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How to Spam

How to Spam

20080820-spam

    In my last post, I talked about how to get the most out of social media sites and services like Digg, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Entirely coincidentally, Thursday Bram write a post about marketing yourself shortly after.

    Unfortunately, any medium that makes itself so easy to use to promote yourself as today’s social media also makes it easy for idiots, jerks, and scam artists to promote themselves. As the cost of reaching out to thousands or millions of people goes down – to the point where today, it’s effectively free – the possibility to spam goes up.

    Spam is any communication that purports to offer a benefit but is unwanted. Of course that means come-ons for cheap prescription pills, penis enlargment and miracle fat-burner supplements, and mortgage refinancing, but it also includes too-frequent updates from companies you’ve done business with, useless “updates” from newsletters you’ve subscribed to, meaningless self-linking on social media, and so on. While the monetary cost of sending spam is small, the cost to the receiver in time, attention, and the disruption of beloved services is great.

    Let me give you an example. Today, a new wave of spam flooded Twitter. The modus operandi of Twitter spammers is to create dozens or hundreds of bogus accounts, post one tweet to each with a link to the spammer’s page, and follow thousands of people. The default setting on Twitter is to send you an email notifying you whenever you have a new follower, so all day I’ve been getting emails linking to Twitter profiles.

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    Now, I like to see who’s following me on Twitter. Most of the time I follow back. So I click through, and see a profile with that one tweet and close it and delete the email. Over, and over, and over. If I don’t click through, I run the risk of missing a real follower who might be worth following, so my choices are a) lose time and attention checking out every bogus follower, or b) lose value from the service by failing to connect with people who share my interests.

    Unfortunately, ruining my Twitter experience is a good business model. According to a recent study by Marshal, a global security consulancy, 29% of Internet users admit to having bought products advertised in spam. To paraphrase the old professor’s saw about graduation rates, look at the person to your left and the person to your right – if one of those people hasn’t bought anything from spam, then you have.

    So here’s a what-(hopefully-not)-to-do for potential spammers out there. If making yourself universally unloved – except by that 10 people in a million who just loves them some Internet Viagra (that’s the response rate for spam, according to the FBI) – is your goal, follow these steps to spamming Nirvana.

    1. Overstay your welcome.

    Volume counts in the spam world. What was useful information the first time becomes a real nuisance by the 10th time, and downright annoying by the 20th.

    A couple of years ago, I ordered some business cards from VistaPrint.com. Not the free ones – I paid good money for their premium cards. The cards were fine, but before they even arrived I ahd decided not to order from VistaPrint.com ever again. In the days following my order, I received dozens of “free” offers — “free” matching letterhead, “free” enveloped, “free” rubber stamps, and so on. (“Free” at VistaPrint.com means “shipping and handling only”, which tends to run into double digits per item ordered.) Then I achieved “VIP” status and started receiving even more offers for “great discounts”. Keep in mind, I still hadn’t received my order yet!

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    That’s spam, pure and simple. I didn’t mind a follow-up or two, but when I’m receiving offers every day, and I’m paying for each of them with my time and attention, they are no longer wanted information.

    2. Don’t ask permission.

    Of course, your stereotypical spammer just scrapes email addresses off the Internet or buys lists from other scam artists or even guesses, sending emails to every word in the dictionary at every common email domain. They clearly don’t have permission.

    But what about the companies like VistaPrint.com — who is hardly alone in this, though the sheer volume of email I got from them sets them apart — who take the “pre-existing relationship” of an order as permission to send whatever they want? Or what about the person you met at a conference and gave a business card to, who then added your email address to his company’s email list? Or the blog that adds commenters’ email lists to their mailing list?

    Having a relationship with someone, either now or in the past, is not the same thing as permission. Permission is when someone explicitly asks to hear from you — if you don’t have it, it’s spam.

    3. Be irrelevant.

    This morning, I got an email from BlogWorld Expo warning me that their early-bird registration was about to end, and I should act fast to get my discount! That might be important information — if I hadn’t already registered for the event.

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    Any piece of information that isn’t targeted to a specific recipient is potentially spam. Asking me to promote your new cheese brand on Lifehack is spam, no matter how personal and likeable the email, since Lifehack is not site devoted to cheesy comestibles. “Shouting” me for a digg on your story about how to pick up easy women or about how the blacks are ruining everything is spam — I teach race and gender studies, and there’s no way I’d digg up either of those stories (I might bury them, though).

    Taking the time to get to know your target isn’t in spammers’ interest, because then it becomes expensive — you pay for my attention and time with your own.

    4. Add no value

    Every service you use — social media, telephone, blogging, email, whatever — was chosen by you for the value it offers you. Any use of that service that adds no value is spam — especially when they reach the point that they detract value from the service as a whole. I know I’m not alone in having disconnected my home phone because I received more value-less telemarketing calls than calls from people I wanted to talk to.

    5. Control the “off” button.

    If I have to jump through hoops to get you to stop bugging me — or if there isn’t any way at all to get you to stop — that’s spam. Forcing me to call or email someone — when all it took to sign up was a purchase or even a registration — is spam. In fact, as a general rule, any channel of communication that you control is most likely spam. Even on TV I can change the channel when I want!

    6. Don’t respect me

    This is the root of all the rest. If you want me as a customer, as a trading partner, show me respect. The Viagra and Cialis spammers are trying to take advantage of us, so of course they don’t respect us. If you don’t respect your audience, then you’re in the same league — you’re spam.

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    Maybe that seems harsh. But it’s a harsh reality we’re living. The number of ways we can communicate, and the reach of those communications, has vastly outstripped the social norms we have to regulate our interactions.

    We talk a lot at Lifehack about how to control the flow of information into your life, how to filter out the good from the bad, but ultimately working our way free of spam depends on people controlling the stuff they send out so the rest of us don’t have to worry about what’s coming in. If you’re doing any of the above, you’re part of the problem — whether you do it by emailing, Twitter tweeting, Digg shouting, or even face-to-face.

    Stop it.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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