Labour Leadership Ballot – Where did the email votes go missing?

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Missing Ballot Email

You may have heard there is a leadership ballot going on right now for the next leader of the Labour party. It seems there has been a number of areas of controversy surrounding the vote, the latest and likely to be last is around customers being emailed emergency codes to vote online because their postal ballot papers did not arrive in time. But the emails did not arrive for customers either…

As a result with the voting deadline over, these supporters and members of the party cannot vote to elect their preferred leader, which could lead to legal action to have a re-vote.

So what could have gone wrong with the emails being missed, and what could they have done differently?

Did the emails go to the junk folder? Some people are saying they must have ended up there. This is possible but it’s also possible the emails were simply not sent properly.

We don’t know for certain what system was used for emailing these, but a bit of digging around in some free sources suggests it may have been via their own infrastructure and not an email service provider. If this was the case this presents a few concerns.

In-house systems are generally not very good at handling a large bulk amount of email and if overloaded, issues can arise. Unlike an ESP, these systems are not designed for mass mail and if connections between the two parties fail, then the email will not be re-sent. They are also not very good for working out if you had a problem, as the logging and reporting is usually non-existent or lacking any useful data.

If it was sent through a professional email system then chances are there is a better handle on what went wrong and there would have been better opportunities to react to these issues.

So did it junk?

Well possibly, but it won’t be because of the content of the email. There was one commentator who suggested emails which have images in are far more likely to end up in the junk folder, which is almost total nonsense. It’s the reputation of the email server sending the emails which would cause any junking issues. Looking at these they look OK, but if it was sent from an internal IT server that isn’t normally seen sending this level of email then maybe that would cause issues. Unusual email volume is a trigger for the likes of Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail to start refusing emails or knocking them into the spam folder.

I’m not convinced it did get a lot of junk issues though as that is somewhere you would look for a really important email.

Did the emails get sent properly?

There is always the risk of human error here. It must have been a complicated data selection to get these, and that in itself could have been the first issue. The next could have been getting these into the system for sending the emails, which maybe would apply filters on top like customers who are not subscribed to email.

What could they have done differently?

For such an important email, having detailed reporting is essential – having a log of who was sent the email, whether it was opened and clicked on would have given Labour an idea if there was a problem. If you have only got half of your recipients opening such an email then that would set my alarm bells going and I would be trying to look at the data further – are there any trends or patterns I can observe across domains?

More importantly you don’t need to rely on sending the email once – if in doubt send a reminder, removing the people who definitely responded to the email and editing the copy. There is also going to be those people which simply missed the email as it landed in a crowded inbox. Sending a second email following up helps to reduce this issue.

The underlying issue – lack of detail in disaster planning

Most online businesses will have some form of disaster recovery planning if a warehouse burns down, there is a data breach or some form of PR disaster. Yet just putting on this plan the ability to send an email through a system doesn’t robustly challenge the idea of this system being reliable enough. A system with a service level of a marketing system, or an internal IT system needs to be judged against mission critical guidelines if it is to be used. Don’t presume all email services are the same – there are hundreds of different variables that lead to emails going missing, being slow in sending or not being available 100% of the time.

You won’t appreciate the benefits of doing this, but you wish you had done this when you hit this sort of situation.

About James Lucas

Former Senior Marketing Executive at Emailcenter UK Ltd, a leading provider of email marketing software and solutions.