A Foolproof Way to Reduce Internal Corporate Spam

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-02-22

A Foolproof Way to Reduce Internal Corporate Spam

When Yahoo and AOL instituted a program in February that would charge advertisers microscopic amounts to send e-mail ads to AOL and Yahoo customers, they triggered and ear-shattering level of caterwauling.

That whingeing was music to my ears—I love the sound of incompetent marketers crying in the morning.

The leadership AOL and Yahoo provided may give you cover to institute one of the most powerful productivity initiatives an IT group can launch.

Ill explain that in a bit, but first let me explain the ISP change and what it does to the market for commercial communication.

Oversimplified, Yahoo and AOL will be charging advertisers a microscopic per-recipient fee to deliver certified ad campaigns and not filter them out as spam.

Theres more to the scheme, but in essence, the attachment of a tiny fee slaps a governor on the engine of advertising that streams messages into our lives.

In ads sent via USPS or other carriers, of course, the governor is the cost of printing and mailing the ads. Even the small, subsidized rate the post office charges for bulk mail imposes discipline on marketers.

That discipline is targeting people on their list. Even at a very low cost-per-item, if you send millions of ads, the costs ad up.

The higher the cost to send, the smarter the choice has to be; the lower the cost, the more freedom for lazy or incompetent advertisers to practice their incompetence.

Click here to read more insight about spam techniques.

The Unseen Hand of the economy is unable to squeeze the magic of the market into any process that allows competitors to pass their costs off to their competitors or customers, which is what essentially free e-mail delivery is for a spammer.

The resulting glut disfavors the smarter marketer whose well-targeted messages disappear in a tsunami of mindlessly random pitches for earlobe-enlarging devices, toe fungus elixirs, and entreaties from those people who pretend to be your bank so youll give them your identity. And the recipients pay in lost time and bandwidth.

Microcharges, like a cent per message or even less, rewards recipients with less inbox plaque and rewards smarter marketers with a better chance to connect with a customer.

Unseen hand unbound, victory for capitalism over the free market and commonsism.

The whingeing over the loss of this free market mechanism, of course, is to be expected, but only by the inefficient.

To the recipient of unnecessary commercial e-mail, the interaction is exactly like giving someone the freedom to put a billboard in your house with content of their choice with you paying for it.

Next Page: Controlling internal mail.

Controlling Internal Mail

OK, so you all agree with me totally, but what does that mean for you as an organizational IT steward?

It means its time for you to use the opening to boost internal productivity in all departments.

For all the promises of technology boosting productivity, we know how hard it has been to authentically deliver actual productivity at the desktop.

You can unleash the Unseen Hand on how time and attention is invested in a significant chunk of organizational time.

How? By applying e-mail microcharges in your own internal e-mail system.

E-mail is expensive when measured in the cost of peoples time. Every time a person interrupts work to open a redundant or even frivolous message, takes a misdirected or unsolicited commercial phone call, or talks with a random visitor, that person loses focus. DeMarco and Lister estimate it takes about 20 minutes to get back into an efficient work "zone" once derailed, and in my managerial experience Ive found it to be roughly the same.

I suggest you impose a charge on each e-mail of a quarter of a cent per recipient, payable by the sender.

While the sender could still choose to Copy All on all those marginal announcements, there would be a small incremental cost on each added recipient.

If the average person sends messages to 120 people a day, it would cost about $1.80 per week, not enough to stop either valid business messages or selective mailing of some jokes to a handful of people.

The employee may choose to invest some of her paycheck in forwarding a joke, but she may also choose a little carefully who she adds to the list.

There will be an incremental downtick in mailings, recipients and time lost to communing with the message, and all that is to the good of the distractible minds that populate all big organizations.

Moreover, even with purely business-oriented messages, many organizations have a culture that allows people to terraform each others inboxes with I-didnt-need-to-know-that plaque. That is another form of spam that could use winnowing.

Some IT managers with personality disorders believe they can get the same beneficial productivity effect simply by banning all personal e-mail—a Draconian and destructive method.

The ban undermines productivity by eroding morale, and it doesnt stop people from doing what the rule was enacted to stop: wasting time.

Instead of forwarding joke mail, serious time-wasters hang out at the cooler and discuss their video game scores.

If an organization has an employee whos wasting time, its managements job to help him focus. And if the only way a manager has to keep people from wasting time is to emit Stalinist edicts, she needs to learn either how to manage or how to hire.

The leadership of Yahoo and AOL in launching the microcharge scheme has given you the chance to supercharge internal productivity by unleashing the Unseen Hand to give a firm slap to wasteful behaviors.

Jeff Angus is a knowledge management and restructuring consultant. His newest book, "Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Organization," comes out in May from HarperCollins. Jeffs columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Baltimore Sun. He can be reached at jeff.angus@comcast.net.

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