PR practitioners, here's a very simple lesson: do not send press releases or mass mailed pitches to journalists you happen to be friends with on social networks. It's very poor form, an intrusion, and lazy.
I had to blog this one, especially after Jeremy Epstein's great post last week, "Dont Confuse Access with Permission." He noted his own reason for "defriendification" on Facebook, and I've got one to contribute too.
A CEO of a company befriended me on Facebook, and while I can't say I really knew him, I have him the benefit of the doubt. His company does seem genuinely interesting, and perhaps he'd be a good connection. Usually this kind of thinking results in some head-scratching moment as to why I befriended them in the first place (always due to the other's invite). This case proved no different.
On a Saturday afternoon, I received this message from him – note all details are blocked out, but you can get the gist:
Company Name has launched a new product with a host of unique features. We offer X,000 whatever, blah blah description of what it does with lots of buzzwords like "truly platform-independent". This went on for a few lines.
We've focused on he keeps going… now it's another five lines.
When you buy a product from us, you almost always get the following: about ten lines of blather now… really, does it ever end?…….. The scarce value we provide is our service, which lets our customers do whatever he says they do when, where and how they want.
If you'd like to try Product Name, you can use the coupon code "CANTBELIEVEYOURESTILLREADINGTHISFAR" (without quotes) to get a free whatever, and it goes on a few more lines. After you register, you'll be prompted to redeem your coupon. If you see something else that you'd like, let me know and I'll send a different coupon. We do this other stuff too that I somehow neglected to tell you about in the previous 30 lines of text that you didn't read.
I hope that you'll mention Product Name somewhere [not mentioning any publication I write for – not even a simple 'find and replace' courtesy]. Please feel free to contact me any time. Thanks in advance for your consideration.
Then there's the embedded link and description to his site that Facebook brings up.
I double-checked my contacts in Outlook to make sure I didn't really know him. Then I defriended him. I couldn't help write him back: "Sorry Name, I'm really not looking to get press releases here. David"
He then wrote me: "You're entitled to call it what you want. I call it a letter. Sorry for the intrusion."
I responded: "Okay, a barely personalized pitch, not a press release – hardly a letter I'd expect to get from a friend here."
What's your take? Am I too harsh? Not harsh enough? Is this a lost cause?
Update: He wrote me back after I wrote this post with a very kind, personal, apolgetic message, even if he thought I was overreacting (a perspective I'm still willing to entertain). I won't repost his whole message here, but I responded to him with this:
Thanks for the note, [Name]. If you sent me a personal note to begin with, we wouldn't have had this miscommunication. Instead, I got a random form letter out of the blue and [Name of major publication that just gave him a glowing mention] can give it all the great press in the world, but I still won't think it matters.
If Facebook does become just another way for me to get impersonal pitches from people who I can't recall how we're connected, I may well wind up somewhere else. I think my response is something anyone can expect more and more when sending unsolicited commercial email here, which of course is spam. For unprompted pitches like that, how will someone even know if it's relevant?
Harsh as it may be, I'd do it again in heartbeat, though most of the time I won't bother writing back. I was surprised here, and again, I hope this won't be commonplace.
Not mentioning you or your company by name, I will be including this as an example in an upcoming blog post. Check out Jeremy Epstein's blog – http://jer979.com/igniting-the-revolution/access/ . He summed up my thoughts pretty well here, as did Chris Brogan before him.
Yes, after his personal message, it did take the edge off. I even toned down a bit of the snark (just a bit) in my annotated version of his original pitch.
Yet I'm glad I started this post before he sent it. I hope it's a worthwhile lesson others will appreciate. And I hope this doesn't become what Facebook's all about. LinkedIn, to its credit, has managed to stay largely relevant to me – with hundreds and hundreds of contacts (all people I really know) and frequent messages to me out of the blue, I can count on, tops, two hands all the people I've de-linked or blocked.
As for my hint of a threat about leaving Facebook, I don't know how bad it would have to get for me to extricate myself from the network, but if this does get more common, I am at the very least overhauling my privacy standards and my personal definition for what a friend is.