Spam, or How Not to Promote Your Product or Service

Lots and lots have been written about how to use social media and “Web 2.0” sites to promote a product or service. Alas, some firms are a bit overzealous in their drive to use these techniques, and they cross the line into various forms of spam. I encounter it mostly in the area of Android development tools, but it’s likely to be occurring in other places as well.

Perhaps the most prevalent form of these is “comment spam”. While that term tends to be mostly for blogs and automated commenting bots, the technique can be manually applied as well.

For example, on StackOverflow, some firms post content-free “answer spam” just to get their name out. One particular user — I won’t blog his identity, but I will supply it to anyone doubting my claim — has posted 22 answers to various questions as of the time of this writing, all to promote a product. Sometimes, the product is relevant to the question at hand, but many times it is not, IMHO. Notably, at present, none of his answers have been accepted, and few even get up-votes, indicating that his answer was not adding value to the question. Contrast this with MOTODEV’s Eric Cloninger, who has answered a similar number of questions, most having nothing to do with MOTODEV Studio for Android, his pride and joy. He does not cram references to Studio into every answer just to say “hey! look at me and my IDE!”. Those where he does cite Studio, he is quick to point out that he is the product manager, and he tries to avoid making his answers and comments a commercial pitch. Mr. Cloninger adds value and lets that value speak for MOTODEV and Studio. Similarly, I rarely mention my books or training in answers, and I generally avoid even providing an answer on “hey, what’s the best book on Android” questions that crop up on SO from time to time.

We get similar things from time to time on the android-developers Google Group. One notorious poster would provide a semi-legitimate answer for the first few sentences, then paste in some standard product pitch for the balance of the message. Once again, occasionally the questions were about available Android development tools, and therefore the pitch was reasonable. However, he would try to cram in his boilerplate pitch as a reply too often, and sometimes on tangentially-related questions, garnering some rather tart feedback from some subscribers to the list. Similarly, I rarely mention my books or training outside of email sigs, and I try to steer people with questions about them to my cw-android Google Group to keep the blatantly commercial stuff out of the larger group. I have no right to be wasting the time of some 45,000 subscribers with product or service pitches.

I’ve had a knol be comment-spammed (as it turns out, by one of the offenders mentioned above). I’ve had direct personal emails of the “as an Android expert I’m sure that you will find some interest in this project” variety. The #androiddev hashtag on Twitter sometimes winds up with tweet-spam from bots posting job listings. And the list goes on and on and on.

If you are going to use social media and “Web 2.0”, add value at every turn. Your commercial pitch, if it is included at all, is at best of secondary importance to whatever the value is in the message you are posting or sending (e.g., a sig on an email). If you consistently add value, in quantity, people will learn who you are and what you’re selling and may, if interested, buy. But social media and similar sites are not your personal dumping grounds for product promotion — anyone who does that simply taints their own products and services.

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