Global Effect of Email During the Pandemic
Global Effect of Email During the Pandemic
Email is a large part of our lives whether it's work or personal related, from morning to night. This week Amanda DeLuke, the Deliverability Analyst at Higher Logic, joins Heather and Alex to talk about the changes she's seen in email since the pandemic started. They discuss some of the dos and don'ts with email marketing, tune in now!
Amanda DeLukeDeliverability Analyst at Higher Logic
Alex Mastrianni: Welcome to the Member Engagement Show with Higher Logic. The podcast for association professionals, looking to boost retention, gain new members and deepen member involvement.
Heather Mcnair: Throughout our show. We'll bring on some experts, talk shop about engagement and you'll walk away with strategies proven to transform your organization. I'm Heather McNair.
Alex Mastrianni: I'm Alex Mastriani and we're happy you're here.
Heather Mcnair: Welcome back to another episode of the Member Engagement Show. So Alex, I know life has changed a lot for all of us over the last year with the pandemic and working from home. Obviously some of it we're missing some stuff and things are starting to come back, which is exciting. But there have definitely been silver linings to all of this, some surprising. What has been a silver lining for you? What has been the surprising thing that's come out of this for you?
Alex Mastrianni: I would say I've really just appreciated things slowing down a little bit at home, especially with my kids because every morning typically is a crazy rush to get all of us up and out the door and to school or daycare or into the office. It's been nice to slow things down a little bit in terms of all right, we're home today so if you want to stay in your pajamas all day, okay, great. I'm not going to fight to get you dressed. Getting to see them throughout the day. Weekends even being a little bit slower. I always say this whenever I take a day off around a weekend and I have a three- day weekend, that a three- day weekend is just great because it's the perfect amount of time to be productive, but also do fun things with the family. But because we were at home more last year than we had been before, it wasn't like we were saving everything for the weekend like we had been. Life was just a little bit slower, which was nice. I'd say that was probably the silver lining for me. But what about you?
Heather Mcnair: Yeah. What's funny as you were talking, I'm remembering this comic cartoon that I saw, this drawing. It was talking about the commute in the morning and it was a parent walking down the hallway stepping over all these toys and laundry and everything. Yes, I have this vision. Yeah. Similarly, I used to travel a ton for my role at Higher Logic and I love to travel. I love going to other cities. Obviously I was coming up to Saratoga Springs to see you guys. I miss that so much, but I was living out of a suitcase probably at least 50% of the time. And being able to be home all the time has really been incredible. And last summer kind of as a result of that, I was able to work in my garden. Half of my front yard is actually a flower bed, but the beginning of last summer it was a weed bed, like weeds. By the end of last summer, we beautiful flowers and everything. Having the opportunity to do that was really incredible and very enriching to my soul and really got me through the summer.
Alex Mastrianni: I love that. Yeah. Everyone was spending more time making their house more comfortable, more themselves. Just putting more time into it in ways that you probably didn't have the time to do before because you were always on the road.
Heather Mcnair: Yeah, absolutely. There were silver linings for us at work as well and in the industry. I've talked before about how we saw on the community side, all of a sudden we get alerts that come through when we see spikes in activity on our servers because sometimes it will indicate if there are bots, activity, nefarious activity going on. We started seeing these huge spikes back in the middle of March when everyone went into lockdown, started working from home and it turns out it was just everyone moving things from in- person environments to virtual environments. The organizations that had online communities were able to just really seamlessly make that transition. Out of that, we've seen some really creative applications of online community and transitioning in- person education events over to online formats and that type of thing. Appealing to younger audiences, which they didn't even intend to do. All of a sudden, they're in the right format for it. And so they're growing their younger membership. I think there really have been some silver linings in the industry that came out of this whole thing. I know you've seen that as well on the email side.
Alex Mastrianni: Oh yeah. I think it's safe to say when we're talking work- related or even in our personal lives, email's a big part of our lives. For how many people, I don't even want to know the stat, that the first thing that they do when they wake up in the morning is look at their phone and check their emails. Or the last thing they do before they go to bed at night. Prior to Higher Logic, I worked at Informs. So email marketing has always been near and dear to my heart, well, for the past 10 years or so. And it is always really surprising to me when people say things like email is dead, because if you look at my inbox, email is alive and well. I think that a lot of people would agree with that. We're getting more emails than ever before. Some marketers, their email strategies have really evolved into adding layers of personalization and taking in personal preferences for their subscribers and trying to make it a great experience while others might not have done that and it's gotten worse for other folks. But I'm so excited today to have our guest, Amanda DeLuke, my colleague and friend here at Higher Logic. She's a deliverability analyst. And when I think about people who are passionate about their jobs, Amanda is one of those people who comes to mind because I've worked with her for so many years now and as you probably know, if you send email of any kind, that deliverability laws, privacy security, that it's changing so fast, so quickly, so many things are happening nationally, internationally, that folks need to keep in mind. She's such a huge resource for our customers so I'm excited that today she gets to share some of her wisdom with all of our listeners. So welcome, Amanda. Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and what you do here at higher logic?
Amanda DeLuke: Hi Alex. Hi Heather. Thank you so much. So happy to be here. Yes. A little bit about me, I'm actually a twin mom, so I have identical twin boys at home and I'm also an avid cyclist. It's funny, I'd say like the first four years of my boys' lives were mixing the two together, by having them in the bike trailer and taking them along with me. I'm like getting my training in and also the boys are getting some fresh air. That's just like a little bit of background about me. But just regarding Higher Logic, I'm a deliverability analyst. I've been with Higher Logic almost seven years. A little bit what I do here is I manage mail configurations across our platforms. There's like 12 mail servers that I'm kind of watching. Also, I'm in charge of managing customer vetting and anti abuse on our platform. Also, I provide best sender practices. I work with email authentication, being SPF, DKIM and DMARC. Working on major deliverability projects, such as IP migrations and custom sending configurations. I've also written some knowledge base items and I've written a few blogs. I've been a super form speaker. And Alex, as you had mentioned, I also assist the privacy team. I'm kind of involved with like the privacy and security aspects of email and also I'm an active member and participant M3AAWG. It is an industry group regarding anti- abuse just messaging. It's a really amazing membership that we can leverage to kind of help our customers.
Alex Mastrianni: Doesn't sound like you're busy at all.
Heather Mcnair: I know, right? Well, before we jump into all things deliverability, and we'll probably need to go back and talk about a few of those acronyms that you threw out for people who may not be as familiar with it. But before we dive into that, let's go back to what Alex and I were talking about. You're talking about being the mother of twins, bike riding, what has been your surprise silver lining over the last year?
Amanda DeLuke: Right. The good thing is I can continue to do my outdoor activity. That's kind of remained constant. That's really what I think kind of kept me sane through all of this. Just being able to get out on my bike, go out for a run, be outside with my boys has been really amazing. My husband is a professional musician and I high five when get home and it's my turn to be home with the boys and he would leave and go out and play several gigs. Unfortunately he kind of lost that with the pandemic and not being able to go out and play live music, but what's been the silver lining for me is just that we can have family dinners in the evening. That's what I really wanted. To just be able to sit down and have a family meal. He's just been doing kind of FaceTime lessons from home. That's sort of been the silver lining for me.
Heather Mcnair: That's awesome. That's a very nice silver lining. Let's keep going with the second part of that. Obviously we have seen changes at work from the pandemic side. Do you want to talk about those things? What have you seen happen in your world?
Amanda DeLuke: With deliverability, maybe I can just start off by defining what deliverability is in general. Because I feel like it's really not a word and not something you can find in the dictionary and not even something you can actually technically go to school for. You learn about deliverability just being in the trenches, just having it there constantly and talking to customers about the issues they're seeing and looking at the threat landscape, but really the actual definition of what deliverability is, is the ability to deliver the message to the inbox. And what's really kind of funny about that is that you don't actually know where a message lands because that is where the user has the access. We don't have access to that. We don't want access to that. And of course the mail receivers don't want us to have access to that. A lot of it is just sort of using deductive reasoning, hypothesizing, where you think the message is landing, using several different tools and methods to come up with that deliverability rate. Not only that is, there's no silver bullet to really help your deliverability. There's so many things that you have to look at in order to figure out if there's an issue and how to solve that.
Heather Mcnair: Yeah. this is going back to what Alex was saying. I think it is part art, part science. There are so many factors that go into it. Just to go back to what you were saying. You threw out a couple of acronyms and not that we have to get into what each of them specifically means, but you were talking about like SPF records and yeah. Do you want to just give a high level of what those type of things are.
Amanda DeLuke: Right. I know it's like all these acronyms. I feel like I'm dealing with acronyms all the time. Even in privacy. I'm like, oh my gosh, CCPA and CPRA and GDPR. So there's so many there. But just to kind of explain email authentication real quick. An email that's traveling through the internet needs to have some type of authentication. Think about us traveling. We're talking about traveling earlier. You need to have that authentication mechanism to prove who you are. In an email, you really need to have these authentication pieces or mechanisms in place to kind of prove to those mail receivers that you are who you say you are. It's again like emails traveling through the internet. You need to have your authentication or your email passport. That's what those mechanisms are for.
Heather Mcnair: That Is the best definition I have ever heard.
Alex Mastrianni: I was going to say, I don't think I've heard that. I love that analogy.
Heather Mcnair: Wow that is so clear. Why has no one ever told me that before?
Amanda DeLuke: Yeah. Just dealing with customers that don't have a really high technical background, that's a definitely an easy way to get the point across.
Heather Mcnair: Evidently I fall into that category. All right. So, so now let's circle back. What changes did you see happen over the last year with the pandemic or since the pandemic hit?
Amanda DeLuke: Of course lots of changes. The health, education and the food industry, which includes restaurants and grocery chains and things like that. They had to quickly move to like 100% digital. Sending out massive amounts of email, causing large spikes. Also with people going remote, not all of the businesses were fully equipped to have their support teams use phones working from home. They didn't have all those mechanisms in place to be able to take calls from their home. Email was even more important for those people. Just seeing organizations that are just sending so much mail outside of their usual patterns to get the message out about COVID. Another example is schools that went fully remote. Their reliance on email and COVID related emails really skyrocketed. They need to send out emails about quarantining and remote learning. That's another industry that I saw a huge spike in just the need to use email. Messages were also just being blasted to contacts that haven't received messages in sometimes years. Just major email blasts. And that can really harm deliverability because there's turnover in emails. Either people losing their jobs or changing jobs, or they're just not using that email address anymore so they get turned into spam traps. And then that can result in blocking of emails and they'll send. There's just a lot of changes in email and the receiving end of the emails just wasn't fully equipped for that. And Alex, you mentioned earlier just regarding that email, some people say that email is dead. It's really not. It's a very simple and efficient digital communication tool, how I see it. Massive amounts of email, just everyone having to change to a hundred percent digital to get their messages out. Email is just very important.
Alex Mastrianni: Totally agree. With those big upticks in sending massive amounts of email or sending to people who you haven't emailed in a really long time, what kind of issues were folks seeing along with that in terms of deliverability? Things like being flagged as spam, or just straight up cutting those servers off. What did that look like for some people?
Amanda DeLuke: The really interesting thing for me, especially my position as a deliverability analyst and looking at all of the mail on the mail servers, I'm watching mail being sent and received live, which is pretty awesome. I really love watching it. It's amazing
Heather Mcnair: I love that Amanda can take like something that seems so dry and if you could see her face, she is so like legitimately excited about this stuff. I wish you guys could see her. All right, sorry Amanda. Keep going.
Amanda DeLuke: I think it's really interesting that not a lot of other ESPs have the ability or that kind of insight that we have at Higher Logic. Just that someone's here watching the mail being sent and received and how it's being perceived by mail receivers. Literally after the shutdown happened, I'm watching the mail and I see a lot of COVID related emails obviously. I'm just noticing that not only there's a huge spike in email going out of the mail servers, but also a pushback from the ISPs and those mail servers, pushing back and throttling the mail saying you're sending too much mail. They're getting overwhelmed and I don't think that they were fully equipped to handle all of this volume. One thing that, I'll kind of tell a little story about this, it's pretty cool. There's a local grocery chain in this area that I was watching their mail on the mail server and I saw it being throttled. What I did is I went into the account and I noticed that they were sending COVID related emails to the elderly and people who are at high risk to come into the grocery store early, like around seven or eight o'clock where the safe hours for people to go to the grocery store. And so I'm like, oh my gosh, all of this mail is getting throttled. I need to help them. I actually, through that M3AAWG channel I was talking to you about, that membership that I'm a part of, reached out to that ISP that was throttling the mail. I spoke to him and said, Hey, there's a grocery chain that's trying to get this really important message out. I have to get it through your mail servers. Can you do anything from here? And so they said, all right, Amanda, I'm going to go ahead and open up the mail server. You go ahead and send as much mail as you want to me right now, but I have to close it up very quickly for you because we don't just do this for anybody. I went ahead and resent all of the mail very quickly. It got through immediately. And this is all without the customer even knowing. This is just amazing that you can be watching this mail and be able to quickly react on that. Especially during the pandemic. It was just so important to get that message out.
Heather Mcnair: That is amazing customer service too. But yes, I love that the power, it's really the power of data, which we've talked a lot about on this show. Being able to track that stuff and to be able to react in real time is amazing. As opposed to looking at stuff after the fact. You mentioned spam traps a few minutes ago. Can you give people a definition of that? I'm just assuming that a lot of people listening to this podcast are not as familiar with deliverability and this type of thing as you are.
Amanda DeLuke: So spam trap addresses. Spam trap addresses are used specifically to capture spammers and find who the spammers are. There's several different types of spam trap addresses. One of them would be a typo address. One of the spam trap addresses that I see is the classic gmai. com where they're forgetting the L. So G- M- A- I. com. It's not a valid domain. Those addresses are out there typically on purchase lists or people who are not filling out forms properly, like subscription forms. What will happen is that will be used as a spam trap address to find someone who's not using best list practices. Another one would be an abandoned spam trap address. That would be, let's use AOL for example. Someone ditches their AOL address. They never log in, they don't check it and they're not using it anymore. What will happen is AOL will take that email address back and I think it's within 90 to 120 days, it'll get turned into a spam trap address to also find spammers. Another type is a pristine email spam trap address where it has never belonged to a human. Those are just out there as kind of honeypots to go on purchase lists, to find people who are not using best list practices. Those are the three types of spam trap email addresses.
Heather Mcnair: Got it. So the abandoned ones I'm guessing when we're talking about these COVID emails and the association market, all of a sudden they're sending to people they maybe have not reached out to in a couple of years. I'm guessing it's the abandoned ones that become a big problem and things that associations really need to watch out for.
Amanda DeLuke: Yes, absolutely. If you're not seeing any engagement. I usually say after three months, if they're not opening or clicking, they're just no longer engaged, you don't want those to turn into spam trap addresses. And then once they do, when you hit them, then you can get blocked. Definitely want to remove those from your list.
Alex Mastrianni: Similar to these issues that folks had seen maybe last spring or early summer, are you still seeing these types of issues? Are these things still happening or have things calmed down a little bit?
Amanda DeLuke: I think for the most part things have kind of leveled out. Mail receivers are now more equipped to receive more mail. And then just marketers are becoming smarter as to how much mail they're sending, better list practices, more targeted emails. I feel like it's still there. I still see things. I would say be careful when using like pandemic language or vaccine language or other similar language. For the most part, it has leveled out, but you're still going to see those types of spikes.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah. It's interesting. I wonder if there's a whole slew of vocabulary that's been added to the like flag list. We used to say things like don't use free in the subject line or don't use a lot of exclamation points or all caps, all images, stuff like that. Now there's new words to consider.
Amanda DeLuke: Certainly. Yeah. Just one of the things I'll point out too is with the threat landscape in general and these bad actors or cyber criminals, they're going to follow the news. So with things like language vaccine right now, and anything else that's in the news like current events, you just have to be aware. One of the other things I saw was during tax season people using the word tax or federal refunds and things like that. You just see the spam appliances will look at that with more scrutiny. So you have to be careful.
Heather Mcnair: Now you have my curiosity peaked Amanda because those are also the kinds of things that associations are going to be emailing their members, their constituents about because those are timely topics and they're sending out information about current news. Are there things that they can do? I hate to say tricks because that has a negative connotation. Are there techniques that they can apply? Are there things that they can do to ensure better deliverability when they may be emailing about vaccines or we have a lot of associations that are in the science space or the health space, healthcare, that may legitimately be emailing about vaccines right now.
Amanda DeLuke: Yeah. It's tough. I have to say the best kind of advice I would give is to make sure that you're sending to people who want to receive your message, that are engaged in your message. The worst thing that can happen to a marketer is for someone to mark the message as spam. That is the worst. I know some people might say, oh, well, unsubscribes are worse. Well, at least they're taking themselves off your list. And then they're not going to mark you as spam. You really have to be careful people marking you as spam if they're receiving too many messages or they don't remember who you are or they didn't sign up. There wasn't a direct consent piece there. If you're sending to people that are engaged in the messages, they want to receive them, they're going to reach out to their IT person if they're not getting it. Or they may reach out to the sender and say, Hey, I'm not getting your messages. What can we do to fix this? If the messages are then wanted and there's the allow listing and safe centers added to their firewalls, then the messages that may have the word vaccine or COVID in might still be able to get through. There's more of a chance of it to get through in that case. It's really going to be based off of the user.
Alex Mastrianni: Amanda, I want to talk about the award- winning blog post that you published on the Higher Logic blog last year. I giggled a little bit there were the award- winning because there was just a funny story about when we heard that Amanda won this award, we weren't sure if the email that came through was legitimate, which is just like really, really funny coincidence. I'm like, this is ironic. But Amanda put a great post up about three email deliverability areas to watch. I feel like these tips were really of course relevant last year when folks were noticing maybe some issues, but they really can apply at any given time of the year. Amanda, do you want to talk a little bit about the three big things that you want people to watch?
Amanda DeLuke: All right. So the three major things that you want to watch out for is your audience, which I kind of talked to you about earlier. Just regarding making sure you're using best list practices. People have directly opted into your messages. They've done all the proper allow listing and safe centers through their firewall. So audience is really a big piece to getting your messages through, even if it does contain those COVID or pandemic language. Making sure you get to the people that want to receive the message is really the most important thing. And then also just regarding your volume. Just making sure you maintain a consistent sending volume. With the pandemic and just trying to get a message out, even to people who haven't received a message in sometimes years, just the massive amounts of email that are coming through is really just a spike in sending and it's outside of their consistent pattern. You just want to remain consistent when you're sending. Once you establish a consistent kind of sending frequency, you just want to try to maintain it the best you can. And then the third thing is with the content. Of course, the pandemic language that I brought up, you want to be at least aware of and try to avoid certain things in the subject line. But I think that's really the main points.
Heather Mcnair: This is so helpful, Amanda. With the trends that you've seen, are there things that you anticipate that you hope, that you maybe don't hope that will continue as we return normal?
Amanda DeLuke: Yeah. So some things, I've actually attended a few digital conferences and it was nice because I noticed there's a lot of organizations doing these online conferences now and they're free. I attended quite a few of those and I was able to see some trends that I'm noticing. One of them is super hyper targeted messages is one thing. Sending out to smaller audiences instead of sending out we'll say to a list of a hundred thousand people. You're sending in smaller groups and also you're controlling the volume of sending. That highly targeted messages to the proper audience and with also the content being highly targeted as well. And also just being very privacy aware. There's a lot of privacy laws coming up state side. Just having all of those opt- ins and making sure you're sending with consent to those that have provided the proper consent is really very important. Another thing is that trends that I'm seeing is empathy. What I mean by that is I'm noticing that a lot of organizations are helping their members by providing either free mental health webinars, or they're doing meditation sessions or they're having kind of group sessions to just assist people and emphasize what they're going through. Another thing outside of the pandemic with empathy that I was seeing is for mother's day messages where they're saying if you're not a mother and you don't want her to be receiving these messages let us know. Like some people might be trying to be a mother and they're just thinking about the end user, the person that's receiving the message, just to empathizing with those people. I think it's very important.
Heather Mcnair: I love that. I know several associations have introduced these really great things. I'm trying to think, I think it's the California Society of Association Executives does, and I'm going to mess this up, I don't know if it's weekly or monthly, but they have these couch chats with their CEO, their executive director, and it's these very casual and they may bring in an expert. But it is that empathy, that casualness, inviting people in. I do love that this has opened the door to that type of thing. That mother's day example is beautiful. Yeah. The segmentation. On another one of our episodes, we talked about this concept of segment of one. That I think is the ideal, but it's one of those things that I encourage people to keep that in mind, that you really do want to treat every person in your audience as an individual and to cater the message to them. That goes back to your deliverability. If you're getting relevant information to people, your open rates going to be higher, you're not going to be marked as spam. The whole world gets brighter and shinier that way.
Alex Mastrianni: I think it comes down to remembering that this is not just an email address. There's a person on the other end of this and they not only fit certain demographics, but they have certain interests and they may be going through certain things. Keeping that in mind can go a long way to the members.
Heather Mcnair: That's great advice, Alex. I like that.
Alex Mastrianni: So Amanda, this has been eye opening. I'm sure people have learned a lot. Some people may never have heard the word deliverability until today, if they're not in the trenches, like you said, with email marketing. But I have to ask you our signature question that we ask all of our guests on the show is, what's your number one engagement tactic. Your favorite engagement tactic. Does not have to be deliverability related
Amanda DeLuke: For me, I really have to go back to empathy. Like you said just remembering there's a human there, reading this email. It's so important to have highly targeted messages, to be understanding what people are going through at the human level. It gives me chills sometimes. There was one association I was watching and they were providing this mental health clinic for their members and it was just free. They had an expert there and it's just like, this is amazing. This has nothing to do with what the organization's about, but they're doing this for their members. To take that extra step, it's just so amazing to see. I think that's really what keeps people engaged is like, they actually care about me as a human. I'm going to stay with them. I want to be a part of this organization that really cares about me and it's super important.
Heather Mcnair: I think that has made all the difference over the last year is seeing who has taken advantage of this as a business opportunity versus, who has really shown a soul, if you will. And that they truly care about their audience, their customers, their members, whomever that might be. Yeah. Absolutely. So Amanda, you have been a wealth of knowledge and I know we probably gave people a ton of information to absorb. Is there a place that they can reach out to you? Can they find you on LinkedIn, Twitter? Where's the best place for them to find you if they have follow up?
Amanda DeLuke: Yeah. LinkedIn or Twitter, you'll be able to find me. Just search for Amanda DeLuke.
Heather Mcnair: It was great to have you. We'd love to have you back sometime.
Amanda DeLuke: Awesome. I'd love that.
Alex Mastrianni: That's going to do it for another episode of the member engagement show. Thanks so much. And we'll see you next week.