Best Practices with Bart Simpson

I’ve got something to say. Some of you will disagree with me vehemently; some, exactly the opposite. Almost no-one will be “on the fence”. The idea of “best practices” is a load of hooey.

would you rather listen?

I’ve said similar things about other so-called business process gold. For example, Service Level Agreements are a joke. Numbers get applied to things that perhaps are best measured in the aggregate by using math, but in the real world can’t be.

Yesterday I butted my head against a “best practices” thing. I’m still trying to figure out the correct answer to a question it opened my eyes to.

You may have noticed a couple of references here recently to a new project we’re launching. The WordPress Helpers is now just a few days away from launch, and yesterday we sent out a mail bomb announcing it. The mailing list we used was culled from a number of places, and over the years every one of the people on the list has, either consented or ASKED to be connected to either me, our parent company PC-VIP Inc, or one of our projects. Here’s that mail:

The results have been “typical”, which is to say that the percentage of people who opened the email has been within standards for such things, as was the number of people who clicked a link in the email to learn more, and the number who asked to unsubscribe from further messages.

I received two notes from recipients who were unhappy. Statistically that represents a great number; the mail blast went to a lot of people. But the circumstances were disturbing. One was from a guy who I’d corresponded with a few weeks ago. He writes a WordPress blog, and I contacted him as part of a reach-out program to start generating buzz for The WordPress Helpers—and he indicated he was interested. I don’t understand why, but in the time since we corresponded he changed his mind, and requested to be unsubscribed from further mailings.

The good news is that he did so in a friendly way. He’d clicked “unsubscribe” and our software had already removed him from the list, but he also took the step of writing to me personally to make sure; we went back and forth, and that’s done.

Not so the other guy. He took it upon himself to lecture me about SPAM, best practices, and how he was going to “report me” for sending him a marketing message he hadn’t given me permission to send him. We also went back-and-forth for a bit; I pointed out that he was a LinkedIn connection of mine and that he’d been the the person who initiated our connection there. I explained that in my estimation that meant he’d indicated an interest in the things I do and it was for that reason he’d been added to our my The WordPress Helpers email list.

We agreed to part ways as former-friends-with-nothing-further-to-say-to-each-other.

As I said above, this disturbs me.

At the simplest level I’m disturbed because I offended this guy’s sensibilities and because I attempted to engage him and failed to sway his opinion. Both of those reactions are incredibly egotistical of me, though, and I got past them quickly enough. What bothers me far more is how difficult the conversation about what constitutes “acceptable contact” on the Internet has become.

Best Practices

The idea of best practices seems so obvious, doesn’t it? People who have done something for a long time look at the results of their experience and create a set of standards by which they run their businesses. “Best practices” becomes nearly-but-not-quite synonymous with “business process”. But whereas business processes are a set of steps … literally, “first we do ‘A’, then if the result is this we do ‘B’ but if it’s that we do ‘C’ instead” … steps for operating a business or a part of one, best practices are different. In best practices the people who make business decisions have leeway to make decisions.

Somewhere along the line best practices seems to have taken on more of a business processes kind of meaning. And sure, there’s lots of wisdom to be gleaned from following the footsteps of experts who have walked the path you’re on today, before you—even when you’re one of those experts yourself. But just as the old joke about doctors being engaged in the practice of medicine rings true, so does the idea of best practices in pretty much anything.

Don’t get me wrong; there are places where things commonly referred to as “best practices” need to be viewed as something more. For example, programmers will tell you that you never “hack the core”, and while that idea is commonly referred to as a matter of best practices it’s a much better idea to view don’t hack the core as a rule, never to be broken. A simple example is one apropos of our mission at The WordPress Helpers: if you alter the code of WordPress, then every time a new version of the software gets installed you lose those changes. So instead of “hacking the core” you use what’s called a “child theme”. WordPress can be updated, your theme (the part of things that determines what WordPress looks like) can be updated, and your work remains safe. Best Practices become rules to live by.

But when it comes to the rules of engagement, best practices are a matter of opinion. Yes, there are laws that govern best practices as the idea applies to email communication, but those laws, like most, are vague enough that you have room to interpret them.

Which is why this whole content marketing thing is so difficult to navigate. You need to get your story out there and you “need” people’s permission before you tell them your story. And that “rule” applies only to e-mail.

Wonderful. Did you give advertisers permission to show you commercials for their stuff between segments of television programs? You did not. You provided tacit permission for the channel you were watching to show you some commercial by tuning to it, but you sure never gave any individual advertiser permission to send you messages. Well, folks, in content marketing you’re running a network and you decide which messages get sent out. And in this case my network happens to be comprised of multiple channels. You liked one of my channels but got angry when I sent you information about a program running on another one? And you’re upset because the channel was email? That’s really worth getting angry about, don’t you think?

By the way: best practices aren’t really hooey. What’s ridiculous—and should be unacceptable to you—is when you can’t tell the difference between best practices and business process.

That’s my position. It should be yours, too. Wanna argue about it?

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