Lessons of Spam

Jan 10, 2012

"Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam..."
--Monty Python, 1970

You may not have SPAM in your cabinet, but you undoubtedly have spam in your inbox. The massive amount of information we all consume on a daily basis has driven us to shout louder and interrupt more often in order to get our point across. Like the Vikings in the popular Monty Python sketch, those who wish to communicate a message to a broader audience will often interject at inappropriate times and attempt to reach their goals by blasting out to all who will listen. While a lot of unintentional spammers have appropriate content to share, their methods often produce exactly the opposite of what they want. I'm sure those Vikings just wanted to tell everyone how much they loved SPAM.

The problem with our increasingly connected society is that there are more channels and opportunities than ever to share our story, but the pitfalls have also become more dangerous. Jumping into the modern social scene with your company's message can feel like swimming with sharks while wearing a SPAM scuba suit. So let's look at a real world example and see what we can learn about where and how to best share our content.

Just last week I watched in real time as two very different schools of marketing collided online on Facebook and Twitter.

Jay Conrad Levinson wrote the 1984 bestseller Guerrilla Marketing, has sold over 21 million books and is considered to be "the father of guerrilla marketing." He has been promoting his events recently on social networks and posted a canned event marketing message on several popular Facebook walls, including  that of Jeffrey Gitomer's, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Gary Vaynerchuk's. Vaynerchuk, who has written Crush It and The Thank You Economy, is known for his social marketing and building the most watched wine show on the internet. In a response to the post Gary said, "Jay why would you spam my wall? makes no sense and has zero value! I am going to assume most of the people that see this on my fan page won't be excited by your execution ,especially since I and my community tend to stand 100% against this kind of petty action :(" After several more comments from members of Gary's community, on both the post and on the Jay Conrad Levinson wall, the posts were deleted.

Gary then posted to his 900,000+ followers on twitter the following tweet. "Tough day at the social media office, just as I am ranting, someone comes on and spa ms my wall.". The debate continued on Twitter and Facebook about what constituted spam and its effectiveness or lack thereof.

After a bit of digging I found out the person who posted the content, apologized on the Jay Conrad Levinson page ,and removed the posts was Amy Levinson. After exchanging a few emails with Amy it became clear that she felt she had not done anything wrong and was upset by some of the mean comments that followed up. There was even a question posted to the @gmarketing twitter account about what was considered spam. I do believe that the original post was in a spirit of sharing relevant information but our spam sensitive culture has trained us to, at best, ignore these messages and at worst resort to retaliation.

So what can we learn from this and how can it help us tell better stories?

1. Know Your Audience - A quick look on Gary Vaynerchuk's Facebook page would have revealed how interactive the discussions were. Asking a question or engaging with Gary on a personal level would have opened the door to providing more information. Most online audiences are very sensitive to marketing blasts and respond much better to building a relationship with them. Start talking, ask questions, get involved and then you will have built up the right to ask for something.

2. Know What Spam Is - Chances are if you are copying and pasting a message over and over, it could be spam. If you are interrupting an existing conversation or forcing a message that doesn't fit, it could be spam. If you don't know anything about the person on the other end of a message except their email address, it probably is spam. When in doubt, make it personal, and ask for permission.

3. Help Others Know - I realize that a lot of the spammers out there don't care about their message but there are individuals and companies who are getting into social media that need help. For those of us who know the rules it is our job to politely enforce them but also to educate those who are just jumping in. This is a brave new web for all of us and we need to play well with others who want to learn.

Finally, I want to say thank you to Gary, Amy and everyone who was a part of the discussion that came out of this situation. The intent of this was not to point fingers or lay blame but to help us all understand how we can better communicate with each other. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm a bit hungry and with all due respect to the Hormel Food Corporation, I think I could go for a salad.