one is kind of LinkedIn, right? LinkedIn isn't sending spam. They're sending mail that you have opted into. I don't know when the last time you went through their preference pane was, but it's like three pages long. And there's like all of these really, you know, find two knobs so you can really dial in what you want from LinkedIn and what you don't. And it wasn't always like that, but I would never actually, you know, treat LinkedIn email as spam in terms of blocking it or recommending that it be blocked or whatever. No, you signed up to LinkedIn. You gave them their email address. It's your responsibility to go in and twiddle all those knobs and dials.


Jonathan Torres: Actually, I love when companies have that. Like, I know it's not always, it's not common, but like, that's one of the things I preach to people is like, if you are having problems with people or saying your stuff is spam and you're just bombarding them with emails, but you're not giving them a choice on what they want to receive. Like, that's just problematic. It may not be spam, it may not be classified as spam. You know, if you're not giving them a choice, I think it just prompts the recipient themselves to just view things a little bit differently. And that's also a big thing, right? Is the perception of, you know, what's happening with the emails that they're getting and why and options are always nice. So always lead with that, too.


Laura Atkins: Well, and I remember a few years ago I was signed up for a local kitchen store room out when we lived in California, and I liked the kitchen store and they would send ads like, you know, I was getting stuff like three times a week or whatever. But we were in the store. And so it was always coupons and it was always that was fine. And then one year it was about a week before Thanksgiving, and they changed their cadence from three times a week to three times a day. Because it's now Thanksgiving and they're sending out all of these recipes. And I was just like, Oh, Jesus, no.


Jonathan Torres: Yeah.


Laura Atkins: But that particular company, I would have happily stayed on their mailing list. Had they said, you know, no, just just email me like once a week, don't email me four times a day. But they didn't have that preference center. And so I ended up unsubscribing. Now I still shopped there and I still gave them my money and everything. But I wasn't getting their emails because they had ramped the cadence up so high that it was just like, No, this is no.


Jonathan Torres: Yeah. And it's so much easier for somebody to say no and remove yourself from the list and then you don't always go back or you don't get people that always come back, you know, after that. And it's just, yeah, it can be such a problem. And to that, I know like one of the things that we always talk about, and I think that's kind of the other thing and that's a little bit of a hidden object within that is the giving of your email and then consenting to those emails coming through. So and that's another big thing that we talk about. I think overall and we've probably said, you know, over a dozen times on the podcast is like getting permission to send to somebody and really get an opt in from the person that you're you're sending email to. To actually send them email and you're not just, you know, bombarding them or just, you know, those. I personally have a problem, i'm going to call some people out so i'm sorry if you're in this category, but this may not be the best way to do it. But when you're just given an email because you're not giving them a choice besides giving them, you know, like them, giving you... Them, giving us your email...You as the sender! If your like, Hey, you have to give me your email to, you know, receive this notification or do something else. But then you're not telling them that you're also opting them into a newsletter or promotions or anything else like that is not permission. And yeah it's very different from somebody saying, like, here's my email address. Yes, please send me stuff. And then, you know, then we start getting into like, what's the cadence? What's that look like? What's my preferences? But if you're not even doing that first part, that very first initiation of, Hey, I can I send you email then that's a problem, and that can make it much, much worse.


Laura Atkins: Oh, absolutely. And those folks do have delivery problems. I mean, I get companies coming in and I don't get quite as many these days, but I get companies coming in and they're like, Well, we have permission. It's in our privacy policy and I'm like, you know, better.


Eric Trinidad: But do you though? Yeah.


Laura Atkins: You know, that you're hiding that permission in the privacy policy so that you can say, Oh, yes, we told them and you know, nobody's actually looking at that. And what I actually call that is taking permission. You're not being given permission, you're taking permission from them and you're taking it away and you're not giving them a choice. And if you're really giving them a choice and if you really want permission, you give them that checkbox and you don't leave that checkbox checked.


Jonathan Torres: Yes, yes!


Laura Atkins: You know, and in fact, I can. Oh man, I can remember back when I was doing the abuse desk, you know, we had like Trans Pacific fiber kind of level big, and we had some big companies as customers, and I can remember a large auction site was a customer and they went through at one point and they decided that they were going to pre check all their check boxes and they were going to treat anybody that sent a complaint, contacted abuse or contacted support as opted in to their mailing list. So not only were we upstream of that was, you know, was I working for the company that they were buying their connectivity from? But they also at the same time ended up getting listed on the RBL. And so we had a giant meeting sitting in their headquarters, you know, in Santa Clara with between the RBL team and their lawyers and a bunch of their folks and me. And it was like, you can't just assume that and I even said, while, I'm sitting at the table, I'm like, So you're telling me that I as your upstream provider who you're paying for services and who is keeping you on the internet, that if I forward you complaints that we're getting from people because we were getting complaints, if I forward you, complaints that we're getting from people that you have decided now that abuse of your upstream provider has opted into your mailings and they're like, Yeah, I'm like, No! That's not how it works. And we've come a long way since then. But, you know, that's kind of stuff that people have pulled in the past.


Jonathan Torres: I don't know. It's crazy to me because so many times, like when, especially if you're having problems, like if you just take those steps and just do that work to, you know, actually opt in, somebody, leave those check boxes unchecked and, you know, make them actually check those things to get, you know, get the proper permission to send them. It helps fix so many problems. Like I know, the theme is when email goes wrong. But I know, like one of the things that we want to talk a little bit about is like how to fix it. And this is probably the most obvious and easiest one to fix, where actually get permission to send right?. Like, I put the checkbox there, you know, make sure that they're aware that they're going to be getting emails and then get that permission and man, it's night and day a lot of times, like it's just one of the easiest things you can do to vastly improve what you're sending looks like. Awesome. I know we have like another group of people that we want to talk about a little bit. So, you know, like let's say you're on your way home from work, you know, you drive by the corner,  there's Mr. Bubbles and he's selling you some, some laundry detergent. I'm using an example in real life. OK, so I got to do that. But then let's say hypothetically, you know, he's got an emailing list that you can pick up there, you know, is that good? Should I send to that email list if I'm just purchasing it somewhere? Not that it's Mr. Bubbles. I'm just saying.


Eric Trinidad: What if he's on hard times, what if? What if you really enjoy his band? But he also sells bubbles on the side, you know?


Jonathan Torres: Sorry. I had to go there. I had to go there. Eric has done some questionable practices from where he gets his laundry detergent, but as an example, we can use that as you know, somebody who maybe has questionable practices getting an email list. Let's just throw it out their. Thoughts on that, on procurement of a email list.


Laura Atkins: Here's the thing. Any time you have outsourced the collection of email addresses in the collection of permission, whether that's you know, you're partnering with another company or you're purchasing the list or whatever it is, when you put the onus and put the responsibility on that third party to collect email addresses for you. You lose all control over what kind of permission they're getting. And if, for instance, you're paying them per email address, they have a lot of incentive just to give you email addresses, but they have no incentive to give you good email addresses or actually give you opt in email addresses. And so you're basically outsourcing the collection process, but you're keeping all of the risk in your own program. And so you have no real understanding, real knowledge, real belief, anything that that's being collected in a way that's actually opt in. And one of my very early clients, one of my very early clients who some folks might recognize the name Scott Richter, came to me very, very early on. One of the things he wanted me to do was he had purchased the list and he's like, It's a good list. It's a clean list. It's all Opt-In. It's fine. I want you to look at it. So he sent me over. I don't remember, like a couple hundred thousand email addresses, and I started going through a list and I had names. I had email addresses, I had zip codes, I had connecting IP addresses, so I had a lot of information. So I went through and I kind of did all these tests that I started, you know, even doing IP localization and looking. Does that compare with where the zip code is? And I did all of this stuff and I'm like, The list looks good, you know, I can't. There's nothing about this list that says to me that this is not an actually opt in list and that the company who's selling it to you is giving you the address. So then I thought, and I've not yet done this because I'm really sure that whoever is buying the email address list from is not telling him the truth, but I can't find it. So I'm going through and I'm doing all this stuff. And finally, I'm like, All right. So I like dropped in a few of my email addresses and I find one of my email addresses. I found my Hotmail address on there, and this was the Hotmail address that I used to use back when I was posting on Usenet, and I found my Hotmail address on there and it was my Hotmail address and it was not my name. It was not my zip code and it was an IP address belonging to somebody I don't know. So either somebody signed up and used my email address or this was just a completely crap list. But there's the problem. There was no incentive for the company who was doing the collecting to make sure that that email address belonged to the person that they were collecting from or even to collect it with permission at all. They could have just gone out and scraped it and then, you know, put together this fake data to go along with it. And that's the problem with purchase list, even when people tell you that it's opt in. And even when you know, perhaps they think it's opt in, it's expensive for them to do the proper data handling to make sure that the permission is really there. And so they don't do it because they make their money when you buy the list and then you are assuming all of the risk of mailing to that list.


Jonathan Torres: That doesn't sound like a good time. They will do some efforts sometimes to clean list and to do things like that, but nothing's ever pristine at that point, and nothing's ever like an actually true to form. Like what a real, organically built list is because, you know, I get wanting to broaden an audience that I get. I understand that mindset, that mentality and the desire even to go out there and grow your company, grow your reach. But doing it with those kind of list and a lot of times it's that that incentive piece, you know, monetarily is such a big driver for it, but it can end up costing you so much more by getting yourself into trouble. And it's one of those things I don't know. We talked about this a little bit the other day when we're kind of prepping for this, but you know, there's a whole ROI piece that I know ROI gets thrown around a lot when we start talking about email, and it is just such an easy thing to do, and it usually doesn't cost a whole lot to do email part of it. But to me, that means that any impact on that number for ROI can be much greater whenever you start getting into the bad spot. And yeah, it doesn't cost you a whole lot. But if you can get a much better return with doing the right things, it can usually end up being a lot better. And those kind of practices, you know, especially if you're buying. And I know those people with partners and they will like, you know, share information around. But you know, a lot of times, even then, it's a form of payment that you're still doing or incentives that are still passing and being passed along. But that just, you know, takes things off the top. And, you know, it's going to really hurt and impact things when you're talking about it. So I know ROI, we feel like this can improve it, but a lot of times it ends up just being having the exact opposite effect.


Laura Atkins: Yeah. And the other thing to remember, and I think people don't always kind of consider this is and I know I get this, I get this from companies who are calling in and I'm like, I can't help you. You're buying lists. You know, this is not the type of work I do. You need to go find somebody else and then I and then I get the questions right. I get the questions and the questions are like, Well, but but but I don't have any choice over what ads are being shown on my TV, and I'm like, You don't own the TV station, right?  You know, they're paying the TV station owner to show those ads to you. You don't own the TV station. But I own my mailbox. I own the domain. I own the hardware it sits on. I pay rent for the, you know, internet that comes to it. I own that. It's mine. And you know, if you're going to get in there and you want to advertise to me, you can pay me or I can give you permission, right? Those are the two options. And so I think, you know, a lot of times when we're thinking about filtering them or thinking about who is doing the blocking, the companies that are doing the blocking are either blocking on their own property and on their side of the property line, which, you know we can take it as that MTA belongs to them. And if they choose not to let your mail through, that's because they're saying, now not in my space or it's being done by third parties who are basically delegated to make those decisions. So companies like Spamhaus or, you know, some of the filtering companies, those groups are being given permission by the network owners to make decisions about what mail can and cannot come in there. The reason email is so cheap is that you're only paying half the freight. The people you're sending to are paying the other half of the freight because they're paying to receive the mail, they're paying to sort the mail they're paying to store the mail they're paying, you know, about as much as you are for every mail that you send in. Now, one of the things that we managed to establish long time ago was that permission was that piece was that, you know, that was the ticket that got you through. It was the whole permission piece. And so I think that's why a lot of us are still in the, no, you can send whatever you want. You just have to have permission from the address owner. And when you're looking at the consumer mailbox provider, so your Gmail's and your Microsoft and your Yahoos, they have it a bit more complicated because they don't know what comes in with permission. And they're trying to judge individual and users on a huge scale and make decisions for the individual and users and to protect their own networks and to do what you know, they're making some really complex decisions for every email that comes in. But when we look at businesses or if we look at, you know, people like me who own my own stuff, you know, I get to make those decisions and nobody can contradict me. Nobody can say, you have to accept this traffic because I absolutely don't. Now they can say, they can tell Steve, you can't block that traffic because Laura wants it, and they might have a bit of a thing. But then I've got to go to Steve and say... He's over here, shaking his head. But at that point, it's I've got to negotiate with him. It's not the sender negotiating with him. It's do I really want this mail and do I want it enough that I'm going to take the steps to get it unblocked? And that's the whole piece of the blocking is that it's your front door. It's, you know, you have to wear a mask to come into my store and it's the same kind of thing. You have to have permission to be able to email my users.


Jonathan Torres: I think so many times that creates such like a seesaw effect, you know, but it's like, you know, it's just tightly, you know, or even the scales, you know, when you're looking at it like the scales of justice, you know, it's right on that point, right? Like do you have people that are wanting that information like or want those emails that they're getting. You know, what is that permission that they've asked for? What are they telling the owner of the mailbox, which is, you know, a lot. So many times it's Yahoo and Google and Microsoft and, you know, because they have such a big piece of it. And then, you know, the people that are wanting to come in there and what are they doing, you know, to earn that permission, to earn that respect from the people that they're sending to you, you know, and to show the people that own those things that they do deserve to get through the door. And I think that sometimes I think what gets a little bit lost is that I know there's been plenty of times where I've talked to somebody and they just don't, not that they don't understand. It's just that they've maybe forgotten to look at that piece, right, that it's somebody else who owns the mailbox and it's their rules that we have to play by because they're the ones who have the control and have the keys to the kingdom and we have to play by their rules if we want anything to get through and get to the people that we're trying to reach.


Eric Trinidad: Yeah. I mean, we can only do so much. Show them like what we know, but actually forcing folks to implement these changes and doing the right things, that's really going to be up to them. And you know how much they value their business. You know, overall, like the email community, is a pretty small, tight group. You know, we all talk, you know, we all see how things are going. You know, so when folks start doing some bad stuff, it definitely does get around. And so I guess that's how we're getting better right to like, understand, you know, how spammers react and how they engage and what practices they're doing, right?


Laura Atkins: Absolutely.


Jonathan Torres: To go ahead and turn the conversation around. I think we've gone down a dark path. Like, we started looking at the thing, what's the next step, right? Like, what if you find yourself as a person who maybe hasn't taken the right steps, who hasn't done exactly the right thing, but your intent isn't bad. It's just that maybe you didn't know or, you know, it was just one of those things you were not aware. And now you're in this bad spot. Like, how do you start digging yourself out of it? I know I have things that I tend to suggest and, you know, tell people to do. I don't know, Laura. Laura, we'll start with you, though. I want to hear from you. Like, what do you think? You know, if you're in that spot? Like, how do you start digging yourself out?


Laura Atkins: The first thing you do is stop digging right? When your head's below the level of the hole, stop digging. So the first thing you do is you stop a lot of what you're mailing now, you know, sometimes there are challenges and you can't stop everything, but you stop everything that you don't know is exactly wanted. And we're going to talk about consumers because B2B as a whole is a whole other can of worms. So I'm going to talk about consumers most. You stop mailing anybody that you don't have clear evidence is currently getting your mail in the inbox because when your mail goes to the bulk folder and nobody notices if you're just sending a whole bunch of mail and I've actually heard some folks who I think are kind of on the grayer end of legitimate marketers say things like, Oh, just let me send mail and put it in people's spam folder, and I don't care. Right? But that's not how the ISP's see it. If the ISP's are putting mail in the spam folder, that's actually still a negative hit, even if they're making the decision. So we know that if somebody hits the this is, spam button and actively, you know, and that puts the mail in the spam folder, that's a big negative. If the ISP doesn't even give them that chance, they still count that as negative. It's not as big a negative. I kind of figure, you know, it's like ten to one. It's 10% of what the spam hit would be. But that's more conceptual than actual. And every message that goes in that spam folder is a negative hit on your reputation. And so you got to stop sending mail that ends up in the spam folder. So the first thing you do is figure out who you're sending to is that is actually getting mail in their inbox. And we do that by opens. And even now, even in the whole realm of MPP and the fact that we know that Gmail and we know that Yahoo are preloading fetching images and all of that, you can still use the opens to say this mail is not being delivered to the spam folder, you can still kind of pull some data out of that. Clicks are good, opens are good, those kinds of things. And then you just mail to that audience for a little while. Give it a week, you know, just mail to that audience and then that should start to repair the reputation. And then you can make some decisions about. And this is, you know, this is what I do is helping companies work through the decision process of, OK, who do we bring back next? How do we identify those customers that actually do want our mail and that gave us permission and who are open to receiving mail from us versus those people that we took permission from and who really don't want our mail. And when it goes to their bulk folder, they don't care and they don't miss it if it's not in their inbox. So it's really about trying to figure out who you're receptive audiences and who are the people that are going to interact in ways. And this is one that I use a lot with clients, who are people that are going to interact with your mail in a way that tells that machine learning filter sitting between you and them, that they want the mail. And so we're basically we're trying to to adjust the machine learning filters by acting on a third party and getting them to act in ways that we want them to act. And that's how you improve your reputation and that's how you get back to the inbox. And then once you're there, you know, you can't necessarily go back to all the stuff you were doing. You also have to clean up your subscription processes. You also have to clean up your data acquisition processes and making sure that people know what they're getting into when they give you an email address.


Jonathan Torres: The biggest like counterpoint for people whenever we're talking about those kind of things is that they are going to take a hit on what they're doing because they have such a big list that they're sending to now and that things are going to go terribly wrong if they do that. But most of the time those people, what ends up happening is that this part of the audience is the one that's engaging and doing things with you anyway. So you're not really taking that big of a hit whenever you look at the actual numbers and whenever they actually do take those steps. And then that also gives you an opportunity to try to reach out to the people that have been missed on that list and what my personal preference is always to, you know, especially with those that have engaged, that haven't done anything. And we're starting to get into a better place with our reputation is, you know, give the option at that point to opt in, right? Like if you identified that they're not engaging with you, that they're not doing anything, let them know. Let them know that you know, that they're not engaging, they're not doing anything with those emails and give them the option then to say, like, Yes, I do want to be a part of this or no, and, you know, don't send to them again. It's not an opportunity to just start sending to them once your reputation is repaired. It's, you know, like this is your opportunity to reach out and see if they do want this or not. And that usually can, you know, open up to so many more doors.


Eric Trinidad: Yeah, like great they complained, that's an opt in. You know...


Laura Atkins: They click the link. They must be engaged. No the link they clicked was your unsubscribe link.


Eric Trinidad: Yeah, I think I do the same thing. You know, as far as you know, some of those points that you mentioned, but also like reducing volume, you know, a lot of folks do end up, you know, do send in mass quantities and spiking, you know, so we said, tell them to cut back as well. So, you know, until they are able to more concentrate more hone in on those opening clicks in those engagers. So yeah, I think that's great.


Laura Atkins: One of the things that I really kind of focus on is marketers out there that I know don't think this way, but I think of it as you're in this together, right? You're sending mail that you want the recipient to receive. But the recipient has as much agency in this relationship as you do, and the recipient can say, No, I don't want to receive this, and no, I don't want to hear from you. Or yes, I do. And there are a lot of marketing techniques out there that are basically the negative option, right? They assume the yes and wait for the no. And in email in particular. That's not how this medium works. You have to assume the no and search for the yes, and that's that whole consent piece. And that's that whole permission piece. You know and quite honestly, if I talked about the local kitchen store in the Valley, if they had sent me email before Thanksgiving going, Hey, we're about to just start sending you massive amounts of mail, is that OK? Or do you want to stay the cadence you're currently at? I would have happily stayed at that cadence, you know, because I was happily getting the mail and they occasionally had recipes and they occasionally had stuff that I went into the store and bought. But it was like, I cannot cope with three meals a day from you. I I always think of it is, you know, it really is a collaborative relationship and we treat our subscribers and we treat our members and we treat our recipients as if they have agency and we give them the respect and we give them the understanding that they can tell us no and they can tell us to back off. Now, sometimes we can infer that, you know, certainly had I been the consultant for that company, I would have looked at their unsubscribe rates and gone, Hey, you lost this many people and you lost as much revenue because, you know, these people came in, or maybe they didn't. Maybe it was just me. Maybe everybody else was fine with it. And that's the other piece is you really kind of have to look at the data and you have to see and this is where the science bit comes in. You have to see what the reality is. And there's certainly been times when I've gone to customers, that's never going to work. You're going to lose money, you're going to lose subscribers. And they've come back to me and they've said, Well, here's the data from when we kind of did a pilot of this three months ago and it was like, Oh, OK, well, so you know, we'll take the data and we'll move forward. And so we need to think about not just what enriches us as a company, but how we're enriching the lives of our subscribers and how we're meeting some need or unknown need of theirs.


Jonathan Torres: That is awesome. That's a great way to look at it. It is a relationship, and I don't think we can overstate or say it enough, like you have to have a relationship with the people that you're sending to with your subscribers, with, you know, all those recipients and doing those things that I love. When people do that, like I know, I've gotten like maybe a half a dozen times like, you know, maybe I can just count on one hand when somebody said, like, Hey, you know, we're we're getting ready to start like Black Friday stuff. Do you want to receive more emails like during this time? Or like, do you want to be part of the alert system for stuff that's going on? And, you know, sometimes I don't really care about it, but there's other times where I'm like, Yes, you know, we definitely need a new hard drive. Let me know when all those things are happening. So, you know, like, I will participate in some of those things and I love that. And you know, the brands that have done that kind of stuff like it sticks with me and I'm like, it makes me even more loyal because the respect to me as a consumer, you know, to their list and to their products and everything else. So it's great. And it's something that I can, you know, create some good brand identification and brand loyalty when you're doing stuff like that too. So, yeah, I know it might be scary, but it's a lot of times, are you going to get a lot more positive out of it when you're doing things like that? And I know we've gone a long time, so I don't know how much we can keep going. I feel like we have to have another conversation sometime in the future because this is a lot of fun.


Eric Trinidad: Laura, would you be down for coming back and talking to us again?


Laura Atkins: I'm always happy to talk to folks. This has been a lot of fun, but and it it is a bit of I get to talk a little bit and I get to share and I get to pontificate on things and hey, any platform to pontificate on.


Eric Trinidad: Yeah, absolutely. But you know, you gave us a lot of great insight of not only where you've come from, but where we've come from overall. So, you know, it's a good to look at our past to see where we're going and see what the future holds for us. So at this time, Laura where can they find more information about you and more about Word to the Wise? Where can they go?


Laura Atkins: Yep, you can find me a and you can find me at @wise_laura on Twitter. And those are basically the places I hang out. I'm also on the email geeks Slack channel, so if you're over there, come say hi and, you know, drop me an email, shoot me a tweet, and I'm always happy to chat.


Eric Trinidad: Well great. Right on. Well we appreciate you. Appreciate your time. This concludes our season three. Look for us on all the platforms where you can find podcast and podcast episodes. Soon to be on TikTok I feel. Thomas. We still need to talk about that, but thank you all for listening and we'll see you all again in season four.

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