Monday, November 17, 2008

Taking the "Social" out of Social Networking

Over a period of a couple of months, as the word has been spreading about how to market oneself or one's company through various forms of social media and social networking, I've noticed a few disturbing and rather anti-social networking trends. IMO, these spam-handed techniques seem to have evolved out of ham-handed f2f networking practices.

I started to notice the changes when a flurry of people I didn't know started following me on Twitter. Now, I've got nothing against the random following, but I do have a problem with being the social media marketer for someone's "personal brand message." So, there were lots of folks I never followed back.

Then, the blog comments started getting spammier than usual. I'd noticed it awhile back when spammers were latching on to the comments sections in online versions of print magazines the way leeches clung to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen." It was pretty ugly--sadly, there was no Katherine Hepburn blog moderator there to apply the salt to get rid of those nasty things...

Soon after, I started to see people leaving links to their blogs in the comments section of prominent blogger's blogs. Sure, the people sounded rather sincere: "great post! I've responded to you on my blog..." IMO, these comments weren't there because their intention was to converse with the blogger. Rather, these comments seemed more, to me anyway, to have been made simply to generate traffic back to the commenter's blog...

In a kind of sycophant-y, fanboy kind of way.

Recently, I've noticed a rise in social media marketers sending out minions to connect with bloggers. Hysterically, two guys from the same social media marketing firm, "commented" my post on community building! The first comment seemed ok and non-spam-like--but the second one, from the same company, felt most certainly like spamming. In both cases, neither person is a blogger, and neither person has any information that I can connect back to a true identity. They are, essentially, anonymous comments and hence spam--not social media marketing at all. To me, and maybe I'm old-fashioned in this, blog comments are a way of meeting other people. You comment on someone's blog because you want to connect with them, not because you want to leave your marketing message (in your "social media signature"--talk about marketingspeak! sheesh!) Even if you *do* want to leave your marketing message, you should at least try to be honestly and transparently social first!

Now, it would be easy to say that this kind of spam-handed stuff online is the result of a flaw in the ethos of social media, the influx of poorly-trained marketers, and a number of other excuses/factors that are Internet based. Then on Saturday, Chris Brogan wrote When Not To Sell Me Something a short but sweet post that expresses something I'd been thinking--about not being "sold" to when you meet someone either online or f2f.

Then it hit me that this is one reason why I don't always like business networking events. Too often I feel like I'm being sold something--or that because many don't quite understand what I do, that I'm not a potential prospect. There doesn't seem to be a desire just to chat and create a relationship first. For some it's all about whether or not a person is useful at that moment...not that they're a potential relationship that may yield something great over time. It's made me very jumpy around "business networking" situations--even though I'm a fantastic networker in so many other situations. But I can't blame the people at the events because I know they got their networking advice from some networking professional somwhere. I've heard "professional networkers" promote strategies that rank people according to whether or not they are prospects and even encourage adding those who aren't prospects to mailing lists and other spammy devices that don't build relationship or community.

Analogous to these old-time spammy devices are the kinds of stuff we're now seeing on blogs and on social networks...The spam-handed is a reflection of the ham-handed...

Seriously: how often do you genuinely connect with someone to whom you've recited your "30 second elevator pitch"? How many "unsubscribe" requests do you get from the people you plunked into your Constant Contact account without their permission? Have you ever got a good return from spamming someone's blog or direct-messaging a bigshot on Twitter?

I will never forget the women who spammed me with an offer to help me start a blog, after I'd met her at a conference where I was a speaker . Oddly, the same thing happened with a different company at the last big conference I attended--where I moderated two panels. I really didn't appreciate the sharp CEO passing my business card along to his "marketing guy," who then proceeded to try to sell me his blogging platform.

IMO, if I meet a CEO, I expect to hear *from* that CEO, not from someone in his organization. And I also expect that person to go to my blog, and my online resume, and my LinkedIn profile, and find out who I am before I get "networked" in a very un-social kind of way.

When we start to teach people--from the CEO to the Marketer to the Job Prospector-- new ways to network face-to-face that are meant to create relationships, we might begin to see a change in how people network online. "Social Networking" is about being open and genuine when meeting new contacts--not a contest to see how many new prospects we can get from that stack of business cards or how many new "friendings" we can generate on the various social networks. If all your doing is playing a numbers game, rather than exercising a friendmaking skill, then don't be surprised by the results.