Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.
Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.
Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.
At least Google says no
Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. Bloggers who fail to do so will be punished by Google by having their own PageRank reduced. Matt Cutts, Google’s spam czar, has said “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.” The biggest search engine in the world seems worried that a wave of shilling posts could gunk up its findings, turning off Google users and draining its revenue from real advertising.
The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it.
(Twitter is polices unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam. Be careful not to retweet the entire spam message if you report one, however, since Twitter warns it may mistake you for a spammer too and suspend your account.)