How WOM Affects Sender Reputation

Do you know what your “talkers” are saying about you?

You should, because what they say can affect your quest to get your e-mail messages safely through ISP and corporate spam filters and into the inbox.

Talkers are the people who express opinions about you either one to one, in e-mail newsletters, or in social media, such as discussion groups, blogs, social network pages, and podcasts.

You must check all the data that floods your messaging system as soon as you hit “send.” This includes hard and soft bounces, spam complaints, and unsubscribe requests. The human element can be just as important, though harder to connect with, than delivery reports. Knowing what negative talkers are saying and cultivating the good talkers can help shore up your reputation and, ultimately, deliverability.

It occurred to me how word of mouth (WOM) affects sender reputation and deliverability as I sat in on a presentation by WOM marketing guru Andy Sernovitz at the recent inbox messaging industry conference.

What Do Talkers Say About You?

Sernovitz urges e-mailers to identify talkers. Applied to deliverability, talkers are more likely to be negative, expressing themselves chiefly through the spam-complaint button or in reply e-mail sent to your company.

How do you know what talkers are saying about you? These channels can tell you directly, or you can draw implications from comments:

  • Feedback loops. These ISP communication channels tell you what negative talkers are saying via the spam-complaint button. They don’t want your messages, even if they signed up for them willingly. They want them to stop. This hints either your unsubscribe process doesn’t work or recipients don’t trust it. Too many spam complaints damage your sender reputation with the ISP, resulting in messages either being blocked outright or sent to the bulk folder instead of the inbox.
  • Blocklists. These domains or IP addresses are a group’s or individual’s decision that your e-mail is either spam or legally suspect enough to justify blocking any further sends. This also can affect your reputation if major ISPs use those blocklists to help determine whether to block or allow your messages.
  • Recipient comments. These come directly from recipients, sent either in reply to a message such as a regular e-mail newsletter, to a feedback or reader-comment address, or in a phone call or letter. Often, they show up in unauthorized channels, such as a mailbox associated with your sending address rather than the official feedback address. Patrol every mailbox, even catchalls, during and after each send to find these messages. Check with the customer service team to find stragglers.
  • Search engines. Regularly search your own company, newsletter titles, brands, products, even key public figures, such as executives and editorial employees.

Why Talkers Are Key in B2B

Corporate filters, often far more stringent than ISP filters, have no feedback loops to collect and pass on spam complaints. Delivery problems with active addresses are often masked as bounce messages. So it’s essential to cultivate talkers in the corporate environment.

Know the key corporations in your niche. Look at your mailing list or delivery-failure reports to see if one or two companies dominate.

If business-to-business (B2B) recipients contact you to say they aren’t getting your messages, enlist them as advocates. Ask them to tell their system administrators the filter is blocking your content.

As your advocate, these talkers have much more power than you do as the sender to convince the system administrator to make changes to allow your message.

Cultivate Good Talkers

These people are your best defense. What are you doing to collect good feedback and cultivate those who rave about you, either by forwarding your e-mail to friends, posting excerpts on blogs, or citing you as references in their own content?

  • Promote good talkers. Save all the compliments readers send. Thank anyone who takes the time to send you more than an “I agree!” message and ask if you can use the message as a testimonial.
  • If a blogger or newsletter publisher picks up or recirculates your content, highlight that on your Web site or in your regular newsletter. Contact the publisher with a personal thank-you. This builds traffic to good talkers and lets you promote compliments without looking too self-serving. Make sure content circulators link back to your Web site.
  • Post forward-to-a-friend links wherever appropriate — in e-mail newsletters, sales flyers, and company announcements, as well as on your site. In the forwarding message, be clear that it was generated from the friend and include a subscribe link to promote opting in.

And as always, keep on deliverin’!

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