Why Is Policy Important?
Policies are important documents, but not everyone understands why they exist. Policies exist in order to delineate what is allowable and what is not. They also exist in order to inform people as to what rules will be followed in certain situations.
Messaging service providers also have policies with exist for these reasons. Most often, those reasons are centered around the policies of yet other providers: the gatekeepers of the recipient services. An anti-spam policy, in particular, exists as a reflection of what a service provider knows that users need to do in order to successfully send messages to others. Policies which state how incoming messages will be treated have a very definite impact upon the policies that govern which messages will be allowed to leave.
By and large, this only makes sense. If I take a generalized survey of providers and see that the majority of them state that they only want to receive and process messages for which their users have previously extended permission, then it is in my company’s own best interest to see that my service has a reputation for playing by those rules. If the rules change, then the policy can change to reflect that new reality.
Unfortunately, many people look at policy as an obstacle or as if it were somehow something optional. Mostly, this seems to happen because “policy” is mistaken for “best practice.” There are lots of people out there who advocate for disregarding best practices when it is convenient to do so. To some degree, those people have a point. It is not always advantageous to follow best practices and, if you know what you are doing and why you are doing it, certain best practices can be safely disregarded without penalty. However, policies are not best practices. They exist in a different realm.
It is pretty common for me to hear from people who want to disregard policy because it conflicts with “the way that we have always done things.” These people would like to use new tools to service old methods, when those things may not be compatible.
A number of years ago, I had a policy conflict with the CMO of a very large non-profit. This CMO had a very long and probably storied history in the direct mail space. He wanted to use purchased data because that is what he had always done. Eventually, I needed to have an onsite meeting with him and his team. We had to show this CMO that things had changed and those old methods would not work in this “new” space. So, I gathered all of the spam complaints that had come in over the course of the previous month and showed them what people were saying about his brand. Many of the examples featured profanity. I knew that the point had been made when the CMO turned to the team and asked: “Are people really saying that about us?”
Today, people tend not to send direct spam complaints. Instead, they will click the “this is spam” button at their mailbox provider. This creates feedback which the provider uses (along with other factors) to generate a reputation that determines how the provider will handle any new mail that comes in from the same sender. Certain parts of that feedback also apply to the sender’s service provider. Given enough feedback about enough of a service provider’s customers and the mailbox provider will start to apply a penalty to all of those incoming messages. The effort to avoid that broad of a penalty involves the creation and even application of policies governing what kinds of messages may be sent.