David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

MySpace Spam or Clever Marketing?

In case some of you are wondering why your MySpace Friends lists are suddenly exploding, here’s why: I’ve been going crazy with MySpace promotion over the past few weeks.

Despite my misgivings about MySpace (which mainly have to do with the site’s design, functionality and usability — not its general purpose), I’m attempting to make practical use of it to promote Infoquake. And so in the last three weeks, my friend count has skyrocketed from about 75 to over 1,200. (In case you’re curious, you can visit my MySpace page.)

Screen shot of David Louis Edelman's MySpace pageHow am I adding so many friends so quickly? For a few days I was using a program called Friend Adder Professional to do the heavy lifting. With this program, you can actually send friends requests based on Google searchs of MySpace profiles, up to 500 a day. So one day as an experiment I sent friend requests to 500 people who listed Cryptonomicon as a favorite book. The next I did the same thing with Accelerando.

This might have continued indefinitely if my nice Jewish mother hadn’t instilled in me a strong sense of guilt. So I took a closer look at the MySpace Terms and Conditions and discovered that MySpace prohibits “any automated use of the system, such as using scripts to add friends or send comments or messages.” As well they should. So I stopped using the automated program and have continued adding friends manually.

But even without the automated bot, is adding friends for self-promotional purposes permitted by MySpace?

I’m no lawyer, but I can’t see why not. The MySpace Terms are somewhat ambiguous. They prohibit using profiles “in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by MySpace.com.” But later they prohibit “commercial activities and/or sales… such as contests, sweepstakes, barter, advertising, or pyramid schemes.” I don’t think my profile falls under any of those categories. Sure, there’s all kinds of information about Infoquake on my page, but there’s no exhortation to purchase. There are no links to online booksellers. The word “buy” isn’t even on the page.

(It’s also worth mentioning that the MySpace Terms and Conditions are full of strange provisos that everyone seems to ignore and MySpace has no intention of enforcing. Did you know that technically you’re not allowed to post any last names — even your own — on your profile?)

So assuming that self-promotion via MySpace is perfectly legal, the next obvious question: is this ethical?

After much thought, I’ve concluded that sending massive amounts of friend requests to strangers on MySpace is not spamming. What’s my rationale? I’m glad you asked:

  • Adding friends is a one-time permission-based activity. All you have to do if you never want to hear from me again is to click a single button and deny my friends request. If I accidentally try to add you twice, you can block any future communication with a single click.
  • The only content I’m communicating is a request to communicate. There’s no advertising in my profile photo or my profile name. If you’re interested in finding out who I am and what I’ve done, click on ahead. Otherwise, ignore away.
  • I’m targeting people with a professed interest in hard science fiction. The problem with e-mail spam is not that it’s unsolicited; the problem is that 98% of it doesn’t apply to me. If these unsolicited messages were about Richard K. Morgan’s latest novel instead of cheap home equity loans, I’d start looking at my junk mail folder again. So I’m trying to only add people whose profiles are on-topic. I’m not going to send a friend request to someone who has no interest in (or is openly hostile to) science fiction.
  • I answer all messages personally. Any questions or concerns about my book or my profile go straight to my e-mail inbox. I answer them personally, one at a time, without resorting to automated responses.
  • I’m trying to be completely transparent. Open up my profile, and I state upfront who I am and what I’m doing. I’m a science fiction author interested in getting the word out about my book. I’m soliciting feedback, and adjusting my tactics as I go to avoid pissing people off.
  • I really am trying to make friends. I’d love nothing more than to hold a nice, protracted dialogue with everyone on my friends list about the merits and shortcomings of Infoquake. I’ve been telling people to send me their thoughts on the book if they get around to reading it, because I really do want to know.

So the last remaining question that needs to be asked: is this style of promotion effective?

Surprisingly, the response to my MySpace friend adding spree has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve received dozens of enthusiastic messages from people thanking me for bringing Infoquake to their attention. Some have even been inspired to go right out that minute and buy the book, or place an order on their favorite online bookseller. I’m sure some of these responses are just generic politeness — “thanks for the add, and good luck with your book!” — but it can’t all be just schmooze. (How can I tell? Well, for starters, every time I send a big batch of friend requests, my Amazon ranking jumps. Not by huge margins, mind you, but enough to suggest that I’ve inspired some purchases.)

I have received a few negative messages, of course. But rarely has anyone raised a serious objection to the method of promotion I’m using. Most of the naysayers just don’t have any interest in what I’m writing, which is perfectly all right with me. One or two have had off-the-wall political objections. (For the record: I’m sorry, but a six-month stint as a government contractor building useless intranets for the U.S. Army does not qualify me as an “imperialist crony.”)

The point I’m making is that the denizens of MySpace by and large seem to like Internet marketing — or at the very least, they don’t mind it. They’re used to it. The implications for the future of interactive marketing are there for the pickin’.

What remains to be seen, of course, is how effective this style of promotion is. Let’s say I spend an hour a day adding MySpace friends and thereby inspire a purchase every 24 hours. Is it worth the effort? Will there eventually be a snowball effect of friends recommending the book to friends? Where’s the cutoff between just spinning my wheels and effectively promoting my book?

I dunno.

So what do you think? Is this kind of MySpace promotion effective marketing, or simply spam?

Comments RSS Feed

  1. Yaron on August 31, 2006 at 10:53 am  Chain link

    Hi,

    I don’t know whether it’s effective or not, but it’s still spamming. And spamming *is* effective, or at least cost-effective, or there won’t be any spammers out there. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Some people like spam, respond to it, and are certainly used to it. Doesn’t prevent it from being spam.

    Spam (rough common and practical definition, not a dictionary one) is any message you receive which is:
    A. Unsolicited. Not asked for.
    B. The sender has something to gain from a reply, which is not known for certain in advance is mutual. Mostly commercial interest, yes, but there are also large cases of political or religious spam.

    Your messages were unsolicited. And had a clear financial interest behind them, even if they also had another interest behind them of talking to people. People who possibly may be interested in hearing from/about you, but not certainly.

    Whether you think you did good targeting, or are also performing a service to the recipients, is to some (large, but that’s the my-personal-opinion part) extent irrelevant.
    The spammers offering you cheap fake Rolex watches, low mortgage rates, or to enlarge your whatever, may just as well think that they’re offering you a good deal, and providing useful service.
    Enough people think they do, and reply to the email spam, in order to keep “classical” spamming viable.

    Regarding your “why is this not spam” list:

    1. Most of the spam emails you receive are a one-time permission based activity. If you’d check the links, most go to different sites, and come from different addresses. All it takes is a single click on the message-delete button to refuse. And another click (some email programs let you a single click for both) in order to block the address the spam was sent from.

    2. A lot of spam is requests to communicate as well. Come to the site to learn more about their great products. But if your invites really don’t contain any information beyond a link to your page, then they’re actually more polite than you, because they explain what is their main purpose straight away, while you expect people to spend time and go to a site just to find out what is it that you want from them.

    3. Your targeting is relatively good, I agree. It’s possible for someone to like Cryptonomicon without being an SF lover in general, but generally it will hit the broad target audience. But being better targeted than most other spam doesn’t make it not-spam. It just provides a mitigating factor.
    If your mailbox will be swamped by messages trying to sell you SF books that you haven’t expressed any interest in, from people you don’t know about, would you enjoy it? Would you go on enjoying it if each and every SF writer in the world did it?

    4. How you answer the replies is not related to whether the original messages are spam or not.
    And quite possibly many spammers would answer personally as well if you’d go to their site and then ask a question about how good is their faux Rolex.

    5. Transparency is good. But again, isn’t really relevant to whether it’s spamming or not. I assure you that the spammers trying to sell you faux Rolex watches are entirely transparent and really do want to sell you faux Rolex watches. Not all of them, of course, some are just thieves and so on. But plenty really do offer exactly what the email say they offer. It doesn’t make their offers not-spam, so it shouldn’t make yours.

    6. That’s nice. But again, doesn’t make it non-spam. Some spammers really honestly do want to sell you stuff. Some really do honestly want to tell you about the only good political party and candidate who will help you. Some really do want to show you the true god and true spiritual belief, to save your soul, and to be your friends. And you really want to have a nice conversation and find new friends. As long as all these people you want to try and be friends with did not show any initial interest in being your friends, and did not explicitly said something like “I’d be happy to hear from anyone out there / any SF writer out there” and so on, then you were unsolicited, and it’s spam.

    6.1 Besides, you don’t know about these people anything beyond the fact they liked a book. So yes, the two books you chose for both test runs are good books (Well, Cryptonomicon was very good. I didn’t read Accelerando yet, but I did like anything else I read by Stross so far, so it’s a fair bet it’s good as well). That doesn’t mean all the people who liked this book are people you’d want as friends. You will find that out later on, and surely if all 1000 will speak with you then there will be some you won’t like. Meaning you don’t really know you want all of them as friends when you begin, nor do you know they really all want you as a friend. All important, but also not relevant to the spam issue.

    So all in all, that’s spamming, pure and simple. Maybe effective spamming. Maybe in this case it fell on people who liked what they were spammed with. But it’s spam nonetheless.

  2. Jose on August 31, 2006 at 11:41 am  Chain link

    You caved! After your earlier miffed at Myspace post too.

    I think you’d do much better on Stumbleupon actually.

  3. David Louis Edelman on August 31, 2006 at 11:49 am  Chain link

    Yaron, thanks for the long and thoughtful (and not hysterical) comment. Definitely food for thought.

    It’s interesting, I received five comments on this article right away when I posted it on my MySpace blog. All were very positive and saying I’m doing the right thing. I wonder if there’s just a large contingent of irritated MySpacers who I’m simply not hearing from.

  4. Cheryl on August 31, 2006 at 12:29 pm  Chain link

    I think you are right that there are cultural issues that are still being worked out. It is entirely possible that MySpace people don’t mind being auto-friended. But I’ve also seem LJ people complain about the strategy when used by Russian spammers.

    There’s weird stuff in LJ too. Not only do some LJ users think it is perfectly OK to hide behind a pseudonym while slagging people off in public, there is also an attitude that if someone makes a public post on LJ and someone else links to it without asking then the original poster’s privacy has been invaded. (The discussion was on David Moles’ blog a while back.)

    But in terms of arguing the ethics there can be issues of scale. Introducing yourself to an author at a convention is OK, following him everywhere is not. Writing a fan email is OK. Writing a bot to send fanmail to the same author twice a day is not.

    I appreciate that you are using a bot to contact multiple people rather than a single person multiple times, but I can still see people getting annoyed about it.

  5. Moine Boudeur on August 31, 2006 at 5:05 pm  Chain link

    It is not right on target to suggest this, yet I find the reference to “Happiness TM” to some extent appropriate. This novel by Will Ferguson is the story of a self-help book being published under peculiar circumstances, where the editor makes sure the print draw is as minimal as possible but turns out to be a blockbuster with over 65 millions copies sold worldwide! It could be that you have not heard of this one and neither did I, until I could hear it being narrated on radio from August 14th on. It is worth listening, would that be only for the narrator’s voice, a certain Ron Halder from Vancouver B.C. But the story in itself is quite exquisite, according to me at least. The author received the Stephen Leacock prize for humor some years ago. Just type Happiness TM on Google for a look and go the the CBC Radio One program “Between the covers” to listen to all episode so far:
    http://www.cbc.ca/betweenthecovers/hearareading.html
    By the way, I stumbled upon your blog (borrowing from another reply here) not via MySpace but rather via a book review you’ve written quite some times ago regarding Tom Robbins’book “Half asleep in Frog Pajamas”, hence here thereafter.
    That’s no excuse to answer sideways to your question about your little stunt with friend’s making programs. I guess I am getting too cynical to find your little trick good or bad or whatever. The internet is open house for all fools there are including me.
    Hope the grammar is not so bad, for I am french, thus the syntax might get squeaky on the shoulder.

    Moine

  6. Fiona Avery on August 31, 2006 at 9:52 pm  Chain link

    In one way, this reminds me of the kind of community centered around Neil Gaiman’s blog, though I don’t think it evolved the same way you’re soliciting your MySpace area. But the interaction between Neil Gaiman and his fans sounds very similar and I have always admired it. There are also several people who are there because they like his blog and come to ask for oatmeal recipes and such; but they know diddly about his work, or so I hear.

    So, coming at it from this angle, I think you’re trying to say that you’re getting the word out about your MySpace as a place to interact with the author of Infoquake (which one must do only after one has read it of course). Or possibly even just to chat with anyone interested in your life including writing. So, if this is the case, on the whole it seems benevolent.

    I have always been interested in the line between tactless guerilla marketing and good promotion so I’d love to hear more about this sort of thing as you get into it.

    Fio~

  7. David Louis Edelman on September 1, 2006 at 1:25 am  Chain link

    Cheryl: I think you’re right, it’s the scale that’s the key. I’m trying to keep to a reasonable, personal scale here and I hope that’ll work in the long term.

    Moine: Never read “Happiness TM,” I’ll have to check it out. And yes, that Tom Robbins review was a loooong time ago… 12 years, I think. And don’t worry about the grammar, it’s the thoughts I’m interested in. :-)

    Fiona: I would love to have Neil Gaiman’s audience. Then again, so would just about every other SF writer alive (except maybe George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan). But you’re right, I have most certainly been attempting to build an audience for my blog, separate from the sales I’m trying to build for Infoquake. Honestly, I don’t mind if my blog readers don’t buy the book right away. Sit down, put your feet up, and if you like the atmosphere, eventually you’ll sample the merchandise.

  8. Thom Stanley on September 1, 2006 at 10:50 pm  Chain link

    And now the site is on StumbleUpon. Because SU is the coolest.

    God, I’m such a child.

  9. Liz on September 3, 2006 at 4:59 pm  Chain link

    After you friended me on MySpace, I read the first posted chapter, then went out and bought the book. :) But I also recognized your name from Toby Buckell’s blog, so it didn’t seem spammy.

    Good luck at your signing on Thursday — I may be able to swing by, but already have plans that evening.

  10. David Louis Edelman on September 3, 2006 at 5:30 pm  Chain link

    Thom: Sure, you’re a child. But you’re a child who bought my book, so all is forgiven. 😀

    Liz: I guess that’s the ultimate goal for a new author. Get your name familiar enough that people already feel like they know you. Witness the aforementioned Neil Gaiman, and the recently Campbelled John Scalzi (and Toby, come to think of it). Stop by if you get a chance — bring your family, friends and neighbors too! 😉

  11. Matt Arnold on September 5, 2006 at 2:35 pm  Chain link

    I don’t have much use for Myspace other than promotional networking of this type. I wondered how you knew to friend me. But I’m glad you did, and I invited you to be on panel discussions at Penguicon, so it worked, didn’t it?

  12. David Louis Edelman on September 5, 2006 at 2:49 pm  Chain link

    And I’m very glad you did invite me, Matt. I’m very much looking forward to Penguicon. SF geeks and open source geeks… them’s my base audience!

  13. Andrew Benjamin on September 18, 2006 at 9:38 pm  Chain link

    Your post is exactly what I’m struggling with right now.

    I created a myspace page to help promote my (humor) book “Pornification” (http://www.pornifythis.com).

    After creating the page (http://www.myspace.com/pornification) I started systematically Adding Howard Stern’s friends. I’ve been a fan of the show for years and the humor in Pornification is just about a perfect fit for Howard Stern fans.

    But Adding people one-by-one is a pretty tedious process so I’ve been trying to decide if an auto-adder is ethical.

    On the PRO side – I would be using it for the exact same thing I’m currently doing manually.

    On the CON side – It feels like spam.

    (Also, MySpace admin may view using a ‘bot as spam and take action. Anyone know if/what/how MySpace polices spam?)

    But is there really a difference between Adding Howard Stern’s friends manually and using a ‘bot? Or looking at it another way, does the fact that doing a thing one way is harder than the other way suddenly make it more ethical?

    I don’t think so. So then the question becomes not whether to use a ‘bot or not but whether Adding someone you don’t know with the open intention to promote a product is by its very nature spam.

    I think not. I think the critical difference between spam and plain old unwanted email is the intent to deceive.

    I strongly object to emails with subject lines that have nothing to do with the content of the email and exist only to trick me into opening the email. I strongly object to links that don’t go where they say they are going.

    BUT I am only annoyed by email that is just plain unwanted. If I were currently refinancing my apartment, maybe that “Refinance now” email would actually be interesting to me but at least it’s completely open about what it is.

    AND I am less annoyed by email that at least shows that it is more than just a shot in the dark. I may not be interested in that email about the latest play to hit Broadway but at least someone out there figured out that I do go to Broadway shows and is offering me something that I have a fighting chance of wanting to read. Even if they are wrong, I give them some credit for trying.

    (For what it’s worth, the government seems to be with me on the deception issue. The CAN-SPAM act allows unsolicited email as long as certain conditions are met, one of which is adding “ADV” to the subject line. As far as I can tell, it’s a little more complicated than that, but this seems to be the gist of it.)

    What do you think?

    Andrew Benjamin
    ab@pornifythis.com

    “Pornification” is now on sale at stores like Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble and is available online at http://www.pornifythis.com

    PS Tell Howard Stern about Pornification!

  14. Yaron on September 19, 2006 at 6:23 am  Chain link

    Intent to deceive isn’t the main criterion. It’s not even a criterion at all, for many kinds of spam.
    Remember that while many kinds of spam do want to get money from you under false pretences, many others are otherwise legitimate business matters. People who want to sell a product, and send messages letting people know that they can buy the product.
    It’s likely that even most spam isn’t intended to deceive, not only some. With a lot of messages that most people consider spam, if you follow the links you could buy the products listed, and receive them. That does not prevent the messages from being spam.

    The most common criteria are that spam messages are unsolicited, and that they are sent in bulk.

    As far as unsolicited goes, yours would fit very neatly. There’s a difference, I’d expect, between being listed as Stern’s friend, and being listed as “Interested in anything else similar to what Stern does”. Same for any other “if they’re a friend of X than this must interest them” assumptions.

    Where you, and David Edelman, are on the borderline is with the bulk issue. Putting a bot to automatically send messages is working in bulk, but as you said the decision on which people to target is the same as you’d have used manually.
    Manually sending a message to a lot of people is still bulk, of course. But it can be said that each is considered individually by the person sending the message. So maybe the choosing is done on a broad term, but it is borderline rather than obviously bulkish.
    Then again, anyone spamming Viagra could reasonably say that this is something that they personally think can be relevant to any human who may possibly be sexually active, and that this group has a very strong correlation with people who have email addresses…

    The most redeeming factor is that MySpace does seem to move more and more into a state where these actions are common and the norm. If this progress further, then it would be legitimate to assume that if someone keeps a friends list there then they actually expect to hear about similar things to interest them. This will make all such actions solicited, and so not spam.
    But it’s not there yet. So it’s still spamming.

  15. David Louis Edelman on September 19, 2006 at 9:34 am  Chain link

    The line between advertising and spam is very fine. For instance: I’ve had several friends and relatives who sent out promotional e-mails about Infoquake to lists of friends and communities they were involved in. Spam? It certainly doesn’t seem like spam.

    Again, I think MySpace does seem to be a special situation. As several people have pointed out to me, the place was designed to allow small bands to promote themselves. Joining MySpace and not expecting any self-promotion is kind of like sitting in the Mormon Church week after week and not expecting any proselytizing.

    Thanks again for keeping the discussion lively and civil.

    Andrew: The book sounds funny. What group of college guys hasn’t sat around coming up with parody porn movie names?

  16. Jimmy Jones on October 26, 2006 at 1:02 pm  Chain link

    blah blah blah blah … whatever!! everyone on this page needs to stop putting dix up their bums

  17. Owen Daniel on December 10, 2006 at 6:36 pm  Chain link

    Well Jimmy Jones some very useful comments there!

    Have been onto MySpace/ClubbingUK for a few months now and loads of people have been deleted or kicked off for spamming techniques recently!

    I’d be very careful if thinking about automated methods and review the product in question…

    Keep up the good work (especially you Jimmy)

  18. tricotomy on December 20, 2006 at 5:47 pm  Chain link

    “One or two have had off-the-wall political objections. (For the record: I’m sorry, but a six-month stint as a government contractor building useless intranets for the U.S. Army does not qualify me as an “imperialist crony.”)”

    LOL

  19. Libertie on January 19, 2007 at 8:34 pm  Chain link

    I’ve never minded as long as it’s a real person on the other end. I don’t see the difference between that & guys who add every single female & include with it a request for nudie pics.

  20. Jeffrey Solochek on June 2, 2007 at 10:04 pm  Chain link

    Might I ask of you to do a review of a new bot called buddypromoter ?
    It has the friend adder, blog poster, account creator and a lot of other functions

  21. TwitterGENIUS on September 3, 2009 at 11:22 pm  Chain link

    I found that spam is a headache for most people who are organized and reserved in their field. However, the internet is changing with alot of newbies and the same tricks that were executed in 97 are going on today. I’m still waiting for chat to comeback, lol. Currently, Twitter is the best place to market online ventures. Adding friends is the easiest and the conversion rate for clicks is super high! Today, i got over 1000 hits to my blog from less than a dozen tweets. I usually average around 125 each day. By using and piggybacking the Trending Topics, you can get your message out there, it just has to be worth reading to other users. I stay with some current events, offers, benefits, & cool stuff i found online, then I give the links all to my followers at Twitter. These tweetght the best communication channel on the web right now, because twitter is easy to use, has a simple sign up process, and extended to mobile devices owned by over 80% of population (US). I think linking a blog, a twitter account, and with presences on myspace or facebook, you can create a great network. I focus on being on high traffic intersection on the information highway, even if its cheezy, it works. It’s not a spam, until u get caught, so do it effectively for the time you can. Guerrilla marketing is making a comeback and that’s what it takes for a viral marketing strategy to take off (or just spend thousands in ads) I love chatting marketing, come see me at http://bit.ly/trendz or @elucidmarketing on Twitter

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