For a while now, I have been on a warpath against spam in my inbox. A couple of years ago, I started setting up an elaborate series of filters in an effort to funnel unwanted email to folders I would ignore until needed. I spent a great deal of time crafting the perfect filters and making tweaks to the algorithms as email flowed through the filters landing in various folders. Even after all that effort, unwanted email would find its way to my inbox. At other times, important email from clients, family or friends would be trapped by the filters and sent to some obscure folder only to be found when I went searching for it (after being told, indignantly, by the sender that I should check my spam folder). These cases were not the ideal solution. But neither was wasting time every day trying to pick out the important emails in an inbox filled with junk.
In truth much of the “spam” that hits my inbox is email that at some point over the past three decades, I signed up for and then forgot why. Maybe I signed up to get something free, or download a white paper, or at the time was actually interested in a specific product or company. Call it collateral damage from a lifelong affliction of shiny object syndrome (SOS). I have long since forgotten why I “opt-ed in” and yet the email keeps coming in. It’s unrelenting.
I have had friends and colleagues over the years who gave up. They changed email addresses, abandoning the old address to the hoards of spam. That is ultimate defeat. I will never surrender. But I must admit that my 3-decade spam war was beginning to wear me down.
When I realized how much time I was spending crafting filters, I said to myself there has to be a better way. There I was, staring into the blue glow of my computer monitor at the beginning of another day. The email was streaming in like a stampede of cattle through the only gate out of the pasture. I sat there staring at all of the offending emails which made their way past the gauntlet of my “well-crafted” guardian filters and landed in my inbox. They were staring back at me. They were taunting me as if they knew there was nothing I could do to stop them. Like a Wild West gunslinger’s fingers lightly touching the gun in his holster before a quick draw showdown, my fingers hovered slightly above the mouse, twitching, waiting to pounce. In that moment, I knew I was losing the war.
Then I saw it. There on the bottom row of the e-mail in tiny print was the single word of my salvation. It had been there all along, waiting to be discovered. It quietly whispered, “unsubscribe”.
A glimmer of hope flared in my eye and my trigger fingers froze. I had the thought, “it can’t be that easy”. In spite of my better judgment I clicked on the link. In less than a couple of seconds the link open a browser window and took me to a single page. The page read “are you sure”? And below it a button reading “click to confirm”. It was quick and painless and easy. They said they were sorry to see me go.
The emotion of frustration and hopelessness of losing the long fought battle was gone. The angry gunslinger was at peace. What was left was a hint of remorse. I had the thought: if I don’t get the e-mail I might be missing out on something. That thought passed quickly. After all, I hadn’t read e-mail from that company in years.
Like an army general fueled by a second wind and with a new weapon to fight his old foe, I proceeded to open each email, search feverishly for the unsubscribe link and click it. I moved quickly. Unsubscribe. Confirm. Delete. I moved through the emails swiftly, cutting each one down in turn.
The next several days, I took the time to religiously click on unsubscribe in any email it hit my inbox that I had not been reading, could not remember where it came from, or did not know why I was getting it.
I must admit, my attitude regarding spam is definitely old school. I can remember back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, spam was just something we dealt with. We had to tolerate it. Back then, you certainly wouldn’t want to click on an unsubscribe link, even in the unlikely event you could find one, because that would just alert the offending sender that they had a valid e-mail address.
To my surprise, over the next several days and weeks, I began getting less and less email. I noticed it right away with the companies who sent daily (or even seemingly more frequent) emails.
Today, my filters are history. And victory is mine.
There may have been a time in the past when companies brag about having a large email list. Now in the era of social marketing, companies are looking for fanatical followers, not a “list”. Companies want their customers to know they matter. A list of a thousand fanatical customers has the potential to generate far more than a list of 100,000 or even a million disinterested souls. Companies, at least most legitimate companies, would rather you not be on their list if you have no interest.
Today there are a lot of tools, like Vertical Response and Constant Contact that make it effective for even the smallest business to manage their email marketing campaigns in such a way that will delight their customers and not intrude into the lives of people who are not interested in being their customers.
And we should give credit where credit is due. There are many law enforcement agencies around the world who have worked hard and had some legal victories to shut down the largest spammers.
It is up to us, the all powerful consumers, users and followers, to vote with our mice. Like what you want. Follow who you want. Unsubscribe to what you don’t want. And, when you do find spam landing in your box, never, ever, click the link or purchase the product. If the spam is for something that you can’t live without, go buy it from a competitor who didn’t spam you. And remember to tell them why you bought from them.
I am not willing to declare the era of spam to be over, but the tide is turning. To the businesses who are still sending unsolicited e-mail with no option to unsubscribe, and yes, I still get a couple of those, I would say your days are numbered.