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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 May 21, 2019

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

    If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

    Example 1

    You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

    You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

    In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

    Example 2

    You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

    People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

    You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

    Example 3

    You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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    The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

    Example 4

    You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

    Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

    If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

    Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

    • Understand your own communication style
    • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
    • Communicate with precision and care
    • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

    1. Understand Your Communication Style

    To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

    In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

    Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

    2. Learn Others Communication Styles

    Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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    If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

    “How do you prefer to receive information?”

    This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

    To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

    3. Exercise Precision and Care

    A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

    On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

    Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

    I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

    I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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    In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

    The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

    Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

    4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

    Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

    In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

    “Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

    Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

    Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

    It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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    It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

    It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

    Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

    Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

    The Bottom Line

    When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

    I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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    Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

    Reference

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