Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Interesting storm in an internet marketing teacup

kung fu grippe - The Loopt SMS Mess

I mean, it's another one of those 'web service behaves like a jerk, all of the right thinking folk on the internet get in a tizz and write blogposts ticking them off' kind of things. See also plaxo, back in the mists of time, and the more recent flickr/myxer brouhaha. It reminded me, however, of a little fauxpas I encountered on Facebook recently.

A friend of mine does various bits of ad-hoc PA work for individuals around the place; she's a virtual PA, and very good at what she does.

One of her clients is obviously setting up a new small business, and is offering free events to drum up business. All good so far, and perfectly sound marketing practice.

So, my friend let a group of us know, via facebook, that there was an opportunity to attend a free event. It wasn't my thing, so I didn't respond. Fair enough - this was contact between two friends.

The point it became problematic for me was the third group message that came in to my email, via facebook. Now, I obviously have an opt in relationship with Facebook, so the email is to be expected. And I have a friendly relationship with the person initiating the messages on facebook, which wouldn't be conventionally governed by direct marketing guidelines.

What happens, in short, when my friend starts using a personal distribution list, through a third-party service, to promote a commercial venture belonging to a client she is contracted to?

There are a few problems caused by this scenario. Firstly, it places strain on my friendship with the individual; it's only a minor social faux pas, of course, we've all made them, but nonetheless there is some social harm done there. Secondly, whilst the first message has a positive effect on the brand being (sincerely, I should add) promoted, the third message does enough damage to send the brand in to a kind of negative marketing equity. There's the damage this situation does to Facebook, too; it becomes 'that place that's full of poorly targeted but well meaning marketing messages sent out by people who don't know any better'. And finally, there are potential legal implications around Facebook's Terms and Conditions, Direct Marketing rules, and data protection issues. Yes, I can opt in to recieving info and messages from my friends, but what happens when those friends become amateur direct marketers?

Social marketing is about to enter a messy, painful adolesence.