Email Logistics in Crisis Management

Last time, I wrote about the importance of understanding the risks and rewards of hosting data at third parties and why it is critical to understand how your organization’s requirements and limitations will impact your overall security situation. Today, I want to look at the importance of email logistics in your crisis management communications plan. Whether or not that incident is related to third-party data hosting or your email service provider (ESP), it will frequently include using email to notify people and notify them quickly.

On the surface, this sounds pretty straightforward. There shouldn’t be any significant problems contacting your customers and prospects via email – after all, you do it all the time. However, there are a number of subtleties and details that can make this process a serious challenge.

There are typically two key differences between these notifications and your normal marketing and transactional messaging.

The first is that your normal contact rules will probably be thrown out of the window. Data breaches, system outages, and other crises are not usually confined to your well-qualified, active subscribers. They can be expected to include people who have unsubscribed, perhaps some who have hit the “this is spam” button, users who have not responded to any messages for months, sometimes even those who may have closed their accounts with you.

Since you may not have emailed these addresses in a significant period of time, there is increased risk of high bounce rates, complaint rates, and spamtrap hit rates.

The second is that your volume may be up; way up. How fast you can deliver the messaging is going to depend on your entire infrastructure including data processes, email systems, and the willingness of ISPs to accept your messages.

Both of these factors may affect your ability to deliver messages in a timely manner, or even at all. Meanwhile, there will probably be significant pressure from senior management and possibly lawyers to notify people immediately.

That’s why it’s important your crisis management plan includes the logistics of any email notifications – to determine how the process will operate so that in the heat of the moment there is no need for debates between lawyers, senior management, and deliverability people about who should be receiving what, how fast, and in what order messages can or should be deployed.

Here are the key factors to address.

Who Will Be Included?

The first question is the criteria you will use to determine which email addresses will and will not be considered mailable. Mailing any and every address in your database is a recipe for widespread blocklisting and non-delivery. Conversely, being too conservative will potentially raise questions as to whether you emailed everyone you could have and should have.

Questions to consider are:

  • Will users who’ve opted out be considered for deployment and under what circumstances?
  • How old an address are you prepared to email?
  • What will you do with inactive addresses, those that have been removed from normal mailing simply due to non-response?
  • In the event that a list of recipients is coming from a separate data system, how will you match that list to your marketing contact history data?

How Will You Contact Undeliverables?

No mailing gets delivered to everyone. Sometimes though it’s important that everyone receives a notice; how will you handle that?

Questions to consider are:

  • Will deployment be considered a best attempt? Will that be enough?
  • Will you utilize an alternative medium?
  • What process will you use to identify undeliverables and switch them to the other medium?
  • How long will you wait to use the alternative medium?

What Are the Content Rules?

There are many details to a notification mailing. Getting them right is important. While many plans address the tone and voice of communications, the details of email deployments are often overlooked.

Questions to consider are:

  • Which from address will you use?
  • Which infrastructure/sending system?
  • Will you use link tracking or open rate tracking?
  • How will you address responses and inquiries?

Often crisis management plans simply call for notifying customers and other known users by email. Frequently, that is as detailed as the plan gets. However, when the pressure is on and your organization is under the microscope is not the time to be figuring out the details of your plan. So make like a scout, and be prepared.

Derek is off today. This column was originally published May 12, 2011 on ClickZ.

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