Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Spam is on the Menu

How do you know if your email/social media marketing campaign will end up in people's spam filter or ignore list?

Let's separate the content from the technology. For the purposes of this discussion "gated platform" means any networking platform that requires a separate login, has groups, lists, or other sub-communities. In other words - all the major networking platforms you can think of and a lot of older platforms, such as IRC, Mailing Lists, Discussion Forums and Groups.

Here are three scenarios:

1) You are standing on the street and pass some random guy who turns to you and says - "Hi, how can I help you today?" What reaction are you likely to have?

2) Now, say you go to a friend's party where you know some, but not all, of the people there. Someone comes up and says, "Hi, how can I help you today?"

3) Lastly, you get a phone call from a colleague in the same company who you don't talk to often, and he asks, "Hi, how can I help you today?"

The first is the equivalent of an email, or message on a gated platform, from someone you don't know. This scenario is clearly spam - there is no context and feels kinda weird to the recipient. You don't really know them, their business, their needs - what makes you think you can help them or that they even need help in the first place? There needs to be more than just opportunity for contact - there has to be context for contact. Contact without any context at all is spam.

The second scenario is the equivalent of a Private Message from someone who is in the same group as you on a gated platform. It *might* be weird, if the person doesn't then explain, "I saw you ask if someone could help you with...." That establishes context and relevance, so it is not spam. However - there's still a great way to screw this up! If *you* ask a question and, when a person answers, respond with your elevator speech or email pitch, you have still managed to be a spammer. That person reached out in good faith to assist you. There was never any implicit or explicit request for your help. Be mindful of the atmosphere - not every contact is a sales opportunity. Knowing the direction of the relationship dynamic will be a key point in making your message meaningful.

The third scenario would be the equivalent of a Private Message from a contact/follower/friend on a gated platform. It also *might* be weird, but also might be useful,  presuming there was a conversation going on that the contact is responding to. Probably not spam, unless proven otherwise.

A random statement with no context provided, will always feel weird. Think about how awkward and annoying it is when you receive an email forward asking you to act on something, with a request to read a long email string between two other people. It takes double the work to figure out what you're being asked to act on and then what you're being asked to do regarding it. The same is true for every and any private communication - when you have the opportunity to contact someone, and context for doing so, you still are responsible for providing the relevance to that person.

Spam is in the intent. If your message feels like, "Hi, I can talk at you because I can," then you are spamming a person. Even if it makes perfect sense to you, it is your responsibility to make it make sense to the recipient.

Provide context, relevance, and awareness of the relationship dynamic between you and the other party, and your communication is much less likely to end up in the spam filter.
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