On Marketing and Social Media

You’re walking through the store – we’ll call the place ‘Meg-A-Lo-Mart’ to protect the names of the innocent – and a decently dressed individual steps into your path and says, “Who’s your television provider?”

ExitYour mind is on the list in your hand and the fact that the three items you need are located at polar opposite corners of the store, so you reply, “I’m not interested,” and attempt to make your way around this person.

I say ‘attempt’ because they once again cut you off.  “I bet I can save you money.  Who’s your provider?”

Now, what happens next depends on who you are.  If you are me, and if you have spent some time in the very industry where this individual is currently employed, and if, for example, you know what I know, and have done marketing for over 20 years, and are now utterly, and completely, in a bad mood due to this asshat, you might say something along the lines of, “I bet you could!  …In the first month of my contract.  My two year contract.  I bet you can even sign me up today for nothing at all – no deposit.”

“I can!” he or she might reply.

To which, again, if you’re me, you might reply, “But then I have to pay the first month’s bill in the second month, right?  And the installation fee?  And the setup fee?  And so, in the second month of my two year contract, I suddenly have a bill for over $300, right?”

At which point the individual’s face goes entirely blank and they walk away.

No one likes the truth, especially in sales and marketing, where ‘truth’ is subjective and ‘lies’ are simply ‘marketing’.

The kind of sales and marketing tactics I describe above actually works.  I’ll let you think about that for a second.  You distract someone, you hit them with a bunch of information and questions that can only be answered with a ‘yes’, and then before you know it, you’ve made a sale.

I hate that shit.

What they don’t tell the poor sap doing such jobs (who are on commission) is that you also have a really high rate of returns.  People get home and they realize not only were they pushed into the decision, they now regret it all and want out.  If they don’t have the product yet – in this case, if they don’t have anything installed – they can usually get out of it without paying anything.  But that’s not always the case.

And that’s not what this post is about.  Although it’s similar.

I’m a marketer by day.  That means I create marketing campaigns, strategies and pieces (flyers, emails, blog posts, social media updates, etc).  If I follow all the rules for email marketing – CanSPAM, opt ins and opt outs, etc – and do everything ‘correctly’, there are still people out there who will label me as a spammer and block the content I create so they don’t have to look at it any more.  Even if they opted in to my marketing.  Which they have to do!  It never ceases to amaze me to see people who signed up to receive marketing from a company – from me – who then block said content and report it as spam to their email provider, rather than simply opt out.  And yes, I can see when someone reports me/my company/my marketing.

Now let me clarify one thing – people have been trained not to click the opt out links in marketing.  Why?  Well, as often happens in the U.S., we come up with these great rules and laws that make people feel better, but have no real impact on the world around us.  (Do you need a moment to process and/or complain about that statement?  If so – take it now.  I’ll wait…)  The CanSPAM Act is one of those.  It requires me to follow certain rules, and I do, but outside the U.S., the rules don’t apply.  So when someone gets an email, and they click that little opt out link, if the email originated outside the U.S., all clicking that link does is tell the person who sent it that someone is there, the email address is good, and before you know it, that person / email address is the recipient of a billion junk emails.

The nature of the beast is that you can send a billion emails for very little money, and all you need is one person to click something.  That’s what they’re counting on, that eventually, someone, somewhere, will click something.

As I write this piece, I have over 2000 emails in my spam folder.  I didn’t put them there, my email host did.  It runs all sorts of complicated algorithms and scans content and headers to see where the email originated from, and even sees if anyone else has complained about a specific email address, domain name, host, isp or ip, and takes all of that into consideration before filtering these emails into that folder where I never have to see them.  My email client – in this case, Apple Mail, has the ability to learn.  If I mark things as spam or junk, or if I never open and read something – just delete it – Apple Mail pays attention.  Eventually, it begins to see patterns and will add it’s own judgement to that of the big email filters, and when something makes it through to my inbox, Apple Mail will slide it right over to the spam folder for me.

Some email clients – like Outlook, Thunderbird and Apple Mail – can even report back to ‘the mothership’ so new versions of the client come prepackaged with more sophisticated, built-in algorithms to cut down on spam.

atAs we’ve moved into the social media age, marketers are trying to figure out how to use the various platforms to market to consumers.  Meanwhile, regular people are trying to figure out how to block marketing.  All marketing.  Think about websites.  Marketers came up with ways to use websites to deliver marketing messages via little windows that would ‘pop-up’.  Remember when you’d close a browser window and discover dozens of these little pop-ups waiting for you?  Entire the pop-up blocker.  Now, I don’t know about you, but these days I rarely see a pop-up.  Next came ads.  Sidebar ads, banner ads, ads, ads, ads.  Firefox has an extension to block ads when you’re viewing websites.  No more ads.  Unless you search for something, or show interest in something, or give someone data about you that can be tracked, measured and indexed (which you do every single time you get on the Internet, no matter what you do once you’re there).  Then you start seeing ads on Google for stuff it thinks you’re interested in.  Facebook is worse.

I was part of a presentation from a partner-company one day.  We gathered a group from my company and theirs around the conference table, hooked the laptop up to the projector and started looking at some of their efforts to market via social media.  They followed the first rule of social media – be social.  They engaged existing and potential customers by asking for photographs.  Not of just anything.  You see, they had come to be known for their pens.  That’s right – I said pens.  As a title company, they made a point of always having these very nice pens at every closing.  The pen sort of took off for them as a mascot and an identifiable brand, so part of their marketing was asking people to take pictures of their pens in exotic places.  It was just the right sort of fun thing to tickle people’s fancy, and before you knew it, people were liking their Facebook page and uploading images of their pens on the beach, in Paris, at the Washington Monument, so on and etc.

And all the while they were showing us this, Facebook was showing us ads for dating websites, comic books and World of Warcraft.  Why?  Because we were logged into my FB account, I’m marked as ‘single interested in women’, have searched for comic books, and I ‘liked’ the Earthen Ring server/realm page for World of Warcraft.

Hello awkward!  My name is Patrick…

Marketing via social media is a tricky thing.  The key to being successful on social media is a simple one – be social.  You can be social and market stuff, but it’s a delicate balance.  People want to talk and interact with people, not with someone who is constantly telling them to click a link and buy whatever it is they are selling.  People I have followed tend to fall into three categories: social butterflies, social marketers, and spammers.  I don’t follow the spammers for very long.

The social butterflies are the people who are out there talking about everything.  They have truly embraced the concept of social media being social.  They are real people with real issues, and they talk about them every day.  From writing tips, publishing stories, and publishing horror stories, to how their kid puked in the living room, or the dog on the couch, or their favorite restaurant went away – these authors are connecting with their existing and potential audiences in a very organic and non-invasive way.

The social marketers have a more targeted approach.  They are still being social, but they aren’t revealing as much about their personal lives and are staying in the realm of being an author out there writing books and working.  Despite this more professional take on social media, they are being successful because they are still engaging with people – they just aren’t sharing the details of what their kids are up to, or spouse/partner, or how the pets are planning to kill them in their sleep and take over the house – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In both examples above, these authors include links and updates to their books and stories, but it never feels weird or awkward.  They’ve built up trust with their followers by being real people and engaging in conversations.

spamAnd then we come to the spammers.  Spammer is a derogatory term, I know, but it fits.  These are the people who follow a sort of script.

Step one: follow everyone.

Step two: unfollow anyone who didn’t immediately follow you back.

Step three: repeat steps one and two for a week or two and see if people follow you.

Step four: link to what you want to sell.

Step five: tag people in posts linking off to what you want to sell. “Hey @yourname – you should totally check this out: http://garbage.garbage”

Step six: join services that promise to get you more followers. (Which causes steps one and two to be repeated again)

Step seven: tag people in posts linking off to the service that promises to get you more followers.  “@Yourname – get more followers now – guaranteed! http://garbage.garbage”

Step eight: send automated private/direct messages to everyone who follows you linking off to what you want to sell. “Thanks for following me! You should buy my stuff at “http://garbage.garbage”

Step nine: repeat any and all of the previous steps.

I got into it with someone on Twitter not too long ago over these very practices.  The response was for them to say what they’re doing is working for them, show some outrage that I would suggest they were a spammer or not like and appreciate their approach, demand that I offer them alternatives to promote their product, and then proceed to tag me in posts over and over and over in an attempt to get me to engage them in an argument.  Which I refused to do.  I simply ignored them.  Which seemed to piss them off even more, so the tweets kept coming, and coming.  And I kept ignoring them.

Some people started asking me why I didn’t block/report the user (a lot of people, actually).  Well, a couple reasons – first, they are a real person – that much was clear, and two, I kinda wanted to see how long they’d keep spamming me – which, the longer it went on, totally proved my original point.  Eventually, they calmed down and the spam stopped.  Which is good, but I don’t think it stopped because they modified their approach so much as it stopped because I’d complained, asked to be removed, and refused to engage the bs.

microphone_vintageNow, with all of this in mind – there’s actually a fourth category that’s difficult to give a name to.  These are essentially the people who follow you, interact to get something, and then ignore you until they need something again.  I’m thinking here about people who have followed me, chatted for a bit, asked to be on a podcast, and then stopped following me once the podcast went live.  Believe it or not, there are more of these people than I like to admit.  And it’s funny when a new book or something comes out, and suddenly I get a notification that such-n-such is following me on Twitter.  Again.  And then the messages start coming in.

I think I’m going to call this segment ‘takers’.  They have a very specific agenda, and as long as you are in a position to help them achieve their goals, they friend you.  Once that goal is met, they don’t need you any more and they move on until and unless they need you again.  Noticing more and more people falling into this category lately, and it’s really very sad.  Sad because this can actually be a personality type, and if someone is a taker online, more than likely they aren’t any different offline.

How you are perceived online is important today.  How you market yourself and your products – be they books, blogs, whatever – is vital to your continued successes.  Coming off as someone who takes, or spams isn’t going to get you where you need to be, IMHO.

What about you?  What have you found works?  Doesn’t work?  What truly bothers you on social media?


  • Janet Harriett Posted February 10, 2014 12:17 pm

    I don’t know if it works or not, but I try to be me online, though my online me is a bit more open and outgoing than my in-person me. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that Twitter is not my internal monologue, and that there is probably limited interest in the daily activities of my cats and the random local wildlife.

    In addition to the spammers and the takers (I’m actually starting to notice a few takers showing up for me…Dubious Career Achievement Unlocked!), I find myself bothered by the people who add a Step 10 to the spammers’ script: “Now that you have a feed of 11,392 people who share a common interest in aggressively shilling their stuff, retweet everything that comes through your feed.” I call them the QVC Retweeters; following them is pretty much watching the all-infomercial channel, and I have better things to do with my attention span, like tweet about squirrel antics.

  • Texanne Posted February 10, 2014 4:41 pm

    You may be getting a different class of spam–or a bigger class of spam–because of your podcast and your what are those? Hugo awards? I haven’t been on Twitter in weeks. Months? No idea. Used to like it, but if you’ve been off for a while, it’s like trying to get back into a soap opera. You have no idea what’s going on, and all you see is “buy my book.” I buy a lot of books, that’s true, but I’m not a Sure Thing For Everybody.

    I started on “social” media because my cohorts were up to it, and because it was supposedly necessary to sell books. That’s fallen by the wayside. Well, maybe there was a roadside bomb at work. Now I just bother with people I like, and my set of “friends” is evolving. Lots more farmers, lots fewer writers. That sounds awful, I know.

    Thanks for the article, Patrick. I must say, though, that given your size, the salesman who continued to approach you after you showed him that you weren’t interested: medical-grade desperate or weapons-grade brave. It’s a desperate world out there these days. Gotta have some sympathy. Sympathy for the desperate.

    Okay, will this post? In 3, 2, 1–

  • Dan Posted February 12, 2014 10:55 pm

    Hmmm…I never thought of approaching random people at the grocery store to sell my stuff…….

Comments are closed.