Facebook, Parties, Silicon Valley, the always controversial sarah lacy, Twitter, Web/Tech, ZAPPOS!

What about Semi-Spam?

Ok, Ok, Owen Thomas will likely read this and think I'm being bitter or haughty or nasty again or whatever. (Qualities ValleyWag knows nothing about of course!) But amid the discussion about Facebook and Twitter needing spam control, how are we defining spam? Because a lot of business folks (especially Valley ones) borderline-abuse these services for business gains. Ultimately, I guess it's in the eye of the follower. I like when bloggers I follow Twitter-tease new entries because I don't have all day to go between blogs. But I can't help but feeling "spammy" when I do it.

And, like, I know there's a "Jason Nation" and all that's apparently such a force it needs a logo. So clearly those people like endless Calacanis "COMMENT ON THIS PHOTO OF MY BULLDOGS NOW" missives. But does everyone?

Then, there are PR people, many of whom feel it's not their pitches and relentlessness that's the problem but the medium. So they take the same messaging-- chock full of words like "leading provider" and "world class"-- and flit from email to IM to Facebook to Facebook chat to Twitter etc. I was doing an interview for a podcast aimed at PR folks a while back and they asked how PR people should use Facebook, Twitter, et all to pitch me. And I said, they shouldn't. The single best way to pitch me is still email. The moderator, I guess thinking I didn't understand the question, said, "Well, but you probably check Twitter or Facebook more right?" First off, I don't. But if I did, do you think that means I want endless pitches for you lame client cluttering up what's supposed to be a spot to communicate with my friends and loved ones?

As I put it then, the problem when I don't respond to an email pitch isn't that I didn't read it, it's that I wasn't interested. Spamming me in every media isn't going to make your pitch better. PR people would do better to follow the model of the best firms in the industry, in my mind Brew, Outcast and Spark, and build relationships with reporters, find out what they want to cover, and, oh, I don't know maybe what cities they live in and what their first names are.

I interviewed Tony Hsieh from Zappos (ZAPPOS!) the other day for Tech Ticker (Footage next week I think. Start getting excited now, Zappos nation!)  Zappos seems to be the best company at wisely leveraging Twitter as this surprise Twitter party they threw at Medjool shows. (The ink is *almost* off my hands two days later, Tony....why permanent marker?) At any rate, I asked Tony about his secrets and he said something similar: That it wasn't about Twitter, it was about a certain mindset towards your customers. If you don't have that no social media is going to magically make you a marketing wizard.

It was so similar to what I told the PR folks that it made me think this is increasingly going to be a problem across all businesses as everyone tries to figure out how to "LEVERAGE" social media for marketing purposes-- and likely doesn't spend enough time looking at the holes in their current strategy.

It's not outright spam, but it feels the same. And because it's so gray, this could be a far bigger problem for the industry.


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I want to comment intelligently here, but I also have to admit two biases:
1) My background is in in marketing and PR.
2) I've come to completely detest their dishonest seduction into unnecessary consumption.

Personally, I block anything promotional these days, particularly if it shows up in my social media. Having said that, I think Zappos is doing a good job - I follow him/them on Twitter - because they contribute something to the social environment (as you've pointed out). I don't feel like I'm being sold to or conned into buying something I don't want. When I'm ready to buy another pair of shoes, however, I will certainly check them out. Granted, this comes from a very satisfying previous experience with Zappos, who was able to get me the perfect pair of hikers I needed, overnight, two days before I was to leave for a trek around Costa Rica. (This was after a month of failed efforts at local shops and other online stores).

The enormous amount of spam - or "marketing" - coming into social media has become a real turn-off. Due to that, I use Facebook a lot less than I used to. I've started getting promoters "following" me on Twitter, perhaps with the hope I'll follow them back? Whatever their reasoning, I block them. The way that spam marketing has almost ruined email, it may ruin social media. And I think it could ruin it more quickly because people need email, but will quickly turn away from social media if it becomes inundated. Look at what happened to Usenet, and later chat rooms, which became overwhelmed with spam. Who even uses those any more?

Businesses are going to have to find new, more honest ways to market to an increasingly skeptical audience, and social media could play a strong role in that if handled properly. But not if the old spam marketers ruin the medium first.

Sarah - I think you're being generous by calling it semi-spam. Regardless, there is one benefit that has come out of the 'bastardization' of email and now perhaps social media. It forces entrepreneurs like me to build relationships because we know a cold email simply won't work. I spend a huge amount of time reading the blogs and articles of journalists to try and find those who have similar interests or shared vision. Its a useful (and fun) experience and one I hope will result in benefits to both sides: the journalist, who might have something interesting to cover, and my startup. However, its a huge effort and one that gets harder and harder as the level of spam increases.

As a bootstrapped startup, I absolutely believe that it's part of the startup-experience doing it yourself without fancy PR agencies. And one of the benefits of the increased spam is that it forces entrepreneurs to build relationships and actually think creatively about marketing. But I'm equally worried that it's slowly making the task almost impossible. I say almost, because we all know that 'impossible' is only found in the dictionary of fools!

Sarah - The permanent marker was to get back at you for making me take a Jager shot. If it makes you feel any better, I couldn't get the ink off either, but somehow some of it transferred to my face during the night. It made it slightly problematic for my meetings the next day.

Re: Twitter to drive traffic to your blog - I don't think you should feel it's spammy, especially if you start your tweet with something like "New blog entry:". If I'm not interested then I won't click on the link.

At least you didn't use a pink permanent marker and write on your PALM at the behest of a confused friend who insisted it was the right spot.

And I enjoy the links to new blog posts in the twitter feeds. Agree with Tony, if I'm not into it I won't click.

And Tony - Jaeger does the body good. See you soon I hope.

hey Sarah, you're not going to believe this but I just checked over at Twitter and Evan must be reading your blog... it seems, and I don't have official confirmation of this yet, but you can actually unfollow people now! It's crazy, if you don't want someone's tweets you're not longer forced to get them.. you can actually optout of them. IN fact, I hear their working on a really revolutionary feature where you don't have to signup for someone in the first place. :-)

xoxo j

ahh jason. the patented snarky calacanis comment followed by smiley face!! on my blog??? I'm HONORED! to answer seriously, frequently i feel conflicted. I genuinely like to hear from people but some things can be too much. so, sometimes it's not as easy as just unfollowing. that is why i am STILL happily in the scoble and jason nations ;)

As someone just starting out in high-tech PR, I find this post insightful and eye opening. One of the things I'm most conscious about annoying journalists--I will continue to read your column and reach out when I have something that I think you'll be really interested in.

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