The Trouble with Volunteers

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve recently received a piece of spam from the Dean Campaign. A number of people have written me asking if I contacted the Dean campaign. Yes, I have and I hope to get an answer. Based on further investigation, though, it looks like this could be a case of an over-eager volunteer. The reason I am going with that assumption for now is that, while researching the subject, I’ve learned of another case happening earlier this year. Based on the official apology on that prior incident, I suspect that this may be a similar case. A subsequent discussion brings up the interesting point of volunteers online and the difficulty in managing them.

This might be an interesting point to investigate further as more of the campaigns are going to try to engage people directly via the online medium during this presidential campaign. A good starting point on this is to get your volunteers more familiar with Netiquette. While a bit dated, Netiquette by Virginia Shea provides you with a good grounding in the basics of online communication.

Here are some basic things to watch out for:

  • When sending a message, first check that the person you are sending it to wants to receive it. If they do, you will have proof (either in the way of an online registration (I’ll get to this point later), a paper registration (where the individual has given you permission to use the email for more info), or an email from the individual asking to be added to your distribution list
  • If you are using online registration, make sure you get a double-entry system, which sends a confirmation to the user via email and requires him/her to visit a URL in order to confirm their registration. The use of such system ensures that the user’s email address is really the address of someone who wants to receive information from you
  • If an incident (like the one I described earlier) happens, make sure you are responsive. A good way to do so is to actually have a stated policy on your site regarding the use of SPAM. It may seem like overkill but will save you many headaches if people are aware that you do not condone such behavior.A good thing to have, is a special email address to receive information related to spam. The reason for this is that the address can go to the mailbox of someone who will investigate such spam case and discourage any such attempts (the need for such investigation will probably be warranted in the future as spam could become an easy way to smear your competitors)
  • Be upfront about it: If I see a place that has information on a particular piece of spam listed directly on their site, along with some information as to what they believe happened, I will still be tempted to trust the source. If I don’t get that kind of feedback (apology or explanation), I may put you in my spam list and avoid any future message from you.

Spam is a big problem. If you don’t control your volunteers, it could become a big problem for your campaign.

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