What is “Spam”?

No matter what the flavor, it's still spam

You hear me talk about spam a lot on this blog, and how you should avoid it for your direct sales or network marketing business. Yet I sometimes get questions about what actually constitutes “spam.” I do actually extend the concept of spam beyond the legal definition as it relates to your business. So here’s some clarification.

Let’s start with the legal definition of spam:

  • Wikipedia defines spam as the use of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.” This means that you send messages about your business to groups of people without their permission (thus the “unsolicited” part.)
  • In recent times, many governments have passed legislation prohibiting spam emails. When people who send these messages are caught, there are legal repercussions. There’s a very good, clear overview of the US CAN-SPAM requirements here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAN-SPAM_Act_of_2003#The_mechanics_of_CAN-SPAM

So that’s all well and good. You won’t send bulk emails to people who haven’t given permission. Done, right?

Not exactly.

Just because this particular method of sending unsolicited business messages is prohibited under law, it doesn’t mean that other forms of sending these messages is OK. There’s a reason these laws were created. People don’t want this type of message. And sending them anyway does nothing positive for your business.

When you think about spam as it relates to your business, here are some other ways you could be spamming your contacts:

  • Sending out business messages via a general status update to all your friends through a profile. This can take the form of “join my team” and “buy my stuff” posts: product highlights, telling people why they should join your company, sending out a general bid for people to host a party, etc. It’s essential that you save this type of message for an “opt-in” area, such as an opt-in newsletter or a Facebook Page that someone needs to “Like.”
  • Sending private messages about your business through your social networks to people you don’t know. These might be people you’ve found on a friend’s social networking profile, or seen in a public online forum. It’s not appropriate to send messages about your business to people you don’t know, period. First, it is much more likely to annoy people than do your business any good. But it also makes the industry as a whole look bad. “Oh, there’s another one of those MLM pitches. I hate that kind of company. They’re always sending things like that.” We don’t want people to say that. Don’t be the cause of it.
  • Posting your business or link in public places, such as someone else’s Facebook Page or blog comments without permission. If it’s someone else’s space, don’t self-promote! It’s bad manners. Someone else has worked very hard to build a following there. If you try to hijack that audience, you make yourself look bad, and also alienate the person who owns the space. If you want to promote to an audience, build your own!

The main thing to keep in mind is that all this spamming is ineffective. I hear it time and time again…”I used to do that stuff and it never worked.” There is no shortcut to building the relationships in social media that actually lead to business. If you think it’s going to be quick, think again. It doesn’t work that way.

What spamming behavior by direct sellers drives you crazy? What would you add to my list? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

image credit: pandemia

10 Responses to What is “Spam”?
  1. Lynda Glassmoyer
    April 8, 2011 | 12:07 pm

    Yep! I’ve already unfriended a couple of people with whom I’d originally made connections because of having our certain business in common. But then they’ve gone off and added another business (or several), and suddenly nearly all their updates have morfed into solicitations for one or the other of those OTHER endeavors.

  2. Jennifer Brower
    April 8, 2011 | 9:10 am

    So then let me ask you this question…as someone who is thinking of entering into direct sales and who has many friends (on Facebook) who could potentially also be customers…how do I let them know of my new venture without spamming them?

    My hesitation to enter direct sales stems directly from the uncertainty of knowing where to start in building a client base. Logically, with nearly 300 friends on Facebook I think my best chances for getting a jump start is with that audience. But, I hear (loud and clear) what everyone is saying about this information being unsolicited and potentially undesired.

    And what about email…sending an email to my friends letting them know about the start of this business – is that spam too? To me, it’s like the annual Christmas letter you get from some folks that let you know what they’ve been up to all year and, “Oh, by the way, I’m selling Mary Kay now so let me know when you want to get beautified.” But, that method of letting your friends and family know what’s going on has fallen by the way side for the most part given the rise of electronic media to stay in touch.

    It all seems like a slippery slope…

    • Jennifer Fong
      April 8, 2011 | 9:21 am

      GREAT question Jennifer! Your best way to launch is to get on the phone. Call the people in your immediate circle, catch up, and share the news about your business. This personal contact makes all the business. You didn’t mention if you’re looking at a party plan or person to person business, but if you can host an initial gathering, that’s a great way to get the word out too. When calling to invite folks, that’s a great way to broach the subject. And then invite others to host their own gatherings at your party. This is far and away the best way to launch (and even MLMs are getting new folks started this way, believe it or not.)

      Set up a Facebook Page for your business, and do a general status update to all your friends letting them know if they’re interested in learning about your business they can come and like your page.

      There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the best way to get started.

      I wish you much success!

  3. Cheri Semple
    April 8, 2011 | 7:42 am

    I love it when I get messages that say “I know you are with Lia Sophia but I’d love to tell you about my opportunity with XX since it’s really taking off now”. Really? If I am not pleased with my current arrangement, I’m smart enough to know I need to inquire about their opportunity if I’m interested.

  4. Amy Celona
    April 8, 2011 | 7:32 am

    Jen, as usual, I agree with your article 100%, and also take it a step further to say that I don’t even appreciate people that I know soliciting me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t make a big deal about it, but if all I ever get from them on social networks is promotion of their business, I’m probably going to un-friend them.

    If I’m interested in their business, I do ‘like’ Facebook Business pages and I do opt in for contact with persons whose blog content I wish to follow, however for some in direct sales they think that it is a green light to solicit everyone they know (grrr…).

  5. Elenna
    April 7, 2011 | 1:08 pm

    “…old, respected, and very tasty product.” hahahaha….. I sure do hope you were being sarcastic…

    • Jennifer Fong
      April 7, 2011 | 1:17 pm

      LOL. I was giving Paul the benefit of the doubt on that one.. 🙂

  6. Christine Casey
    April 7, 2011 | 10:52 am

    Hi Jen! Just today I had someone post on my FB Page, and even though it was for a “free” MLM e-book and not a “join my company” type of message, nonetheless I felt it was still some form of “self-promotion”, and it really rubbed me the wrong way! I felt much like you’ve described in this post…that they were somehow attempting to “hijack” my audience, and yes, in the process not making them look very professional and managing to alienate me at the same time!! At the very least, this person could have personally contacted me and ask my permission to post her e-book link on my FB page…
    Christine Casey recently posted..How Can You Make Your Future Bigger Than Your Past

  7. Paul Young
    April 7, 2011 | 10:02 am

    Please remember, capital S Spam is the registered trademark for old, respected, and very tasty product. Lower case s spam is the email that makes all of us grind our teeth.

    The owners of the Spam trademark have graciously not objected to all the uses of lowercase spam, but have over the years asked people to remember the difference.
    Paul Young recently posted..Clouds- Crayons- and SaaS

    • Jennifer Fong
      April 7, 2011 | 10:35 am

      Very true. Thanks for the heads up Paul! 🙂

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