In this post Shayne and I share the back story how we mistakenly sent an email to almost a million people that should have gone to a few thousand – (and we then share what we did about it).
From Shayne: Wednesday the 10th of April 2013 was a day I will never forget – for all the wrong reasons.
It was a brain draining day for me. A huge business decision was made in the morning, followed by spirited discussions, followed by lots of work and climaxed in dramatic style.
A new deal had just been loaded on SnapnDeals and it was time to let our several thousand subscribers know about it via email. The email was written, loaded, tested and good to go — so I thought.
I clicked send at around 7:30PM and headed for dinner.
About 30 minutes later I popped back into the office to finish up some work and immediately realised something wasn’t right. I had over 400 out of office emails to an inbox that normally had only a handful.
With haste I jumped into our Aweber account and my heart sank.
I had sent the SnapnDeals email to ALL our lists. dPS, feelgooder and Problogger. Almost a million people!
Not good. Not good at all.
Now that I have that admission out of my system (you can stop blaming Darren now) I wanted to share our actions and response to this no so happy moment so we can all learn from my mistake.
Step 1: Tell Darren
I didn’t really know what to expect from Darren because the situation wasn’t good. He was on holiday and this was the last thing he wanted to happen.
I find you always really get to know someone at times like this and what I can share with you is that the perception that he’s the one nicest bloggers on the planet – when push comes to shove it is 100% true.
His response… “It happens… let’s fix it”.
From Darren: I was just settling down to watch some TV on our second last night of our vacation when my iPhone began to buzz incessantly with incoming emails – I knew something was up and on checking my inbox I knew pretty quickly what had happened.
The incoming emails were a mixture of direct emails from subscribers complaining of spam and unsubscribe notices from Aweber – mainly from ProBlogger readers – with comments that indicated they were not happy.
I was just logging into Aweber to see how many people had been emailed when Shayne’s text message came through.
My reaction: the first reaction was panic – seeing people quickly unsubscribe from a list you’ve put years into building up will do that – but I quickly realised we needed to react quickly and that panic and negative feelings wouldn’t get us anywhere.
Step 2: Evaluate Quickly
From Shayne: Every moment we waited to act was hurting us that little bit more. Together we quickly explored options.
- Hold our nerve and respond to anyone that contacts us directly
- Broadcast through social media and other channels about the issue
- Email people we mistakenly emailed, explain the situation and deal with the consequences.
We decided to do all three.
From Darren: Time was of the essence. Luckily for us this happened early in the evening here in Australia and most of our subscribers were asleep in the US – but the stream of negative emails and unsubscribes was constant and I wanted to react fast.
Even as I chatted with Shayne I drafted an email that I began to send in response to every person who was emailing me to complain or who had unsubscribed and left a comment via Aweber.
The email was short, apologised and briefly explained the situation.
I was also pretty sure I wanted to email those who shouldn’t have received the email – however my reservation was that in doing so we may be accused of pulling the old ‘we made a mistake’ trick that some email marketers do by making a self serving mistake in their marketing.
While being seen to use that tactic wasn’t something I wanted to happen I could also see that by NOT emailing we’d do even more damage.
Step 3: Act
From Shayne: Darren immediately shared the news on social media as we set about writing a follow up email explaining what had happened. About 20 minutes later that email was on its way. Nerves were high – and yes, I had to get Darren to hit the send button! But it was also a relief to be clearing things up.
From Darren: Everything as though it was going in slow motion at this point – I couldn’t hit send on that email fast enough and as Shayne says – it was a relief to get it out!
Step 4: Watch
From Shayne: As the email was being delivered we both monitored all inboxes to understand the response our follow up email was having. For the most part our pro-activity and transparency achieved the response we had hoped.
“I LOVED this message! I’ll take it as a benchmark of what to do when something wrong happens – because it often does, to all of us ;)
When I received the SnapnDeals email I was puzzled, but I wouldn’t have known it had a connection with you – we receive so much spam, anyway… so I didn’t pay much attention to it.
Receiving this apology, on the other hand, immediately caught my attention and had a very positive impact. It showed how a company or a consultant that cares for their contacts should behave, and made me not only sympathize with you all, but also admire your professionalism on a new level.
I learned a lot, thank you and congratulations!”
There were a few that assumed we were strategically manipulating the situation.
“And by sending this ‘mistake’ out you inadvertently introduce your readers to your SnapnDeals site. Tisk tisk – shame on you Darren. A transparent marketing effort and a unprofessional marketing effort. “
Which we knew was going to happen.
We did lose some subscribers but we minimised the damage and being open an honest about what had happened.
From Darren: the reaction from subscribers was pretty amazing. Within seconds of the email and social media updates going out we began to see reactions. They were overwhelmingly positive.
I’ve had hundreds of emails come in from those who received the Apology email and 99% of them were positive including some common themes:
- Don’t be too harsh on the person who made the mistake
- It’s good to see that even ‘ProBloggers’ make mistakes
- Thanks for your transparency and admitting the mistake
Of course it wasn’t all positive – as Shayne mentioned, some did see this as a marketing ploy. I responded to each person personally when they reacted this way. My response was to explain there is no way I would risk a brand as important to me as ProBlogger to drive a little traffic over to a side project on a completely irrelevant topic to ProBlogger readers.
The costs of this saga were certainly higher than any unintentional benefits we may have received.
Thankfully though, while we continued to have some unsubscribes they slowed down a lot immediately.
Step 5: Share
From Shayne: Darren and I both like to share our experiences so without even having to say it, we knew this had to be written about on ProBlogger. Not only to show you how not to run an email campaign, but also share that when something goes wrong, getting on the front foot and owning the issue, in the long run, is going to minimise the harm.
It’s a story that I’m sure Darren and I will chuckle about in years to come, but also a story I hope we all can remember just before we hit that send button.
From Darren: There was never a question of not sharing this story. For starters we told many of you already with our apology but interestingly another of the common responses from subscribers was them telling their own mistakes (it seems we’re not the only ones to make this mistake).
Step 6: Learn
From Shayne: Now that we know what’s possible Darren and I will look as way’s we can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. We might look at separating out the accounts on Aweber or putting a few extra checks in place before we send out emails.
Either way we need to adjust what we do as I hope you’ll all forgive me this once, but should it happen again you have my complete permission to get angry.
So that’s my wonderful 10th of April. I’m sure there’s a few more email catastrophe stories out there waiting to be shared!
It’ll make me feel better if you do :)
From Darren: The thought of this happening again sends shivers down my spine. I’ve been at this long enough to know that honest mistakes do get made (I’ve made plenty) however the keys in this are to:
- Learn from those mistakes
- Own the mistakes and to get on the front foot in responding
- Look for ways to turn the mistakes into postives
The last thing I’d say is that the mistakes you make – and how you respond to them – in many ways define you.
As I look back over the years at the times I’ve messed up it is often these moments that drive me most to improve, to change and to better what I do.
These are also the moments that others remember most – so how you move through these times is a really important part of building your brand (and character).