Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business social networking to meet human needs: Part 3: spam is in the eye of the beholder

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on September 14, 2010

This is my third posting in a short series I am running on business social networking practices, and on how some of our more standard and automatic approaches – the things we do to reach out that we do not really think about, can set us on a collision course with the people we are trying to reach. This series is about business social networking to meet human needs and it is about how the basic requirements for that as a component of marketing have changed.

I posted the first two installments to this series as:

Part 1 – a need for shared best practices and
Part 2 – local online and the pressure for customer-aware best practices

and I start this posting by stating an observation that everyone knows to be true when on the receiving end but that we are all too quick to forget when sending.

• Spam is in the eye of the beholder.

Let me start from that by acknowledging that there are basically two types of spam:

• Messages sent out in vast quantities and without consideration of either opt-in or opt-out permissions from any of the many recipients. This is spam that is sent out intentionally as spam and frequently with malicious or at least deceptive intent.
• Messages sent out ineptly and indiscriminately in volume, and as poorly developed and managed marketing campaigns from what are more likely legitimate businesses. This is not necessarily sent out with malicious or even intentionally deceptive purpose but it is sent out to one and all on the master mailing/email list.

This distinction does not matter to the people who find their email inbox filled with unwanted and irritating clutter, and the same goes for postal spam when that means our postal mailboxes are jammed full of landfill items in the making.

When we can and do connect from anywhere and everywhere and all the time, and for communications and for data and knowledge sharing, and to tap into distributed computer systems to facilitate all of this, two things happen.

• First, the distinctions between communications and computation and data creation and sharing per se blur and disappear into a more seamless ongoing experience, and
• Second, effectively reaching out to connect in this evolving context needs to be progressively more and more context sensitive – and sensitive to the needs of our message and content recipients.

One size fits all marketing can no longer work, and even to the extent that it used to.

At this point anyone in Marketing is rolling their eyes, mentally reviewing how they carefully manage their marketing campaigns on the basis of detailed market analysis and market partitioning to get the right message to the right recipients. Some people and some businesses do this effectively and correctly, and that does show as proof of principle if nothing else that effective marketing can be done and that it can and does work, and with social networking as an included element. But spam of that second type still happens and this is still a problem that recipients with filled inboxes do not distinguish from spam of that first type. In this, spam is spam is spam, and spam is in the eye of the beholder – the recipient here and not the sender.

• If ubiquitous computing and communications are creating a demand and an expectation for finer and finer grained marketing and outreach, businesses and organizations need to evolve their marketing and communications to match, with less and less of their message simply sent out in all directions and more and more of it sent with a progressively finer focus.
• Social networking in general and business social networking in particular have to be two way. So if you market in this context you have to do so with easy and visible and immediately accessible options for connecting and for feedback always available. This means opt-in as a starting default policy and it means always including an opt-out for people who change their minds. This can also mean links to instant online chat and related capabilities. What do your customers and potential customers need to meet their requirements and preferences and how can you best match that within your budget, and to keep your operations cost-effective?
• This means thinking in terms of the demographic of one, and of individualized service and this is where customer relations management (CRM), web analytics and marketing analysis have to come together, and preferably through a single easy to use and understand shared interface.

Targeted marketing can be a problem here when it is not effectively targeted and with a clear, well considered focus but the real culprit is in the mass mailings and e-mailings we still find ourselves sending out and in how we confuse them with issues of branding and identity.

As a final thought for this posting I want to cite an example of how lack of granularity can develop and cause harm to a business. And the business I cite here is LinkedIn. I have over 3,700 direct connections through that site and a great many more second and third degree contacts, and I do get messages sent to me on a very regular basis through their system. I actively network so that is to be expected. Many and even most messages I receive are reasonable but I do get messages and even the occasional message from a direct connection that I can only see as mass distributed spam. I do not necessarily want to drop these people as connections, but the LinkedIn templates and web site do not offer options for flagging specific individual messages sent through their system as spam. They do not support fine grained capability for sending feedback on the specific message sent out.

This is a learning curve problem that many businesses face in one variation or other, and frequently in several areas at once. The messages we send out need to be more finely targeted and focused, and to make sure we do not spam so do our options provided for offering feedback and comments, asking questions of us and connecting back to us.

The next posting in this series is going to look more specifically at change, and in what and how we communicate and in our expectations in that.

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