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Last week, MarketingProfs produced a terrible error in our own email marketing campaign....

As part of a segmented test to the MarketingProfs newsletter subscriber list, we had planned to mail seven different messages to entice MProfs subscription upgrades to Premium. But instead of getting one of those offers, as intended, each of our 180,000+ subscribers received all seven emails over the course of an hour or two last Thursday. We only realized the error when the complaints started rolling in. Well, crashing in, really.
At that point, the damage was done. All we could do was stop the bleeding, in the words of our Customer Service Maven and blog contributor, Shelley Ryan.
For online publishers like MarketingProfs, our subscribers are both prized and highly valued. To offend any of them is anathema. We were embarrassed, ashamed, and ticked off at ourselves for risking the relationships. For not paying more attention. For not being more careful.
Certainly MarketingProfs isn't the only company embarrassed recently for not being more careful with its audience. The same day of our email fiasco, for example, Facebook angered some of its 8 million users and incited protest petitions and anti-Facebook groups on the site itself, charging that its new "News Feed" feature was stalker-like and an invasion of their privacy. (Facebook adopted new privacy controls the following day.)
And yesterday, the fantasy world of Second Life was shattered when owner Linden Lab had to inform its 650,000 "residents" that Second Life had suffered a real-world computer security breach that exposed their personal data–including names, addresses, passwords and some credit card data.
When bad things happen to otherwise good companies, what's the company to do?
1. Own the error. Apologize–sincerely and profusely–and explain (the best you can) what happened. At MarketingProfs, we immediately drafted an email of apology (subject line: "We goofed–SORRY!") in which Director of Membership Marketing Sharon Hudson explained and apologized for the error. Her email read, in total:

"Dear Valued Member: We are so sorry for the many messages you may have received from us today. It was not intentional."
"We're running some sales tests right now, and we made a technical mistake in our selection process. Believe me, our hearts are heavy with regret for this error.
"I assure you we are very protective of your email address, and would NEVER intentionally engage in this type of practice. Please forgive us."
"If you have emailed us to complain, thank you. We hope to respond to each and every one of you personally as well.
"Thank you for your understanding."

2. Apologize personally. Respond to individual complaints personally. Most of the people on our small staff dropped whatever was at hand and personally responded to every individual complaint we received. (And there were a lot.)
3. Take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again. In our case, we'll be checking (and then double- and triple-checking) our email selection settings.
4. Embrace the silver lining, and move on. As in any time of crisis–and this was minor, really, as crisis can go–the silver lining is always that you find out who your true friends and fans are. As the French author Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote, "One forgives to the degree that one loves."
While we had our share of nasty notes and unsubscribes, we also found that many MProfs readers were exceptionally kind and understanding. We were surprised by and grateful for those who expressed both sympathy (and sometimes empathy) and a true passion for MarketingProfs.
"I know it's been a panic-stricken day," wrote one such subscriber. "But you're dealing with MARKETING professionals, for goodness' sake.... We've all done this or something like it before."
Another said, "There are a big percentage of us out here who were able to smile and say, 'OK, at least we know it happens to even the experts....'"

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image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.