Many years ago, I was at a technology conference held in Burlingame, California.  One of the panel discussions was on Spam email.  This was in 1996, so Spam wasn’t all that prevalent and frankly there wasn’t much interest in the panel.  One of the panelists was very much for self regulation of certain aspects of online activity and one of those areas was user privacy and email marketing (sound familiar)?   In the end, the audience and the market said, “hey, what’s the big deal?  What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

This a screenshot of just one of my spam filter files this morning.  I empty it and each day it fills right back up.


Spamming Social Media

Had we acted on Spam before it was a problem, the online fraud and piracy industry would be a fraction of the size it is and we’d all not have to keep throw-away email addresses (c’mon, you know you have them).

Social marketing is exploding.  We all see it’s potential and power.  Hmm, in 1996 the Internet was exploding and we all saw its potential and power.  There is a direct correlation between the growth, maturity and evolution of the Internet and social marketing’s future.

In my humble opinion, we are not that far off from social spam creeping into reality.  Don’t believe me?  Discount this? We see early evidence of this possibility in Phishing.  It’s a reality folks and it will happen unless we begin acting with some unified discipline.

We must pay attention to and apply the lessons Internet entrepreneurs, engineers and marketers have learned over the last fifteen years to social.  If we don’t, we will end up with one of two headaches sometime in the near future.

1.  Governmental regulation.  If you don’t think this is expensive, restrictive and a major deterrent to rapid innovation, ask a healthcare or financial services marketer how they approach trial and error in this space.

2.  A bankruptcy in trust.  Social is all about engagement, transparency and trust.  If a user is suspect about something being transparent and they have no or little trust, they won’t engage.  The reason email response rates are so low and firms like Exact Target exist is because of this very issue.

Either one of these will pour cold water on the growing flames of social marketing.  Social is a powerful disruptive force that helps brands better align with their customers, stakeholders and constituents.  It’s truly a win-win way…that is if we don’t screw it up.

So how can we avoid this?  A couple of ways.

1.  Tracking cause and effect.  Establishing best practices that consistently link the cause and the effect.

2. Establishing accepted general standards of performance and best practices.

3.  Training to standards and best practices.  Find leaders from across the industry or business to collaborate….competitors, colleagues alike.  We are all in this together.

4.  Self regulation or holding your organization accountable.

5.  Actively, participating in activities where best practices are shared, critiqued and bettered.

6.  Taking social seriously at every level of the organization and in every business unit.  Social isn’t and shouldn’t be owned or restricted to one tier or one department or BU (imagine if privacy standards only needed to be applied to IT and not to marketing?!)

7.  Look outside your organization, industry or team for inspiration, help, advice, insight or criticism.   Teams that are closed and intolerant to outside influence are shallow gene pools.

8.  Recognize that nothing you do or can do will be perfect.  It is always a work in progress.  However, remember good habits make things better and bad habits make things worse.

Recently, WOMMA embarked on an ambitious program called WOM-COMM.   WOM-COMM is essentially a virtual training program where seven recognized faculty members presented best practices, standards and approaches important to successful social programs.  Members were required to complete all seven sessions (with homework).  In the end, if the participant successfully completed the course, they were certified as doing so. 

(Full disclosure:  I am one of the seven WOM-COMM faculty.  The below certificate is a mock-up for the purposes of this blog).


Is WOM-COMM the silver bullet?  No.  Were the first two semesters perfect?  No.  Was it an important step in the right direction?  Absolutely.  For social to truly achieve its potential, we need more WOM-COMM and more universal commitment from the marketplace that social spam is dangerous.

My hat is off to the 214 agencies and brands who participated in WOM-COMM to date.  This is a great start.


Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger