How to avoid an embarrassing mailing list disaster

The news that a sexual health clinic accidentally exposed 800 names and email addresses of patients at the beginning of this month has raised the very important issue of protecting the information your business holds – particularly where that data is personal and sensitive.

In this instance, having their personal details leaked in this way could be hugely damaging for people who may already be struggling with a life threatening disease. Worse still is the knowledge that this leak was completely preventable.

The Information Commissioner’s office is sure to have something to say about this incident, and there will almost certainly be a prosecution at the end of the investigation – not that that will be of much comfort to the people named.

Not every business handles such sensitive personal information, but as one of your most valuable business assets, you should avoid sharing contact details unnecessarily – especially as your competitors are probably signed up to your list. Here’s how to ensure you don't expose contact details unnecessarily.

1. Know your BCC

You’re no doubt familiar with the To (the person you’re sending the message to) and CC  (short for ‘carbon copy’, used for anyone else you want to receive a copy) fields in your email client, but have you ever seen the one labelled BCC? Similar to CC, BCC forwards a copy of the email to each address, but remains invisible to all the other recipients.

For example, I send a message To tom@xyz.com, then add sheila@xyz.com and jimmy@xyz.com to the BCC field. When Tom gets the message, there is no sign that Sheila and Jimmy also received a copy. Sheila’s copy shows that it was also sent to Tom, but she has no idea that Jimmy is also in the loop.

To prevent your mailing list subscribers from seeing all the other recipient addresses, ensure that everyone is added to BCC.

2. Triple-check your addressing

Chances are that as the person running the campaign, you will go through a number of checks to ensure everything is correct. Spelling, artwork, reply to email addresses and BCC addressing all need to be reviewed before a message is sent to your mailing list.

But for maximum protection, consider having another person check that everything has been configured and completed correctly. The old saying about a fresh pair of eyes really works, and having someone else check the basics of your mailshot could help avoid accidental email list exposure when you do finally click Send.

3. Use a ‘true’ email marketing platform

Outlook and Gmail are great for sending email person-to-person, or within groups at work, but they are not really designed for proper email list management. Just because you can send mail merges, doesn't mean you should.

Moving to a full-featured cloud email marketing platform like MailChimp or significantly reduces the risk of inserting recipient addresses into the To field for instance (most default to BCC). They also come with a whole suite of useful tools that allow you to see which of your recipients actually opened and clicked through your email, and to deactivate addresses that bounce your messages. You can then use these insights to make future email campaigns even more effective (and profitable) as well as reducing the risk of an accidental leak.

Getting started the right way

If you’re serious about protecting your clients’ confidentiality, and want to get started with more powerful, more effective email marketing, get in touch with Kimbley IT today. We can take you through the options and show you how to do more safely.