How to Survive a Painful Unsubscribe

It is bound to happen – someone you thought was your friend, someone who you’re related to, someone who you thought you had on the hook…they’ll unsubscribe. Or unfollow. Or – GASP – unfriend.

First, background: “unsubscribe” is what happens when you use an email service to send out messages (newsletters, autoresponders, whatever) and someone clicks on the link and says, basically, they’re not that into you. Or, more accurately, they’re not that into your message.

What’s a marketer to do?

What to do When Your Own Dad Unsubscribes.

This is a true story – my own Dad, who was busy with his real estate business, clicked on the link to unsubscribe from my startup’s monthly newsletter. ACK! Was it something I said?

Well, when you dig a little deeper, like I did, you can learn a lot. For instance, it is quite possible that Dad didn’t need to get monthly updates from the startup I was running (since it was aimed at college-bound students).

I got over it – partly because I knew how much my Dad hustled at real estate, and partly because I knew how much he was indeed interested in my business ventures.

I since have received countless unsubscribes, a few rude messages, a couple pleasant apologies for unsubscribing – and, over the years, built and rebuilt list after list.

Your family may not unsubscribe from your messages, or unfriend you on Facebook (shameless plug for 12 Minute Marketing on Facebook), or unfollow you on Twitter (follow Area 224 contributor and one-half of 12 Minute Marketing Rick Strater on Twitter) Рbut here are ways to soften the blow if they do.

Permission, Permission, Permission.

Dad was in Real Estate, where the three most important words are “Location, Location, Location.”

In email marketing, the three most important words are “Permission, Permission, Permission.”

Don’t just take our word for it – visit a site that is much better at this stuff than 99% of the population, that of Outspoken Media, and hear what they say about email permission.

I have scores of business cards from my U Sphere days – most of them don’t have any value now, but I actually have notes on the back that say things like “send the monthly email” or “follow up with a phone call.” A good chunk of them had notes that would fall into the “unsubscribe” category – thus saving pain in the process. (I remember vividly a guy saying to me something akin to “don’t bother me until May, then I’m happy to talk, and I’ll remember you.” I didn’t, he was, he did.

Your Message May Not Be Relevant (to the reader)

We all have a ton on our plates, so you can forgive the person who thought they were into wine a couple months ago if they aren’t into wine right now. Relevance is subjective. The greatest message (“save thousands of dollars”) sent to the greatest list (that you built over years) may not be the right thing at the right time, at least right now.

And you may actually know some of the people who unsubscribed from your list.

Tough to not take these things personally, right?

Think again. Open rates – the percentage of people who actually OPEN your email – can be as low as 10% for people with great lists of potential target customers. The fact that someone opens your email AND takes a couple seconds to unsubscribe…that’s a win, in that you now know not to keep talking AT them.

Your Message May Not Be Well-Written

“Monthly Musings from XYZ Co.”

Welcome to an email newsletter that has increased its chances of the dreaded unsub.

We get some great stuff here at HQ. We also get some very average stuff.

Styles are all over the map. One woman likes to tell us the semi-intimate details of her life, warts and all – but does it in such a way that we can’t help but think she’s human and someone we’d like to have a beer with.

There’s another guy running a little info empire whose newsletters are close to poetry – and he sends them sorta like a waiter at a fine restaurant…exactly when they are needed and not a second later.

Like relevance, it’s subjective. Like Edwin Meese describing pornography, sorta, you’ll know good writing when you see it.

Move On.

You should have enough on your plate as you build your business that one little unsubscribe, one less Facebook friend, and one fewer Twitter follower won’t have you weeping and gnashing teeth.

Get permission, strive for relevance, and sharpen your writing. Now go get ’em!


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  1. Ok Jon, this is the part of social media that I suck at DIY. If I’ve ever had an unsub from my blog, I don’t know. I also haven’t harvested those emails in order to send people other things, just what the RSS kicks to them. (I am very slack, what can I say.)¬†I’ve fought the permission thing with clients and others before; giving my business card does not enroll me in your list. It’s totally about relevance and what reading that email will do to make my day better, faster, more profitable or entertaining. Excellent advice sir, to move on and get better. FWIW.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jon and I both thank you for weighing in.

      Email harvesting isn’t to be frowned upon…in fact, one of the things we mention in the 12 Minute Marketing course – – is to give permission to someone in your industry to get marketed TO. And then see what they do – or don’t do – with that permission.

      Take care, Davina…

      • Dave… So sorry, I plead ADHD; that’s what I get for typing to quickly, trying to do too many things at once. I know your name promise. :) I’m not frowning on building email lists, not at all; I’m just so bad it for myself, cobbler’s shoes, that kinda thing.

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