Thursday, March 27, 2008

Confusion Surrounds 'Report Spam' Button

Q Interactive, an online marketing services provider, announced the results of its "Spam Complainers Survey" jointly conducted with marketing research firm, MarketingSherpa. The mission of the survey was to uncover consumers' perceptions of what they consider to be spam, why they report emails as spam and what they think happens when the "report spam" button is clicked.

Spam Definition Changes from Unsolicited to Unwanted

Among the most striking findings of the study is the fact that the definition of spam has effectively changed from the permission-based regulatory definition of "unsolicited commercial email" to a perception-based definition centered on consumer dissatisfaction. Over half of the participants, 56 percent, consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is "just not interesting to me", while 50 percent of respondents consider "too frequent emails from companies I know" to be spam and 31 percent cite "emails that were once useful but aren't relevant anymore". (Respondents could select more than one answer for multiple questions in the survey.)

When it comes to utilizing the "report spam" button—the primary tool Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide consumers to counter the problem—nearly half of respondents (48 percent) provided a reason other than "did not sign up for email" for why they reported an email as spam. In fact, underscoring consumers' varying definitions of spam, respondents cited a variety of non-permission-based reasons for hitting the spam button, including "the email was not of interest to me" (41 percent); "I receive too much email from the sender" (25 percent); and "I receive too much email from all senders" (20 percent).

Consequences Unclear When Reporting Spam

There is a pervasive confusion among consumers regarding what they believe will happen as a result of clicking the "report spam" button. Over half of respondents, 56 percent, reported it will "filter all email from that sender" while 21 percent believe it will notify the sender that the recipient did not find that specific email useful so the sender will "do a better job of mailing me" in the future. Even more indicative of the lack of understanding, 47 percent believe they will be unsubscribed from the list by clicking "report spam" while 53 percent do not believe the button it is a method to unsubscribe.

Not surprisingly, accompanying this confusion is the frequent misuse of the "report spam" button. The survey found a large number of consumers, 43 percent, forgo advertiser-supplied unsubscribe links in email and simply use the ISP's "report spam" button to unsubscribe from an advertiser's list—regardless of whether or not the email fits the consumer's definition of spam. Moreover, a full one in five consumers (21 percent) use the "report spam" button to unsubscribe from email they specifically do not consider spam.

A Call to Fix a Broken System

To address this problem, Q Interactive calls for ISPs, marketers, advertisers and publishers to come together with industry associations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau to agree on a solution that is beneficial to consumers and all interested parties. To begin the dialogue, Q Interactive suggests two points for discussion:

*Replace the broken "report spam" button with buttons that more clearly indicate consumers' intentions such as an "unsubscribe" button and an "undesired" button.

*ISPs should categorize email senders based on their practices to identify and reward senders who follow best practices in transparency and permission.

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