Email behaving badly

Email is a powerful medium. Very powerful. That, it seems, is the only clear conclusion that can be drawn from a clutch of news stories and surveys in recent weeks that demonstrate email’s power not only as a marketing tool, but also as an amplifier of human stupidity and fallibility.

A survey produced by eMedia suggests that nine-tenths of all companies are planning to step up their email marketing in coming months, largely because more than two-thirds of them had found it be highly effective at eliciting a response.

Of course, the Nigerian fraudsters who introduced themselves as Dr Mbuso Nelson know this already. Western mailboxes have been inundated for years with absurd offers of millions of dollars in return for agreeing to help Nigerians take money out of their country. All that is necessary is the payment of a few thousand – or million – to facilitate the deal.

Incredibly, Ann Marie Poet, a 59-year-old, church-going bookkeeper working for a Berkeley law firm, fell for it – and used her employer’s money to help secure the deal. She sent the scammers $2.1 million and waited for her $4.5 million in return. She got a visit from the FBI.

Email, meanwhile, also seems to cloud the judgement of employers. According to research by law firm KLegal, employees are ten times more likely to be dismissed for distributing pornography by email than they are for distributing sensitive information that is damaging to the company.

Furthermore, employees who use the web, rather than email, to access pornography are much less likely to be sacked. That seems to say, don’t send a friend pornography, just send them the URL.

All this proof of the power of email, then, will have delighted those companies that have installed systems to enable them to interact with their customers in this way.

Not so, it seems: Customer Contact magazine compared how well companies in various countries replied to emails sent by prospective customers. Over one-third of the companies tested in the UK failed to reply within a day, and 8% didn’t reply at all.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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