I'm an unrepentant fan of social media. I couldn't live without Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and I have an eye on some emerging applications that I might add to my stable too. But there's one thing about these online communities that drives me crazy: the social media newbie.
You know the type. She joins a LinkedIn group and starts posting links to her blog and invites to her webinar and thinly veiled advertisements for her e-book, laced with exclamation points and new age references. Her tweets include your Twitter handle alongside @HuffPost and @PunditMom, for no other apparent reason than to get your attention.
When you gently ask her to stop spamming her new social media acquaintances (as I often do in my role moderating two LinkedIn groups) she responds with shock and disbelief. "But I'm just trying to share the important knowledge I possess that will be so useful to everyone," she protests. "My goal is to help them!"
Here's my response:
You are a spammer.
In this age of information overload, the most valuable thing I can give another person is my attention. My time. So when you, social media newbie, demand that attention you are actually taking something valuable away from me and my fellow LinkedIn group members.
That's right. When I download your e-book and use precious moments of my day to read it -- rather than the Washington Post or Vanity Fair or my witty and succinct colleagues on About.com -- I am the one doing you a favor.
Instead of thinking of it as me getting your book for free, think of it this way: I'm providing you with an audience. If you're lucky, I will like what you have to say and recommend you to a friend. If she likes it, she'll mention you to someone else. This is what we call viral marketing, and the success of your brand depends on it.
If, on the other hand, you become known as a spammer, even if you do have something meaningful to contribute, your actions will turn off people and they'll tune you out. There's one person, who I won't name, who spams so many LinkedIn groups and e-mail lists that the mere mention of her name to a colleague provoked an eye roll and exasperated sigh, recently. I happen to think she's a decent writer and enjoy some of her blog posts, but that's being drowned out by her bad behavior.
It goes back to the first rule of online communities: lurk first.
Your first act in a new community shouldn't be to promote yourself or your information products. It should be to listen. Give the group that most valuable resource -- your attention. Take the time to learn the group norms and concerns before you jump in with your earth-shattering life philosophy or can't miss business opportunity.
Social media gives you a novel opportunity to connect with people who are separated from you through geography and by divergent career and life paths. But don't let the ease of communication trick you into neglecting the normal, healthy ways of developing relationships. You know, listening. Asking questions. Looking for ways to help your new acquaintance.
You never know. You might actually improve your e-book or webinar or come up with an even better product to sell to your new friends. Just think of it as free market research.
Photo by GDS Digital via Flickr