Are You Sure You Want to Reply All?


Someone recently told me about a ‘reply all’ mishap at their place of work.

It’s a small business so it wasn’t a huge deal. Someone stood up in the office and told everyone to stop hitting reply all. Issue solved. What happens when you have a large company? Hundreds of people spread throughout multiple floors, cities even countries. It’s happened more than once to a major corporation and can lead to press coverage. The most recent happened last year at a major news outlet. To cope some employees took to twitter to share the chaos with the world. The resulting flurry of people replying all to tell everyone to quit replying all bogged down servers. Their IT department had to create an email “BlackHole” to end the chaos. A blackhole list is like a spam filter, a special one had to be created for this “reply all” chain and meant that any email sent out related to the original email was immediately deleted.

Have you ever been part of a reply all debacle?

I have and it wasn’t a work email chain. It was for a subscription that I’d opted in to but the association wasn’t using a proper Email Marketing service. They didn’t have an unsubscribe system or good list management features. There is a message at the bottom of every email telling people that if they wish to unsubscribe just reply to the email with the words “unsubscribe” in the subject line. It’s not an effective strategy as I’ve been trying to get off the list for years. About 3 years ago an email went out to the entire database that wasn’t exactly appropriate. The result was hundreds of people trying to unsubscribe from the list. The method of replying “unsubscribe” to the message resulted in hundreds of people replying all trying to get off the email chain, escalating the situation. This went on for a few days frustrating people exponentially each time.
I would hate to have been the person who had to field all the resulting complaints.

A completely avoidable disaster.

Two things occurred in the situation above:
1.) Someone with access to the email system let emotions get the best of them and acted on them. They wrote and sent an email out to everyone in the hopes of being heard. The email was responded to by another hurt party, and an angry back and forth occurred between the two.

2.) The association wasn’t using a proper email marketing and management service that was in compliance with the CAN-SPAM act. By not using a proper email service that sends to their subscribers anonymously it allowed for anyone who replied all to send a message to the entire list.

Don’t be fooled by the name, CAN-SPAM act doesn’t mean you can spam people! It’s a set of rules you must follow to prevent yourself from being fined if you are using email in a commercial capacity. I have listed them below but you can go to the FTC CAN-SPAM website for detailed information.

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an ad.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

By not having the right procedures in place and not allowing recipients an instant unsubscribe option, you could be breaking the law. If your business or association is using email marketing as a way to reach your clients and members there is no reason to not be compliant with CAN-SPAM regulations. Especially if you don’t want to see your reputation tarnished and majority of your fans abandoning ship. Services like Constant Contact do have costs associated with using them, but the peace of mind that you aren’t in violation of federal law is worth it. It could save your business from an embarrassing faux pas!