Tag Archives: E-mail marketing

Stoop to Congoo?

Is business networking site Congoo resorting to spam to build its user base? I suspect it is.

Congoo is on one hand a good idea — a place to gather and monitor content on your industry, including content that is usually subscription only (like WSJ.com, who publish my weekly Loose Wire column.) But it’s also a networking tool — indeed, its blurb emphasizes that over the content:

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But I don’t like being spammed, and I think Congoo may be doing that. Of course, they’re not alone in being accused of spamming — the likes of Plaxo, Zorpia and other networking services make it overly easy for a new recruit to send an email blast to everyone in their address book without them realizing it. To me that’s spam. Even Facebook isn’t entirely blameless: Add any application to your profile and you’re usually within a whisker of spamming all your friends unless you’re alert and scout around for the “skip” button.

But Congoo seems to be taking a different, and in a way more openly spammy, approach. It’s emailing non-subscribers — apparently at random — inviting them to join the network — with no apparent invitation from an existing user, or even a personalized email to indicate the recipient is being chosen for a specific reason. Here’s part of what I got this morning, from someone called Rebecca Simpson, identified as “Manager Network Development”:

We would like to formally invite you to add your professional profile on Congoo. You may recognize many of the professionals already featured:  Media & Advertising  Healthcare  Internet Finance Technology  Politics  & Law

Rebecca’s Congoo profile says she has “specialized in working with press and media outlets to distribute information. I have also organized and executed guerilla marketing campaigns as well as developed proprietary systems and methods for measuring ROI on Web buzz.”

That may be so, but frankly I’m not impressed at this particular pitch. No attempt is being made to categorize me, as I’ve shown only an amateur’s interest in healthcare, and my grasp of law goes no further than thinking ‘tort’ must be in some way related to the word ‘retort’. And I’ve had no prior dealings with Congoo that I can recall aside from several pitches from their (somewhat, er, insistent) PR company, whose own contact database could do with some consolidating.

It appears I’m not alone in thinking this might be a bit too spammy to be decent business practice. The net-abuse mailing list last week collected four examples of an identical message from one Heather Faulkner, who also happens to carry the title of “Manager Network Development” (how many managers of one department are you allowed? I’m not really up to date on that kind of thing), while the spam manager at AKBK Home captured more than 50 in a few hours.

And then there’s Congoo’s own policy on spam, of which this seems itself to be a transgression:

Congoo is concerned about controlling unsolicited commercial e-mail, or “spam.” Congoo has a strict policy prohibiting the use of all Congoo mail accounts to send spam.

I’ve asked Congoo for more information on this, and on their policy about emailing people. At best, I’ve got it all wrong and it’s all a big mistake. At worst, it’s a pretty poor display of a networking site trying to build its base through tactics that make it little different to those of a Viagra salesman. Times may be tough amidst the runaway success of something like Facebook, and the critical mass of LinkedIn, but stoop low and there’s no way back to standing straight.

Why Did EarthLink Drop Charges?

What’s the story behind EarthLink’s decision to drop charges in part of the Alabama Spammer spam case? The Atlanta Business Chronicle yesterday said:

Atlanta-based EarthLink dismissed charges against Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot and said it believes the two were victims of a massive and sophisticated campaign of identity theft and that they were unaware of and had no role in spamming. In January 2005, EarthLink scored a legal victory against the Alabama Spammers.

That must have been quite a campaign to dupe EarthLink, who one assumes are quite good at sorting their wheat from their chaff. The press release itself leaves no doubt that EarthLink feels the two are on the good side of the email marketing fence:

“Sachs and Ahdoot are considered professionals in legitimate internet marketing and recognized leaders in web based advertising,” says their attorney, Paul Sigelman. “Their dismissal is a clean triumph of truth for legitimate Internet ad agencies.”

Earthlink noted that after careful evaluation, it believes Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot are by their own company policies diligent in enforcing maintenance of a spam-free Internet Ad business and prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial email.

Sachs and her company (I think it was Netglobalmarketing, but the domain has expired) were the subject of a NYT piece in April 2003, and legal threats against Techdirt shortly thereafter after a reader of the site published the duo’s contact details (further discussed on Slashdot).

Ahdoot seems to have been near the top of the SpamHaus list of top (alleged) spammers, but is now nowhere to be found. I can see an interesting tale lurking behind this. How can one be a ‘top spammer’ one day and then the victim of massive identity theft the next?

Email Marketers Peer Into Your Inbox

Email marketers can now peer into your inbox to see whether their emails are getting through.

ExactTarget, an Indianopolis-based company that “delivers on-demand email software solutions for permission- based email marketing” to companies like The Home Depot, General Mills, Scotts and Bristol-Myers Squibb is now offering a service that peers into users’ inboxes at their local ISP to check whether their email marketing newsletters are getting through or getting binned as spam. The product: Inbox Detective.

According to ExactTarget, more than 20 percent of legitimate email never gets through spam filters — numbers, as Chris Baggott, co-founder and chief marketing officer of ExactTarget puts it, that “should be unacceptable to a marketer.”

The ExactTarget Inbox Detective, allows marketers “to peer into the Inbox at the top 21 ISPs to get a quick snapshot of their actual delivery rates”. From there marketers can “track what percentage of email is reaching the inbox, which are being redirected to the bulk folder and which are being discarded.” All this can be done “in real-time, so problem areas can be identified and adjustments can be made.”

Another thing the Inbox Detective does is “keep emails away from content filters, which are the most widely used spam prevention technique, and also often erroneously catch legitimate permission email”. This it does by analysing “email content against major spam filters and black lists before sending”, so the marketer can “receive real-time advice on what content changes are needed to maximize email delivery”.

While I can quite understand that there are lots of legitimate email marketing companies out there, and lots of companies trying to run legitimate email newsletters, the Inbox Detective, as described in the ExactTarget press release, raises some troubling questions about the privacy of users’ inboxes at their ISP.

And, if ExactTarget can peer into inboxes of email providers such as Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, MSN, Earthlink, Comcast, AT&T and RoadRunner, who else might be able to?

Marketers Baffled By Spam Laws

This new spam law, so far, is taking us nowhere.

A new survey conducted by email marketing service Blue Sky Factory reckons that nearly half of email marketers aren’t sure whether the stuff they send out is compliant and more than half admit that they do not understand the new U.S. laws (called, catchily but inaccurately, CAN-SPAM). Marketers, needless to say, aren’t happy: almost 40 percent do not believe the new laws will have a positive influence on the online relationship between businesses and their consumers. (A PDF version of the survey is available here.)

This seems to be the prevailing view at a conference in San Francisco, where WIRED reports that a lot of folk are nervous, since the law carries heavy penalties not just against marketers but the folk selling the product they’re peddling. This may be no bad thing, of course: The story quotes someone from dating site Date.com as saying his company now has a “a strict policy on privacy and bulk e-mailing” in place. Others complain that the law gives too much leeway to Internet Service Providers to block stuff that looks like spam, so they find that their emails are getting stopped even when they’re complying with CAN-SPAM.

Nowhere, so far, is mentioned the alternative: RSS. To me it seems a logical step. RSS feeds don’t get blocked, control over receiving or not receiving is in the hands of the reader, and it’s cool. Get with the program, email marketers.