May 22, 2012

You’ll Look Like a Spammer If…

Screen shot of spam subject lines

If you’ve had email for a while, you’re familiar with email spam.  Spammers often try to make their emails seem relevant, with fake warnings about our PayPal or eBay account, etc., but their messages have nothing to do with us (um, yeah, Viagra doesn’t apply to me).  We’re just an email address to them.

I wonder if this perspective of spam—messages from a random sender to a random receiver—explains why some people insist on using social media to spam others.  Do some people think, “Hey, they followed me back, so they must want to hear all about my latest book release/webinar/product”?

To anyone who thinks that way, here’s a clue: They don’t.

A “friend” or “follow” doesn’t automatically flip the switch to change the sender from a random person to a connected person. So unless we’ve built up a relationship with someone through social media, by being, you know, social, unasked for messages are spam.

I see people who should know better do spammy things all the time.  I often give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these “no-no”s, but others won’t.  So to help those social media users—who are real people, but simply haven’t figured out the “rules” yet—I offer this list.

You’ll Look Like a Spammer If…

You’re Pushy with Links

Every social media platform has types of messages that can trigger an email notification.  We should use those communication methods with caution.  There’s a big difference between posting something to the general update section and grabbing people by their collars and insisting they pay attention.

Sometimes we have good reasons for making sure people see a link.  If we mention them in a blog post or we know they’re interested in a subject, we should point out the link to them.  Otherwise, use the general update stream. This means:

  • On Twitter, don’t…
    • Direct message new followers with any type of link. Ever.
    • Direct message links to followers without a reason.
    • @ mention links to people without a reason.
  • On Facebook, don’t…
    • Message links to friends without a reason.
  • On Google+, don’t…
    • Share a post directly with people without a reason.
  • On Goodreads, don’t…
    • Message friends about every blog post or giveaway you have.  (If we were that interested, we’d sign up for your blog and/or newsletter.)

I know those seem basic, but I get “so-and-so shared a post with you” notifications on Google+ at least once a week, and the posts have nothing to do with me or my interests.  There are several authors (one of whom claims to be a social media queen) who send out Goodreads events or links every week.  On Twitter, I’ve gotten DMs from people asking me to check out their random blog post and tweet about it.

I don’t want to turn off email notifications for those messaging options.  I like getting email notifications for things I’m interested in.  But people who abuse those communication methods make it harder for me to find the notifications for the things I want.

Before sending an update outside of or beyond the public stream, ask yourself if you’d want to get an email about a similar update.  If it’s not worth an email, leave it in the general stream.

You’re Making It All about You

Social media should be social.  That means making sure you’re having a conversation and not just acting like one person with a megaphone, shouting, “Look at me! Buy my book! Read my blog!”

Before I follow someone or confirm a friend request, I check out their stream of updates.  If all I see is the same blog link or purchase link over and over, I have no reason to connect with them.

Similarly, I look for whether someone has conversations, especially on Twitter.  People whose streams are all links and no conversation (even if those links are for other people and not just themselves) won’t get my follow unless they retweet links for a subject I’m interested in.

@elizabethscraig and her writing links?  I’m all over that.  Someone else with their marketing-only links?  No—unless they also have conversations.

Going along with that issue, share why a link is interesting.  I don’t click links without details of what I’ll find there and why I might be interested.

You Haven’t Created an Appropriate Profile

We don’t want to follow or friend someone if we have no idea who they are.  The “bio” or “about” section of our social media profiles is there for a reason.  Don’t leave them blank and/or worthless (“A dude.”).

Also, think hard before setting social media accounts to private.  On some platforms, the basic profile/bio/about information can’t be seen if the account is private.  That means that I have to connect to you before I can tell if I want to connect to you.  That’s a problem.

Creating an appropriate profile also includes:

  • On Twitter, don’t…
    • Leave the default egg avatar.
    • Follow people you don’t know until you’ve started tweeting.  (People who have no tweets look like zombie accounts.)
    • Use an inappropriately sexy picture as your avatar unless you want everyone to assume that’s what you’re selling.
  • On Goodreads, don’t…
    • Request friendships until you’ve rated several books. (People who haven’t rated a single book—or have only rated their own with 5 stars—look like they’re not interested in sharing their thoughts about books, which misses the whole point of Goodreads.)

You Do Other Annoying Things Like…

  • You follow people and then unfollow them as soon as they follow back.  (We’re on to those who run up their follower numbers to make them look popular.)
  • You follow and unfollow and follow again repeatedly, hoping that we’ll eventually pay attention and follow you back.  (I keep every “so-and-so is now following you on Twitter” message, so I know who these people are.)
  • You send people requests for apps in Facebook—over and over again.

When we know we’re a “real” person, we might assume that we can’t possibly be a spammer.  Spammers are those messages that are automated, or stealing email lists, or trying to get people to click on virus links.  Not us.

But whether a message is sent by email or social media, the difference between spam and not-spam is whether the sender is selective with their audience.  “Because I have the ability to contact you” is not a reason to think everyone wants to know the information.

Facebook friends lists are not a gathering of playmates for apps.  Be selective.  If you know one of your friends uses that app, sure, message them—not everyone you know.

Google+ followers or Goodreads friends lists are not a replacement for a newsletter.  Go ahead and send one mass-mailing every six months or so, and use it to announce some big news and remind people to sign up for your newsletter if they want to hear every update.

Mass mailings through social media are just as spammy as mass mailings through email, so we need to use them sparingly.  If we make our messages specific and relevant to a selected target audience narrowed down from just everyone who’s following us, they’ll be more interested in what we have to say.

We have to be careful with how we present ourselves.  It doesn’t matter how real we are; if we act like a spammer, people will think we’re a spammer.  And losing followers and friends over that misunderstanding defeats the purpose of being on social media.

Do you disagree with any of these tips? What else can make a real person look like a spammer?  Have you been guilty of any of these?  Which ones drive you the most crazy? Do you have any tips for other social media platforms that I didn’t cover here?

*** P.S. I had some people ask for a deadline extension for the Win-Win Giveaway because they wanted more time to get their Random Act Of Kindness (RAOK) together.  As my whole goal with the giveaway was to encourage acts of kindness for writers who have helped us, I’m happy to give people more time to be kind.  *smile*  Leave a comment about your RAOK to inspire others and be entered into the giveaway. ***

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Comments — What do you think?

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I agree with these tips, but I’d like to add one about blog comments:

When you post a link in your comment, make sure the link is actually pertinent to the blog post or comment discussion (or to an off-site discussion that you’ve been having with the blogger) and not just pertinent if you squint after a ride on a Sit ‘n Spin.

I’ve gotten comments on my own blogs that aren’t at all pertinent. (“Hey, nice post! I just released a book HERE! Come check it out!”) I try to bear the excitement of a new release in mind, but it’s annoying.

Now, if the post topic makes you think of your own title, I don’t have a problem with that—obviously, since I do that a lot, myself. (We’re writers, and if you want to ask us about a writing technique, we’re probably going to dig into our own bodies of work for examples, first, since that’s what we know best.)

If your comment is that latter situation, where bringing up your title is on-topic in some fashion, I don’t see anything wrong with linking to it. Otherwise…


Buffy Armstrong

The first time I went onto Twitter I had no idea what to do with it. My husband told me to look at it as a conversation. After that, it made perfect sense. I can do a conversation.

My biggest irritation when it comes to Twitter are the folks that follow you and immediately unfollow you when you follow them back. I use Who Unfollowed Me so I can catch them. To be far, I can almost guess who’s going to do it before they do it. Generally, I don’t care who unfollows me, but these guys really make me mad.

Kat Morrisey

Totally love your post. No matter how long I use twitter it still makes me nervous and since I am the type who likes to have a list of dos and donts with regard to social media this is helpful.

I use twitter to chat with my friends (especially the #row80 folks for our afternoon writing sessions) and sometimes send out a link to a blog post (when I remember!) But, I only send out one. I don’t schedule like, ten tweets about my blog post a day. I try to use twitter to talk more, to support other writers and put myself out there in the world (which given my tendency to be super shy, is hard to do!) So I hope I am doing things right. I have noticed that I have gotten a lot of follows lately that are followed up with DMs asking me to buy their book. That definitely seems spammy when I get those messages -.-


I’m the kind of person to turn off most e-mail notifications, especially for Twitter and Facebook. I like my in-box clean, but that’s my opinion.

I’m the kind of person (like @elizabethscraig), who share a lot of writing links, but that’s a part of my own weekly round-up (which I’m still building up). I’m also trying to focus on conversations and interacting, finding the right way to get someone’s attention and provide some helpful information, but at least some progress is being made, even if it’s only a couple of followers per day.

Marcy Kennedy

This is a great post. I try to be really understanding about mistakes people could innocently make by accident because they’re new and don’t completely understand the technology or quirks of that particular social media site. As someone who only started using Twitter about a year ago and who cringes every time a social network makes “updates” to how things work, I know how easy it is to look bad just because you’re new and fighting a steep learning curve.

But some things can’t possibly be because you’re just new. My personal pet peeve is the DMs asking me to join them on Facebook or check out their book. I don’t know whether they’re stuck in an antiquated newspaper ad mindset and need educating or if they’re just too lazy to actually use social media the way it was intended to be used–as a tool to build real relationships with people. Either way, sending me a DM like that is a great way to guarantee that I don’t do what you’re asking me to do.

One that I would add to the list is writing a promotional message about your book, website, etc. on my Facebook page immediately after liking it. I don’t think you should ever promote yourself on someone else’s page.


Ack! Now you have me worried that my twitter pic is too sexy… and I can see that it’s probably a bad idea to put up a link and ask everyone… 😛

Tahlia Newland

This is all good, but I’m not sure about this one – don’t DM new followers with any type of link. Ever. I actually like to know a bit about the people I follow, not ‘buy my book’ kind of thing, but a link to their blog or something. If people send me something like – find my stuff here, I usually check it out. I’ll even check out their book if it looks like something I’d be interested in. I guess I’m pretty forgiving of others, if I see someone spamming, I just say to myself, ‘no, darling that’s not the way’. But it doesn’t bug me. I figure they just haven’t worked it out yet. I send different messages to different kinds of new followers (it takes ages, but I like to make a peresonal connection with them, which is why I do it.) A general one is Thxs for following. Find me reading here happiness hints here or art Because I have three different kinds of blogs and activities, someone who has followed me for one thing might actually like to know that I have an art and a self development blog as well. Should I not do this? I’d save me a lot of time. I’m pretty sure I don’t do any of the other things. I do schedule some tweets when I’m not at the computer, but that’s because most of my friends are online when I’m asleep. My aim is to…  — Read More »

Fabio Bueno

Great reminders, Jami. The reasoning behind each tip is flawless. This should be mandatory reading for everyone on social networks 🙂

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami 🙂

Very good points. The DM messages with links annoy me too. If I decided to follow someone, I have already checked the links provided in the bio, so no need for the DM.

Also, sorry, but I really dislike automated tweets. I prefer not to have a tweet (an answer or a thanks for RT or whatever) because someone is too busy or for any other reason, than to have a computer generated (scheduled) tweet. And I do catch those, I’m a computer geek. It annoys me and it goes perfectly against what social media is about. I can’t be online when others are due to the big difference in time zone. But I prefer a day or days later tweet than a computer generated one or even no tweet at all.

Oh, but you like your spammers here Jami 😛

Excellently written post and very good points.

Gene Lempp

Very good advice, Jami. I’ve come close to unfollowing a few people that dropped me a string of “Hello, find me on facebook/blog/amazon/etc.” DM’s right after following them. Honestly, I never click on any unsolicited link – it’s just safe surfing common sense.

Couple of points there I may have become a bit sloppy with over the past months (like just retweeting links without comment) – thanks for the reminders to clean up the act *smile* I’ve been working out a new personal policy for social media, especially Twitter so this is all well-timed. Thanks, Jami 😀

Lynnette Conroy

I needed this post! Trying to wrangle in the use of Triberr w/o spamming my Twitter feed is driving me nuts all by itself, but those DM links I get from about 10% of the people I follow on Twitter drive me completely batty. Glad I’m not alone in that. My thought pretty much comes down to, if I followed you, I checked out your profile, maybe your website, and found you interesting. Why are you DMing me? I’m about to start a little mini house cleaning in my world to figure out which of my social media elements truly bring me value, and which of the things I share could be bringing value or entertainment to others. I’ll be doing some digging to see where I’m starting, then cutting off the diseased limbs. Ouch. Thanks for making me sure that this is a good decision!!

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

I. Am. In. Love. With. You.

Spot on.

Per usual.

As far as conversation goes, I am hardly talking to anyone these days as I am T – 30 days to my son’s bar mitzvah. I’m soooo not ready. Everything has come to a grinding halt. Everything. I miss everyone. So I guess I’d say: Be willing to cut people who tweet you and like you some slack during periods of insanity. Forgive me, Jami, for my silence. But at least I’m not a SPAMMER. 🙂

Julie Hedlund

This post is gold, Ms. Gold! 🙂 Seriously, thank you for this. I think sometimes people don’t realize they’re being spammy.

Truth is, your book might not be any more for me than penis enlargement drugs. 😉

J.M. Dow

One thing that annoys me is the “follow me and I’ll follow you back” game. It’s annoying in every area–twitter, facebook, goodreads, blogger…whatever… For a while, I joined a few blogging sites that were supposed to promote your blog. However, every person that followed you expected this quid pro quo, this idea that they did you a favor by following you, now follow them back. I really dislike this because, while my followers may go up significantly, the quality of conversation stays the same, i.e., nonexistent. That’s the point of blogs/twitter/facebook/yelling into strangers ears on the subway/etc–communication. I can always tell those who use Twitter as a marketing tool more than as a conversation because their “following” and “followers” numbers are not only ridiculously high, but usually their “following” and “followers” numbers are equal. It’ll say something like “followers: 45687 following: 57985.” I want to shout at them “I know you can’t actually read 45687 people, so whom do you think you are fooling???” If I start following a blog, or following someone on Twitter, I want it to be because I am interested in what they have to say and want to engage them in conversation, and I want people whom follow me to do the same. Great post. It puts those who are guilty in their places while also making us examine whether we engage in any of these behaviors. A little internal examination is good for the soul, like dusting out the attic.

Tiffany A White

GREAT post, Jami! As usual.. 🙂

I unfollowed my first Twitter follower today, after over a year of Tweeting, for this very reason — he filled my Direct Messages with links. Don’t do that!! Talk to me on Twitter. I don’t mind someone promoting themselves in my regular Twitter stream, but not in my Direct Messages. Don’t do it!

I’ve also been known to delete things on my Facebook page that others have sent to my page promoting things they want to promote…”check this out.” Let me promote you if that’s what I want to do on my Facebook page, otherwise, just talk to me!

That’s my two cents.


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