One of my favourite pieces of miscellaneous trivia is that Alexander Graham Bell — the man who gave us the telephone — absolutely hated people using the word “hello” when answering the phone.
As incredible as it seems now, a century ago, “hello” was considered an undignified and even disrespectful greeting. Bell wanted people to use “ahoy” instead.
This wasn’t just some niggling annoyance. Bell was obsessed with people using good manners on the phone — and railed about it in his advertising and in his magazine, Telephone Engineer (which is a content marketing play if ever I heard one).
In 1910 he even created something called The Telephone Pledge:
“I believe in the Golden Rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over the Telephone as if Face to Face.”
And Bell wasn’t the only one concerned about telephone etiquette: some US cities even introduced laws making it an offence to use a profanity on the telephone — punishable by fines or imprisonment.
I was thinking about all this the other day as I read that one of Australia’s largest supermarkets, Woolworths, had been fined more than $1 million for sending spam emails. (Stay with me here. I’m building up to something; I promise.)
The fine was for sending more than 5 million emails to 1.2 million people who had already unsubscribed (often repeatedly) from the supermarket’s email lists — and for ignoring complaints about the spam activity.
Now, Woolworths is no questionable foreign prince who needs to borrow your bank account details to deposit an inheritance. This is a company that made $2.7 billion in profit last year and has a very sophisticated marketing and communications operation. But apparently, a century after The Telephone Pledge, we still need laws to ensure we use proper etiquette in our communications.
So, inspired by Bell, I would like to propose what I will call “The Email Pledge”.
“I believe in the Golden Rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over Email Direct Marketing as if Face to Face.”
When you sign The Email Pledge you promise to be clear with your subscribers:
This is all just plain good manners. This isn’t even about the legal stuff. We all survived the great GDPR compliance email onslaught of 2018; we should understand the rules by now — even if “the fresh food people” don’t.
In signing The Email Pledge, you’re also committing to meet certain writing standards:
*OK, so I failed the profanities test. I’m really sorry! Man, etiquette is hard.
11 August 2020
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