Chocolate Pillow | How SPAM is consuming Social Networking
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How SPAM is consuming Social Networking

13 Aug How SPAM is consuming Social Networking

Okay, so this is not on a par with previous posts and is more of a personal rant (if you wish to classify it as a rant?), but is something that I think needs to be discussed, at least to some extent.

I am a member of several social networking sites, both for business and for personal use.  Now I want to raise an issue that many people will have spotted, and probably most ignored, and how I believe this will cause social networks to collapse if the current trend of growth continues.

Firstly, I am a member of LinkedIn and as you may know, this is a site for business networking, job searching and building your career profile etc; there are multiple forum-style areas of the site, known as Groups.  Now, for most of the groups you have several sections where you can categorise an entry – you have two main things, Discussions and Job Postings.  People can also share links from other sites as discussion items, and tweets etc can appear in your ‘Status’ feed for all others to see.

You may at this stage wonder why I am saying that social networks will fail… let me tell you why – it is because there is not really enough policing of the social networks to stop a growing problem that many people may have seen.  What I am talking about here is the un-solicited advertising and incorrect posting of items within such sites which are one of the biggest turn-offs to  a lot of people, including me!

Take for example one of the groups I am a registered member of on LinkedIn; every day there have been 3 or 4 more discussions opened, but only around 1 or two every week are actually relevant to the group in that they actually are a discussion topic.  As for the other 13 or 14 posts a week?  Nothing but crap! AKA spam.  This is not in the traditional sense, but let me give you a few examples of what has appeared in the passed few days…

  • Part time or Full time work from home opportunity, earn up to $100 a day
  • Full or Part time administrative assistants required
  • Hospitality Job opening available
  • Now looking for sales and marketing managers, directors and advisors
  • Now recruiting administration assistants
  • Amazing opportunity for recruitment specialists
  • How to start your own business
  • and so on….

Now, let’s be honest and fair – when actually reading these posts in the ‘discussions’ section of the group, none of them are discussion-starting topics, neither are any of them even vaguely related to the actual group itself – even the one offering hospitality openings was just for getting people to register with a new recruitment agency.

I am all for people advertising their products and services to others, however the forum for such advertisement needs to be correct, and appropriate.  On top of these posts, I have had responses to my own discussions replied to with junk responses, basically offering work from home jobs or similar.  My amin bug-bear is that these are all blindly posted in to any and every discussion and group that people can find; there is no selective advertising in any way, and the people doing this do not even realise how annoying it is.

 

The curse of this continual bombardment by spam is increasing (I get it through my letterbox, on my emails at home, on my emails at work, to my inbox on almost every networking site, via text message, over the phone, stuck to lamp-posts, given to me on the street and probably tattooed on my arse without me knowing!); now i for one am finding that social networking has been taken over by spammers, many of whom actually operate on behalf of some legitimate companies that really should know better.
I want to network to increase my contacts, to enjoy discussion and engage in debate about industry topics – I do not want to have to go through hundreds of adverts, fake posts and generally unrelated-to-group crap, in order to have a discussion with people in teh same industry as me.  Now to the next bit of my rant – what social networks do about this…and in my view, very little!

LinkedIn has tried to overcome this problem by adding a section to each group that is designed for job postings; now this is where many of these ‘jobs’ should be posted, however it costs to put posts in the jobs section.  Now this is both good and bad – the good side to this is that you can pretty much be confident that the jobs posted within the jobs sections are for a legitimate employer, usually a well-known brand name.  The down-side to this charging, is that most illegitimate advertisers, are posting in the discussion forums and effectively ‘spamming’ the community.

This trend has been increasing recently and i have seen it occuring on almost all social network sites; there are not many that I have seen that control it very well, apart from one!  That site being 4Networking.  Yes i am a member, and no I am not ‘affiliated with’ or ‘paid for’ by them in any way, they are just a good site.  they offer business networking events and have a very clear forums section – this includes sections for ‘Blatant Advertising’ and ‘Give me your Opinion On…’ and ‘Can You Help’.  These forums rely on honesty of the poster to place them in teh correct sections, however a very good team of moderators will keep an eye out and move the posts if necessary.

A similar function is available to group owners on LinkedIn (the people who create the groups); however a lot of people either fail to report the post or the actual group owner takes no interest (I have astonishingly seen group owners replying to ‘work at home’ jobs – the same one that had been posted 3 times a day for about 2 weeks – in this case every single time he replied saying how fantastic it was that job opportunities were available or similar which just encouraged more posting!).

Another problem is email scraping – this is where someone either manually, or using a small computer program, searches every page of a website to get contact details for people – I used to have my email address published on business networking sites for the purpose of increasing contacts.  After less than a week, it was taken off – this was a decision taken by me.  Now I have the luxury of owning a domain, and therefore being able to have a different email address for every registration I have to a site.  This is so I can track where people are getting my email address etc from, and I can then remove the email address and account as necessary.  The reason for removal was because within just 3 hours of having my email address public, I had received the first spam email.  These increased until I was receiving over a hundred a day, all offering the same things, all unscrupulous and unsolicited, and at least 95% of them were what would be classed as ‘dodgy’; the remaining 5% were from legitimate business, who were advertusing things to me that I had no interest in at all – a simple look at my profile would have been a blinding indicator (I was being offered courses for women only (I am male), courses in computer software engineering ‘starting tomorrow’ in Atlanta US (I live in the UK), I was even once offered an over 50’s saving plan (I was only 28 at the time!).  As soon as I deleted the email address, hid it on my profile and changed my registration address, the emails stopped; but so did any prospective emails about business connections etc…. Was the sacrifice worth it?  To me, yes.  I do not have time to spend most of my day wading through hundreds of emails a day to find that one elusive relevant email – if anyone does want to contact me, there are details on my profile that will guide them on where to find me; it is better they contact a calm and peaceful me, than it is to to never receive a reply to an email because it has been buried under swathes of junk.

Now, many will jump in and say this is a fact of life and part of the modern era; I say it is only part of social networking because people let it be.  If you see a dodgy, unrelated, or blatantly disconnected-from-the-subject post, then report it; if the situation continues, stop membership!

You probably wonder if I am still a member of LinkedIn… well yes, I am.  The main thing now is that I take part in less discussions and check it less regularly – I used be on there a lot, now only once every now and then really to check my messages and see if there are any ‘real’ discussions I can take part in.  I myself have advertised my books on LinkedIn, by sharing links – but I have generally always invited debate and feedback on the book itself – I invite discussion on advertising, and do not object in any way to an advertiser that provokes debate or discussion on their product.  Perhaps this is the way forward?

This may just be my personal opinion, but it is high time that networking sites took a few days out of ‘designing the next big thing’ to look at what is actually going on with the content on their site and find out what their users perception of this is.  It may just be the groups I am a member of that this occurs with, and perhaps I am being blinded in to seeing just the bad spam posts – the sites I use may just experience these problems and everywhere else is absolved of anything like this happening?

In my opinion, if social networks continue to allow this kind of advertising and spam to occur, without introducing more formal controls (such as including no-spam rules in terms and conditions of use, which many surprisingly do not!)  and actually taking a lot of action against these posters, then people will start to switch off from social networking altogether – the idea of networking is to meet new people, enjoy yourself and build more contacts, not to be bombarded by spam!

I for one hate spam and a lot of unnecessary advertising, we may live in a capitalist society but that is no excuse for poor social media management.  The un-thought-through blanket social marketing to anyone and everyone indicates that either the company is illegitimate, or has no idea on who it’s customer base is, or is unable to communicate that effectively to an advertising company that cares enough to provide targeted marketing!

Phew… rant over!  So to summarise this whole ranting post and what we have learnt:

  • Social networks need to do more about unrelated spamming of forums/discussions
  • Site users should not just accept it and should report such posts so that the administrators of such sites know just how much of this occurs and how much it annoys people
  • Companies should invest in proper social marketing, not just blatantly tell anyone and everyone with a series of 200 copy-paste posts across 200 separate forums!
  • I can tolerate banner ads, but do not dare spam me!
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Matt Shiells-Jones
matt@chocolatepillow.com

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'



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