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January 18, 2004

Spam and Grassroots

A note to all you would-be entrepreneurs out there: "grassroots marketing" does not equate to spam.

I'm going to avoid specifics in those post because I don't want to inadvertently direct any traffic to the very abuser I'm discussing.

At the end of last semester, a business student at ASU came up with an idea: an alternate service for acquiring text books, one where students would swap with each other (for a fee, of course). His father funded the programming and rollout of said service, and said business student and his minions began canvassing the campus with fliers advertising the site. No harm there -- bulletin boards are provided for exactly this use.

Advertising across the campus you hope to serve with cheap photocopies? Getting people to drum up the name? That's grassroots marketing.

Mass e-mailing ASU students to advertise the service? That's not. That's spamming, and that pisses people off -- myself included.

It also fails miserably at the same thing most spam does: everything. Bad grammar, bad spelling, misuse of "its" and "it's," grotesque run-on sentences... But even better than most spam, it asks the recipients to add to the deluge by spamming more people themselves!

This message is some sort of evil mutant hybrid of spam and chain letters.

I found it so annoying that I took immediate action. As soon as I heard my new mail sound and saw what it was, off it went via a forward to ASU's abuse team. The ball's in their court now, and if past experience is any indication, they will indeed deal with it appropriately.

If you're trying to start a new business and make it successful, don't spam people. You need to stand out from the competition, not sink down to the level of "make penis now!!!!11" and "b1g +1+5 4U!!!!!" Google ads are cheap. Google AdWords are cheaper. Print ads are reasonable.

Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.

But you see, the tricky thing about word of mouth is that it can work in one of two ways: for you, or against you. After spamming a huge chunk of their potential customer base, there are going to be a number of potential customers who will take word of mouth in the direction opposite what the spammers had hoped. Don't be a bonehead like this company.

Posted by Colin at January 18, 2004 9:17 PM

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