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Friday, October 21, 2005

A fascinating lesson in business ethics

I've been watching an interesting lesson unfold this week. It is a story about how doing the wrong thing, for the right reasons, can come back to bite you in the rear.

I am a member of a large NYS organization. They maintain the database of all the members, other businesses in the state. Well, earlier this week, an under trained secretary in one of the offices sent out an email to everyone in the database with a PDF attachment. She didn't know to put the email addresses in the "BCC" field, and within moments, every one of us state wide had the motherlode of marketing - fresh email addresses for the owners of every single one of these businesses, along with the PDF attachment.

My jaw dropped. "Oh...noooo" I thought "this is a bonanza for anyone who ever wanted to spam this group!" I was sure many, many people would abuse it and we'd never know for sure how our emails got on their "marketing" list.

Moments later, it became obvious that the email was caught in a loop - probably triggered by one of the addresses in that list. The email kept coming and coming, dozens, then hundreds of occurances of it - each with a .5 MB attachment.

Within an hour of that happening, one of the women on the list did what I feared. She took the opportunity to grab that entire list and send a "we've got special services just for you!" email out to the ENTIRE list. And guess what - she, too, put the whole list in the "To" field (ugh... just in case you missed it the first 200 times).

I know her personally, and know that 1) she never does miss a good opportunity to promote herself and her business 2) she knows better than to do what she did, and 3) she'd be the first to defend that the end justifies the means.

Only, guess what? HER email got caught in the loop, times TEN! Now, this blatant, opportunistic little spam introducing her business went out to everyone once, then ten times, then hundreds of times. By the end of the day, I was hearing from people on that list, other colleagues, how enraged they were to be getting these emails from her, seeing her name in their in box over and over.

So, from one quick thinking opportunistic move, she went from market recognition to market loathing in a day. Personally, I've set up filters to put everything from her straight to the trash because my inbox keeps filling up. Of course, the inept clowns behind the mail servers can't seem to fix it so it's still going. I woke up to hundreds more this morning, too.

Now, you may have noticed I said "the wrong thing for the right reasons" at the beginning. Look, I'm a marketer. I'm in the business of marketing my and my client's businesses. It's a necessity! But I know that spam (aka Unsolicited Commercial Email) is a bad, bad move, even with a golden opportunity like this. And I know this woman enough to know that she probably thought "oh, so I piss off 3/4 of them... so what? It's the 1/4 who hear about me and contact me that matter!" Yup, that's probably what she thought. And, so it is a little bit (okay, a lot) amusing to watch what actually happens to people who think that way ;0)