We have a favourite analogy at freestak when it comes to trying to explain the point and the value of social media. As an opportunity to talk to customers and potential customers, it is a little like a cocktail party or an awards ceremony: a room full of people all interacting and having conversations.

As you enter the room, you have a choice: you can go and introduce yourself to a few people. Find out a little about them. Network and move from one person to another or one group to another as people introduce you to their friends.

Or you can enter the room, walk to one corner, pull out a megaphone and start shouting your message.

Social media = real people

Remember, social media is actually simply a huge collection of real people so if you lose sight of that, you lose sight of how you would feel if the rather unlikely scenario described above actually happened… in all likelihood the noisy and irritating interloper would be asked to leave. Or certainly people would move away and try to ignore the noise.

Taking the analogy a step further, social networks do have a mass-broadcast element to them, so it is not all about one-to-one interactions. After a while, once you have spoken to a few people and a few groups of people, they learn to like you (or your brand) and trust you, so sending them a message – whether that is a mass email or a post on your Facebook page or a tweet – will be perfectly acceptable. But as Seth Godin regularly reminds us, you need to have permission first.

The difference between permission marketing and spam

The alternative to having permission to send someone messages about your products or services, is creating messages that are spam – a term which means sending masses of meaningless messages to people who don’t really want to hear from you.

Wikipedia tell us that

According to the Internet Society and other sources, the term spam is derived from the 1970 Spam sketch of the BBC television comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The sketch is set in a cafe where nearly every item on the menu includes Spam canned luncheon meat. As the waiter recites the Spam-filled menu, a chorus of Viking patrons drowns out all conversations with a song repeating “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam… lovely Spam! wonderful Spam!”, hence “Spamming” the dialogue.

It might seem odd to think that sending huge numbers of messages to unqualified lists people will have any useful output and so there seems little point doing it, but as this article on the BBC website explains, the virtual zero cost of creating and sending spam means that it is worth it to scammers, who only need to find one vulnerable and gullible person in a million to make it worthwhile.

So where does that leave you?

The history and nature of spam means that people – especially those non-gullible people that you probably want as customers – are very sensitive to what they perceive as being an unwelcome intrusion in their inbox or on their social media channels. So the best thing to do is ask yourself how you would react if you had a message from someone you didn’t know, telling you about something that you hadn’t really asked about?

You need to get to work having some conversations with individuals and groups. Ask them about what products or services they are looking for or what things they are planning.  Use your expertise to advice to help them with whatever challenges they have set themselves. And then ask if, in the future, you might be able to get in touch about your business and the products and services you provide. You will be amazed at how quickly you will end up with an audience of potential customers and their friends who know and trust you and who will welcome your messages. No spam required.


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