Gavin Wray

MPs, ethical email and social media surgeries

There’s been a kerfuffle today. An MP asked a campaigning group to remove his parliamentary email address from their system, and tried to remove his email address from other websites, because the deluge of automated email sent to him detracts from the important work responding to email from individual constituents.

He was subsequently criticised for deliberately making it difficult for constituents to contact him. The MP says:

“One of the things I found as an MP, is that every lobby group puts you on their email distribution list - or an automated system that sends out cloned messages from members of the public who access it.”

As MPs’ parliamentary email addresses are in the public domain anyway, campaigning groups view targeting mass email at MPs fair and acceptable practice.

What’s clear though is that MPs are deluged with email and other requests that require a response.

Also, as those involved with a public sector website with published email addresses know, you receive a huge amount of spam without an unsubscribe option or email policy.

I’ve volunteered at social media surgeries for a while now and do a little email marketing. After reading the kerfuffle, two things occurred to me.

At the surgeries I’ve demonstrated how to sign up with and start using tools to blog, share photos or converse online. How to manage email, and handle the rise in email notifications that social networking causes, is a skill in itself. But it’s a topic I haven’t discussed yet.

Secondly, retail businesses are generally excellent at permission-based and segmented email. They have to be. If they’re not, they get in trouble. Such businesses recognise that the recipient holds the power. If the recipient considers the sender a spammer, that’s all that matters.

Next time at I’m at a surgery, I’ll bear in mind the issue of handling larger volumes of email as a result of participation in social networks. I shouldn’t take this skill for granted.

For MPs who can afford smartphones, there are plenty of options to streamline their inbox, particularly in dealing with blog comments, follow requests, tweets, prioritisation and so on.

In the case mentioned above, is there a disconnect in sharing knowledge and skills with MPs embracing social networking or increasing their online presence?

Also, MPs shouldn’t have to put up with spam even if legislation might expose them to email communication from organisations who don’t target or discriminate what they send.

Taking down a parliamentary email address isn’t going to resolve the problem. But organisations have a responsibility to email ethically and target their message to those who are interested and actively choose to receive email.

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