Apr 28 2008

Drawing the Line

Drawing the LineWe are having a bit of a debate at the moment internally around our Sender Score deliverability business about how to handle clients who are in businesses that are, shall we say, not exactly as pure as the driven snow.  As a company that provides software and services to businesses without a vertical focus, we are often approached by all sorts of companies wanting our services where we don’t love what they do.  Examples include:

Adult content or products

Our challenges are along three dimensions, each of which is a little different.  But common threads run through all three dimensions. 

Dimension 1:  Our deliverability technology platform.   Our basic technology is used by mailers of all shapes and sizes to preview their campaigns, monitor their deliverability, and analyze their reputation metrics.  It doesn’t deploy campaigns.  Do we care who the users are?

Dimension 2:  Our full service deliverability practice that comes with consulting and high-touch account management.  This service offering has an additional layer of complexity in that our employees work closely with accounts and their web sites.  We already allow employees to opt-out of accounts where they find the work objectionable.  But is that enough?

Dimension 3:  Our whitelist, Sender Score Certified. This one is even trickier.  On the one hand, our program has fairly clear, published standards.  We do a thorough qualitative check of the client’s web site and email program to make sure, among other things, that the program is opt-in.  We monitor the client’s quantitative reputation metrics in real-time to make sure its complaint rate is low, signifying that its customers like (or at least don’t mind) receiving its email.  On the other hand, this program is supposed to signify the best of the best for email marketing and newsletters, which is why it’s used by so many ISPs and filters as their standard for defining “good mail.”  And yet on a third hand (perhaps there’s some sort of herbal remedy that can help me with that problem), for many ISPs, our program is their only whitelist, so clients who are above board, even if in a grey industry, may have no other option.

So is it our place to legislate morality, or should we just focus on what’s legal and what’s not legal?  How much accountability do clients bear for content that shows up in their emails from advertisers?  For example, and I’m making this up, what do we do if a men’s health magazine that’s a client has links in its email newsletters that are placed by an affiliate network that click through to a pornography site?  What if the pornography in question is legal in one country but not another?  How much time and energy should we spend vetting clients before we take them on?  Or monitoring them around these issues once they’re a client?  Does it matter which product they’re using?

I’d love feedback from the outside world (or the inside world) on how we should think about and handle these issues.