Even though we’ve been through a lot of cheat and deceit, I believe that we people are still gullible. Come a new form of scam, and some of us may actually fall for it. This is because there are just so many things that drive us in life that the opportunities for tricking us by making use of those drives are virtually endless.
This article at Bloomberg Businessweek got me thinking about the new form of spam that’s been picking up pace these days – social media spam. According to Impermium’s CEO Mark Risher, “Social spam can be a lot more effective than e-mail spam. We see a lot of it, and we see it increasing. The bad guys are taking to this with great abandon.”
However, if it is pretty clear what email spam is, social spam is more of a blurred area. So, I’d like to clarify what defines social networking spam first.
Two common misconceptions about social spam
For some reason, many people relate social spam to automation and the use of various tools, for instance, those that can get you hundreds of Twitter followers overnight. But I think automation in self cannot be blamed for the problem of spam.
For example, there are email marketing apps like AWeber one can use to send opt-in emails to a list of subscribers, which is not spam. And, there are social media marketing tools like BuzzBundle that can be used to handle multiple social accounts in one place. Again, there is nothing spammy about that.
Another concept frequently associated with spam is not using your real name. But if you think about it, this alone is not a crystal-clear marker of spam. For instance, Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts used to comment at blogs and forums under the nickname “GoogleGuy”.
Another example: I’m sure there is a real person tweeting under @HallmarkPR who probably has a personal Twitter account, too. In fact, many people adopt pen names, brand names and what not for their online identities, which is perfectly legitimate.
So, I think, correlation isn’t causation. Just because someone uses a social media marketing tool or adopts a pen name, it doesn’t mean the person is a spammer. What does then? I think what makes spammers different from legitimate social network users is their intention.
What social spammers want
Check out this Facebook post by a guy named Drew Barrow (I wonder if he is just a Drew Barrymore fan):
My roomate’s half-sister makes $81 hourly on the computer. She has been laid off for 9 months but last month her payment was $20634 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site>>>> http:\goo.gl…
Like I said, what defines social spammers is their intent. And usually their intent is to get you hooked (often by making unrealistic promises) and sell you the stuff you don’t need. Social spammers often target people in distress, for instance, those out of job or feeling bad about themselves, as these people lose the ability to think straight when offered an immediate way out of their predicament.
A widespread type of social spam is the make-easy-money-online theme. What they don’t tell you, though, is that the only people making money this way are the guys at the top of the pyramid. Don’t believe me? Check out this video exposing a group of scammers who, in addition to ripping people off, also give the Internet marketing industry a bad name.
The worst part about social spammers is that they can waste a great deal of your time (in the best-case scenario), hijack your social account or even infect your computer with a virus (in the worst-case scenario).
That’s why it is important to be able to tell a spammer from a real-deal social network user, before he/she does you harm.
How to spot a social spammer
Here are some tell-tale signs to help you do that (these examples are mostly taken from my Twitter experience, but they also apply to Facebook and other networks):
- No image/default image
Fancy a contact who has an egg or a QR code for the avatar? Things happen. When Twitter was relatively new, I used to get followed by “people” named sun, sweet_sugar and others, with no image, no additional information, etc.
- A vague “About” section
When it is not clear what the person does for a living, where they work, what their website is, why they could be interested in me, I normally don’t follow or friend that person.
- Homogeneous posts
If, upon visiting the person’s Twitter account, all you see is links to the same site or just retweets of other people’s posts and not a single line of their own – most likely it’s a spammer.
- An instant DM in the box
As Twitter lets you send direct messages (DMs) only to people who follow you, many spammers waste no time and shoot you a buy-our-stuff DM as soon as you follow them back. When this happens, I unfollow the person right away.
- #FollowBack, #TeamFollowBack, #GroupFollow, etc.
If you see any of these hashtags in a person’s “About” section or tweet, they are interested in follow exchange, that is, in simply getting as many followers as possible without discernment. I stay away from such initiatives, as they’re nothing but a waste of time. An army of bot followers, anyone?
- No real sign of a spammer
There are spammers who are so sophisticated that you’d never think they are who they are. In fact, some spammers use their real photo (or download an image of a good-looking person from a stock photography site), and it takes a bit of experience to see through their motives. In this case, just use your gut feeling and remember that there are no shortcuts or magic bullets in life – don’t trust people who make unrealistic promises.
By the way, Twit Cleaner has a tool that lists Twitter accounts most unfollowed by the service’s users. It’s a really great tool and, if you log in with your Twitter account, you also get a report (click “Request a Report”) that will list potential spammers among the people you’re following on Twitter.
I would also note that, if an account matches only one of the criteria mentioned above, that doesn’t automatically make it spammy. For instance, one of the brightest minds of the SEO community, Bruce Clay, barely ever tweets and has a rather scarce personal Twitter profile (just not his thing, I gather).
So, automation/pen names don’t equal spamming
Summing it up, I’d like to say that, whether one uses social media marketing tools to manage their social accounts or adopts a pen name to post under, that alone doesn’t make the person a spammer. What does define the spammer, however, is their intent, which is usually to push unsolicited stuff by promising you the piles of gold you’ll never see eventually.