16th June 2011

Spam in the Social Networking Era: Why a New Definition is Needed

In today’s world, spamming is just too easy. Not only does technology now allow us to spam other Internet users, but it also provides us with an audience of sitting ducks.

What happens when something is so easy to do? Everyone does it!

And what happens when everyone does it? People get annoyed and start to actively resist.

In the world of social networking we are going back to the rules of traditional customer networks where instead of constantly trying to promote ourselves, we share and connect with our community members in a mutually beneficial way.

Think about it like this – we don’t go down to our local sports club and all promote our businesses by shouting over the top of each other. Well, spamming on Facebook is the 21st century equivalent… And it’s degrading the experience for all of us.

Spam has progressed well past the well-publicised surge of money transfer requests, as well as those more subtle emails offering sale coupons. And gone are the days when spam could be purged from our inboxes by simply clicking the ‘filter’ button.

Spammers have evolved into a much more savvy species.They’re aware that we’re aware of them.  They’ve crept into LinkedIn, they’ve signed into Twitter and they’re all over Facebook. This is forcing us to reconsider the definition of spamming.

The definition is broader now – it has to encompass the new tools of social networking and social media.

Spamming on Facebook and other Social Media Sites: How do we put an end to it?

A proactive approach is needed to reduce the amount of spamming. For example, if there is an opportunity to display group rules or a welcome message, make it set the scene for new members.

Right from the very beginning you must be clear about your group’s purpose, intentions and tolerance towards spamming.

Check out the example of group rules below:

“Our Purpose: To grow our knowledge in a community of leaders.

Selling or self promoting is not what we are about. The moderators are online constantly to ensure junk is removed quickly, and that the spammer gets their one polite warning and is put on ‘Requires Moderation’. Please visit and read for a while before posting, as what we regard as junk or spam has a very broad definition. If you want to promote your blog or sell your book, there are many other IT groups to join, and they all allow self promotion”.

Groups need to help members make better posts. Why not provide some guidelines for your group members? Here is an example of the group rules that we use for our LinkedIn communities:

What makes a good Discussion?

1. It doesn’t link off to your blog or to another group.

It contains enough information for members to respond from the page. Any links must be pasted into your Comment or Discussion, and links should not be included every time you post.

2. One that doesn’t use the ‘Attach a Link’ button

The ‘Attach a Link’ button that LinkedIn puts next to the “Start a discussion” box (misguidedly, it encourages spam and clutter).
This just clutters up the question and wastes valuable space. If you need to put a link in to provide more information (not to sell your services or grow your blog traffic), put it in the box that pops up called “Add more details”.

3. Your signature is short

Just Regards (or Cheers, or Kind regards, etc) and your first name. And sometimes just the one web address, but not every time you comment.
Long signatures are not only self serving advertisements that clutter up the page and tire out our scrolling hand, they are also redundant (as is a link to your profile). People will easily be able to find information on you and your business by clicking on your profile.

Bad Discussions and Comments

1. Polite posts but unfortunately of no value to members:

“Thanks for inviting me to join”; “Hello everyone, …”; “I agree with Sue’s comment (with no additional information)”; “Happy Christmas (or Thanksgiving, etc)”.

2. Spam posts of no value to members

“Free review of ….”; “Free Webinar”; “free e-book”; “join our group”; “we have jobs”.

A group description can also be a good way to introduce some general guidelines on how to participate.
For example, a group description such as the one below sets the scene and will help people understand exactly what to expect from your group:

“Please visit and read for a while before commenting; get to know what the group is all about. When you do make a post, please no pitching, no selling, no self-promotion and no politics. We monitor the group daily to ensure we are not swarmed by such spam, and will penalise those who spam our group. 1st strike and you are warned, 2nd we get serious and with a 3rd we will have to say goodbye.

We have activated the ‘Promotions’ tab in the group: this is the place to promote your business. And jobs go in ‘Jobs’.
Note that we will not move such posts for you if they are under discussions: We will just delete it and Strike.

Above all though, we stay on topic and are never anonymous. Our Purpose is to foster valuable conversations that develop on each topic, support other members, provide a sense of connection and belonging, as well as brainstorming ideas”.

LinkedIn Case Study: Small Business Evolution

On one group that we manage, there was a heated topic surrounding the promotion of a book on the discussion forum.

The moderators made the decision to allow this self-promotion as a one-off because this particular member had been such a valuable contributor to the discussion… We quickly found out that this was a BIG mistake.

Adam Dobson posted this scathing Discussion:

‘I thought the Whole idea of this Group and what made if different (as stated) Was NO SELF Promotion and the First Page has 2 people Promoting their Latest books.’

This discussion then evoked a strong response from many of the members. Whilst some members understood our predicament, there was an overwhelming vote for stricter enforcement of spamming rules and a clearer definition of what constitutes spamming.

Neil Licht made some interesting points:

“…I know its very difficult to strike a policy that can differentiate between pertinent info and blatant self promotion…{Spam is} exactly why so many sites are not valuable to me – they bloviate, self promote, never help me understand an issue or the suggestions that should be offering so I can apply their suggestions…That’s also why I like pertinent articles links – that’s where the explanation can be. Yes that also yields shorter more succinct posts as well…”

Mack Arrington provides a good summary of what group members had come up with during this discussion:

“…In launching this group, we are in labor together to clarify that fine line between what constitutes good information vs what becomes overt or covert self-promotion.

So far, it looks like the decision is to allow participants to reference their materials as long as:

1- There is enough information provided for us to be able to respond within the ongoing discussion, and without having to go to other links, books or resources.

2- The participant is actively contributing meaningful content to the ongoing discussion and not just dropping in with a meaningful paragraph that also promotes their business or fame…”

The founder of the group (James) provided a concise description of our group’s core purpose:

“Promoting yourself as a professional and an expert is a key reason for this group existing, and for many of our members to join. We are just taking a different approach. One that is focused on content that builds knowledge… So members can get daily or weekly feeds and not be swamped by ‘discussions’ that are literally posted every couple of minutes…”

Defining spamming on Facebook and other social media sites

Spamming on Facebook and other social media sites is clearly a topic that warrants further investigation.

Whilst the concept of spamming certainly isn’t a new one, social media sites have radically changed the way that people send and receive unsolicited marketing messages.

Inevitably, this change has caused uncertainty on how exactly we should identify and manage spam. One of the most important conclusions that we have drawn from the discussion on our group is that when it comes to spamming, there are many grey areas’.

How do we define spamming?

How do we decide if linking to a blog is self-promotion or a valuable resource for discussion?

If you promote a friend, is that self promotion?

These are all difficult questions to answer and online community managers need to continually evaluate comments and draw the line between what constitutes a valuable information resource and self-promotion.

So without further adieu, here is my working definition of spam (feel free to send in your suggestions):

Any material posted on to a community (eg. Groups on LinkedIn) that is selling a product or service. This includes offers of free reports, free workshops, free videos etc. Extreme examples include multiple postings of the same sales material on multiple communities.

Here is a short list of typical spamming or self-promotion activities:

  • Posting links that direct traffic to external blog sites without generating discussion on our group.

Measuring Brand Personality to Sharpen Marketing Campaigns strategy-business.com.

Three factors — favorability, originality, and clarity — determine a product’s identity.

  • Long signatures at the end of comments that leave contact details. For example:

Sue Smith, Ambassador for leadership
ssmith@leaders.com       http://www.leadershipambassadorfake.com
You are invited to suggest to your family, colleagues, acquaintances, friends and customers to view my page which contains information on my services.

  • Anything that blatantly or covertly promotes a business or product. For example:
    • “Download my free whitepaper”
    • “Here is a link to the book I wrote on ____”
    • “To find out more about my business…”
  • Promoting a friend’s business on the group
    • “A friend of mine actually works in this area; check out their business page…”
    • Even though this isn’t ‘self’ promotion, it is still unsolicited… So we think it’s spam and is quite likely to be the old ‘one-two trick’ – where someone asks a question, and the friend is alerted to respond. And often the friend is a fake profile!
  • Linking to another group
    • Providing a link to another LinkedIn discussion group can be acceptable only if it contains a rich discussion that will be of benefit to the members of our group. Linking to another group purely for the fact of generating traffic will be classed as spam and not tolerated by our groups.

    More on B2B Lead Generation with Social Networking here

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About James Eastland

Creating Customer Communities for companies selling B2B is my passion—shortening their sales cycle and building market leadership. My role sets the direction and vision of Lead Creation, tapping into the online experience of our large team of young professionals to implement cost effective strategies for B2B businesses.

2 thoughts on “Spam in the Social Networking Era: Why a New Definition is Needed

  1. This is a really interesting topic. I had the experience of having one of my posts flagged as “inappropriate” (not a nice experience) – simply because I referred the members to another group. I thought some of the members would really be interested in the group. How can you get people to join if you don’t tell them about it? And is it OK to refer people to a relevant article that you have written (including a link to where people can read it?) I havn’t been that impressed with the quality of discussion on groups – at least if you have put a lot of thought into writing an article, that is something coherent for people to read.

    Since having my post flagged as inappropriate I haven’t contributed further to the group. Some may say “good riddance” – but I reckon it’s their loss!

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  2. I agree with Shelley, it is an interesting area. I do broadly agree with your definition James although I actually get a lot of value from free guides that people offer. If they are pertinent to the members of THAT particular group, I don’t have a problem with them. That’s the same with blog posts – but again they have to be relevant and provide value. I think in active groups (or groups where the members tend to use LinkedIn) you can have complete conversations within the discussion thread. However, there are some types of people (such as lawyers) who typically consume information but don’t tend to comment. In those groups it’s very difficult to get any responses to discussions other than a couple of likes. Do you think it’s then okay to provide an introduction to a topic so members can make a quick call about whether they’re interested in it, with a link to more info?

    Would love to hear others’ views as this is not clear cut.

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