Spamfitti: Mindless Following and Promiscuous Friending

Email is being replaced by Twitter and Facebook. Or, maybe it’s not. But what do you call it when a Twitterer follows 3,000 people, has 2,800 followers—and has yet to write a single tweet? Are they ‘friends’? I suggest it has something in common with both spam and graffiti, and requires a new word–‘spamfitti.”

This is not another stupid rant about the word ‘friend.’ That ship has sailed. This rant is about the need to keep what killed email from choking social networks.

The Spam Factor of Following

Consider: email spam is so hard to eradicate because the economics of one more marginal spam address are essentially zero—so almost any non-zero response rate turns it profitable.

Twitterers and LinkedIn users (I can’t speak for Facebook) are increasingly acting like spammers. They are indiscriminately following others, since the reciprocity instinct is so high in human beings that the follow will quite often be returned.

If what you want is followers, then the human-economics of adding more followers by following are very compelling—far more even than the economics of spam. I follow you, you follow me—it no longer has anything to do with the message or the content; it is simply about the badge, the Klout, the rankings. This is the second derivative of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message.

The Graffiti Factor of Following

Why do social spammers follow? To be followed. Why do they want to be followed? Perhaps for a few it’s to provide a base for future monetization. But for a vast majority, I think, it’s reflexive—the follow itself is the new currency. It needs no justification beyond its own existence.

This is graffiti. The reward of spray-painting your name (or carving it in rocks 150 years ago in Wyoming) is largely the knowledge that others will see it. Pure adolescent or childish ego, in other words. (My grandmother taught me: “Fools’ names, like fools’ faces, often appear in public places.”)

The Power of Spamfitti

Spamfitti combines the ease of graffiti (the whole idea behind social networks is that they’re public), with the economics of spam—only worse. Because the driving motivator is ego, not money—and the former trumps even the latter in terms of power. And because it relies on another human frailty—the built-in instinct to reciprocate a ‘favor.’

The Hare Krishna cult used to exploit this frailty; they’d offer you a flower with a smile, and even though you knew you were being hussled, if you took the flower, you felt like you had to give them a dollar.

Why is this a big deal? Because it drives ‘networks’ ever closer to the original non-network, email. Each of us individually maximizing our good at the margin ends up collectively ruining our good.

This is a well-known problem in human economics, called the Tragedy of the Commons. And like everything else, cyberspace just puts human issues on steroids.

The Chris Brogan Exception

I’m aware Chris liberally follows those who follow him and that gives me pause because I think Chris is a genuinely fine human being, and he’s smart to boot. So here’s my @chrisbrogan exception clause: he does it so he can liberally use search tools and HootSuite analytics on a large followership and still not have to read tweets in Mandarin or Greek.

So: unless you use HootSuite analytics (and can’t read Mandarin), this exception does not apply to you.

The Rest Of Us

How do we get out of this conundrum of human frailty?

Stop following every fool who gives you the digital equivalent of a flower and a smile. And don’t be so promiscuous with your own follows, either.

(Turns out maybe this was a bit of a rant about ‘friends’ after all).

Tell Your Customers Why They Don’t Need You

You probably want your customers to trust you. And you probably tell them the truth about why they should buy from you.

You might think that’s enough for them to trust you, but of course it’s not. Oddly, what’s missing is telling them something about why they might not need you. Here’s why.

Consider these two sentences:

1. If you’re serious about wealth management, then you should consider whole life insurance as part of your portfolio.

2. If you distinctly need insurance coverage in addition to an investment product, then you should consider whole life insurance as part of your portfolio.

The first paragraph is a form of manipulative selling–like the assumptive close (“OK, shall we start on Monday or on Wednesday?”), or inducing a series of ‘yes’ answers (“Now, I assume you want your children to be taken care of, right?”).

Most people get annoyed when asked a question to which there’s only one reasonable answer. And most of us consider being asked that question a reason not to buy from the asker. So–don’t do that.

Instead, ask a question that allows reasonable people to answer differently.

Ask Questions that Allow Buyers to Self-Select

The second sentence is different. It provides information by distinguishing between people who might find value in the product and those who might not. Phrased that way, it not only educates the customer, it allows the customer to make a decision to opt-in or opt-out.

Most salespeople get nervous about questions that allow customers to opt out. Not, however, salespeople who understand the power of trust.

By giving a customer knowledge that permits opting out, a salesperson is putting him—or herself at risk. But without risk, there can be no trust—only control and the illusion of choice.

The reason trust works in sales is because human beings reciprocate when they are trusted. They appreciate being treated as adults, they appreciate not being manipulated and they appreciate being given choices that help them make intelligent decisions.

And they show their appreciation by buying, disproportionately, from those who treat them that way.

Let your customers know why they might not need you.

The Book You Sold Me Is Not the Book I Bought

iStock_000007343809Small.jpgDharmesh Shah  and Brian Halligan  have written a book called Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.

At the risk of over-simplification, it says stop trying to push out your message; instead, make it easy for others to find you. To find you: in order to buy from you, tweet you, link to you, find out about you, advertise for you, recommend you.

In their clever phrasing of it: stop doing outbound marketing, start doing inbound marketing.

So the story of how I bought their book is perfectly appropriate.

Last Friday morning, I shared a stage with Chris Brogan, Julien Smith and David Maister. Later that day, I got Chris’s daily blogpost, called Inbound Marketing Is For You.

Turns out it’s an unabashed advertisement for the book, leading off with all the reasons Chris is conflicted and hence the buyer is warned (unless, as he puts it, you want to learn some great stuff).

Well, what’s a body to do? I had just spoken with the guy, I believe he’s high integrity, and here he is pitching someone else’s book, with nothing in it for himself. I have to buy it.

So I click on the link, which goes to Amazon. I pick the Kindle edition (thanks Brian and Dharmesh) and select download to my iPod Kindle reader (which is so good I didn’t bother to buy the new Kindle, by the way).

Three minutes after reading Brogan’s blogpost, I’m reading Chapter 1 of Inbound Marketing, and I realize that I’m now living proof of precisely what they are writing about.

Did publisher Wiley advertise it? I don’t know; if they did, they wasted their money, at least on me (though Brogan did publicize them). But Wiley got a sale, the authors got their royalty payment, and Amazon got its ounce of flesh.

For me the customer, I got a book I was confident I wanted, I felt good about the purchase because I trusted the recommender, and I got it fast and easy. Really easy.

Second best of all, the book has already had an impact on me—I’m seriously thinking about how to use it in my business. The authors should be proud.

Best of all, Brogan, Shah and Halligan all get free shout-outs from me; and not only did they not pay me to do it, I paid them!

So, who got screwed here? Who got left holding the bag? No one that I can see.