Why spam (fortunately) doesn’t work on social media

For online professionals, definitions of spam can range from deviously loose to incredibly tight and specific. 

Some, particularly those in social media and new media, take a direct and anti-spam approach, branding almost every online commercial interaction and marketing campaign as ‘spam.’ 

Others, particularly marketers themselves, feel that spam is limited to unwanted email, direct marketing messages, and social media solicitations. 

Who is right? Neither. Spam is as subjective as anything can be, and every single person out there has different priorities for marketing and being marketed to. 

However, for this post, spam will be referred to as unsolicited and unwanted marketing that comes from a person, not a banner advertisement or pop-up. Defining spam as anything marketing is not accurate, as many marketers operate through email and social media with the full consent and support of their audience.

Why do social media reject spam so clearly? It starts with the nature of the service. Television ads are interruption marketing: your attention is directed to them, and whatever you were watching in the meantime is suspended. 

There is essentially no way to skip them and go back to your show, they are there, and they are there to stay. Online, this is the most annoying advertising possible for social media, but on TV, it is no big deal.

The reason that they are accepted is that TV is not dynamic. When you are watching TV, you are not conversing, at least not with the content that you are directly paying attention to. Sure, you could be chatting with a friend at the same time, but your focus is directed towards the TV. On a social media platform, the conversation is the entertainment. When that conversation is interrupted, there is nothing else to turn to.

Why are Facebook’s advertising click-through rates so low? Because interruption marketing fails when the platform that it operates on is just a dynamic conversation. Online advertising works, but it is much less effective when pushed on social media traffic. Just like banner advertisements and pop-ups, spam messages are simply pushed away when the focus of attention is elsewhere.

The flip side to this, of course, is that spam works elsewhere. As much as we may like to think that humans, as a species, are immune to spam advertising, the reality is not so. For every email that you avoid, others might click through and buy. However, why don’t they do so in social media spam?

Again, it is down to the platform. Email is an invitation to look for things that interest you. Whenever messages appear in your inbox, they command your direct attention, much like a social media conversation might. When you give direct attention to spam, you allow it to sell, and that allows it to convert.

Social media are not immune to spam itself, but they are certainly ineffective for spammers. 

As with many factors of social media marketing, the results come down to the platform’s nature. Social media marketing is about building relationships, and marketers that go out of their way to connect with customers will be rewarded with sales. 

Spammers, however, better stick to email. No, let me take that back, email marketing is too dear to me: spammers better stop spamming.

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