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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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    Last Updated on January 15, 2019

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

    In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Step right up, don’t be shy!

    Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

    The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

    Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

    Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
    So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

    A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

    Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

    Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

    When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

    Culturally Conditioned

    We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

    I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

    The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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    Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

    Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

    Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

    1. Broadens Your Network

    After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

    2. Improves Your Communication Skills

    I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

    Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

    3. Continually Learning

    So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

    Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

    4. Increases Self Confidence

    Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

    Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

    So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

    How to Talk to Strangers

    Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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    1. Say Hello

    Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

    Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

    2. Ask About Them

    Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

    You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

    As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

    3. Just Do It

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

    When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

    Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

    4. Don’t Take It Personal

    One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

    When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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    5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

    I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

    One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

    6. Detach

    A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

    Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

    7. Share Your Stories

    Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

    To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

    So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

    8. Give a Compliment

    Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

    When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

    9. Relax Your Body Language

    If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

    When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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    If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

    10. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

    After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

    The Bottom Line

    As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

    There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

    Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

    More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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