Here’s an interesting debate we had this morning in our office:
Would you consider this Twitter account SPAM?
Or the deeper question here: how do you define SPAM?
It can’t be left to a completely relativistic definition because it becomes impossible to make laws to protect against it (ie. the one guy that happened to be wanting to buy viagra this morning finds the SPAM email to be very timely and useful, but that doesn’t justify the annoyance for the rest of us). On the other side of the continuum, it can’t be boiled down to specific practices because that’s what Bruce Schneier would call “the futility of defending the targets.” Here’s my position on the matter:
I monitor key phrases on Twitter, certain sequences of words that indicate a user has a problem that one of our free JumpBoxes could solve. I skim hundreds of these tweets and select the few that we can help and respond to them individually introducing them to our product. I documented this technique here awhile back. I’d say all but two of the 68 responses I’ve gotten from reaching out to people in this way have been received with appreciation. Two people have responded calling foul.
According to the Twitter TOS the account above clearly violates the “If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates” rule. But that could be satisfied by peppering it with personal updates and fluff. The reason I don’t do this out of my personal account or our JumpBox account is because doing so would inundate the followers of those with a bunch of repetitive info that’s uninteresting to them. But I digress. The point is there are ways to satisfy the TOS requirements but that just feels shady. I can see someone making the argument that this technique is not the “personal updates” spirit of use of what Twitter intended. I get that.
But here’s what I don’t understand:
- Making a freeware product recommendation for someone else’s product on a mailing list in response to a need that a participant expresses. Completely 100% kosher and expected.
- Making a freeware product recommendation that’s your own on a mailing list when appropriate… cheesy maybe but still completely appropriate.
- Making a freeware product recommendation of your own product in a distributed micro-blogging environment like Twitter where you single out a recipient who expresses a need your free product solves and you direct a thoughtful reply to that person… sorry but I see that as a legitimate way of reaching out to people. It’s not like you’re cluttering their inbox- it’s a message that appears on their @replies page in Twitter.
If you were tying to sell them something- okay, I agree. If you were repeatedly harassing the same person- gotcha. But a one-time message that makes them aware of a solution that’s free and completely unique such that they would never know to search for it in the first place, I don’t see the SPAMiness in that. Anyways I’m probably going to be discontinuing this practice not because I think it’s spammy but because the return isn’t there time-wise.
What do you think about this practice and the bigger question of how do we define what constitutes SPAM in the evolving world of social media?