I recently accumulated a lot of flak for a post about a Kingfisher Airlines Twitter campaign which explicitly asked people to spam. Some of the spammers alleged that they weren’t spamming at all and some spammees took offense that I assumed they were being spammed!!
And what was the tactic?
The oldest and most used spamming tactic in the world of social media – add a hashtag and @mention as many people as is humanly possible or as much as you can before your boss or your office system administrator catches you.
Now, it’d be silly on my part to name all campaigns that use such a tactic as spam. After all, I’ve used this tactic too, for a client. But the difference was that we used it after a thorough research on the target audience of the client and the campaign in question. We found that our target audience was ideally 12+, up to about 18-20 of age; is studying in a school or college and likes hanging out with friends. That target group presented an opportunity with the client and we did use the ‘get as many likes as you can on a caption/photo on Facebook – maximum ‘likes’ wins!’ tactic.
That may not sound alien to you – almost every other brand uses that.
This seemingly universally lauded and used tactic becomes spam when it is done without proper research on who it is being aimed at.
Does the target audience of Kingfisher Airlines like to call upon random strangers in their timeline to win prizes? Notice here carefully – I’m not referring to Kingfisher’s followers on Twitter…I’m referring to the kind of target group that frequents Kingfisher Airlines’ services. No, I do not have the audacity to assume that 12-20 year olds may not fly Kingfisher – no, that’s not the point. The point is about targeting a group of people that Kingfisher would like to build evangelists out of – that effort is bound to help the airline get more loyalists and spread the word around.
Next, Skoda Yeti.
Skoda’s new mini SUV, Yeti, has an impressive integrated campaign going on. The integration is fantastic – an on-ground contest that has people driving a Yeti, to five national forests in India; tie-up with National Geographic TV; print ads to announce the winners and what they did in the forest drives; Facebook announcement of contest timelines, rules and winners…it’s all done beautifully. Hats off to the concerted effort.
Where it jars – to me, at least – is the basic rules. It is this!
(The image above belongs to Skoda India.)
While it is perfectly fine to assume that the people who may want to participate in a contest…any contest, for that matter, may abide by the rules mentioned above, I do wonder if Skoda wants people who do this as Yeti’s brand ambassadors. Mysteriously…or fortunately, they have some mighty interesting and appropriate people as winners – people who seem to have an interest in wild life and driving. Some of them do not look the type who may post a photograph online and ask all their friends to like that photo…or at least, I assume they don’t seem to be that type. And I may be horribly wrong here too, I accept.
The problem I have is with the rampant misuse of the viral element of social media.
Imagine how it may look like, in the real world. The Facebook-like tactic would look like this.
You send a photo to the contest organizer, on snail mail. You then send a post card to all your friends, on snail mail, which asks them to send a post card, in turn, to the contest organizer that says, ‘I like this person’s photo; please make him a winner’.
Just because all this is done seamlessly online does not make it any more valid. At one level, your friends may or may not be expecting your message about asking them to ‘like’ your photo. If they are not, it is spam. If it is your bosom buddy, then he may not have a problem at all with your message. The problem is with brands incentivizing users/followers to use mass messaging as a communication mode.
The funny thing is the same people complaining about getting calls on their mobile, from random insurance agents!
Spam may be a big word, but at the heart of it, there are 3 simple things that define spam – one, it calls for the attention of a user by name/nickname/handle; two, it is usually unsolicited and three, it is targeted at a LOT of people. It really doesn’t matter how the spam is delivered – it was in our physical mail boxes in the days of yore (remember Readers Digest?). Then, it was our mobile phones, via text messages. Subsequently, it was delivered to our email inboxes. Now, it is being delivered in our Twitter timelines and Facebook walls. The intention and modus operandi is the same, but the fact that respectable brands induce their fans to do it is the real matter for concern.
The second part of the spam equation is attention…or time. We got very limited snail mails and a Readers Digest envelope announcing some amazing goodies (!) as advantages of subscribing to it was found to be interesting…at least by some people. We then actively complained about email spam, because the cost of sending email spam was nearly zero – naturally, it was abused to hell and email providers had to develop solid spam filters that allowed us to spend some quality time with email. Don’t even ask me about mobile phones and text messages – incoming messages were charged, at one point in time and that is when spam hurt the most. Now, it doesn’t hurt, but just annoys, since like email, the cost of spamming via text messages is really less.
On Twitter and Facebook, spam costs us in terms of attention, that is, if we stumble upon them…and do so, repeatedly. Otherwise, I believe a lot of people don’t even care about such kinds of spam…or, are at an early stage of identifying this as an annoyance. Much like the early days of email spam, in a way.
That said, I’m writing this post based on my threshold to tolerate spam, along with a few generic assumptions on how it may work, for certain age groups. I’m sure there would be many who may have differing levels of tolerance to spam…across various modes…less tolerance to spam on sms and email, and high levels of tolerance on social networks. For such people, just before you pour your vitriolic outrage in the comments section, please do a small homework – is that appropriate for your client’s line of business, image and its target audience? If it does, I have referred to that in a positive way, above. If it doesn’t, please continue to pour.
PS: Non-brand induced spam was in full force in the last two weeks on Facebook. People were picking a random Holiday’ish/New Year’ish photo/image from the net, uploading it on their Facebook profile and tagged all and sundry in it! A lot of people were seen complaining about it too, at least on Twitter.