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Social Media’s Cardinal Sin… and I Made It

Ever heard of Robert Caruso @fondalo? No? Nor had I…until he told me off on Twitter.

What did I do wrong?Social Media’s Cardinal Sin

After all I have received direct messages (DM’s) on Twitter from people I’ve never met offering me a veritable feast of products, services, free ebooks and the chance to link up on Facebook. My DM was way better than theirs….I addressed each one individually, no automated, impersonal stuff from me!

But yet I still messed up according to Robert who took offense to my first DM.  He told me so in a flurry of some tersely worded tweets.

I could ignore Robert, after all no-one else had said anything about my DM approach and there had been quite a few downloads of the ebook I was giving away. By the way, this wasn’t some half-baked six page ebook, it was a substantial, 100-page co-authored piece of work on thought leadership.

So what on earth was Robert so upset about?

Social media is about earned relationships

What it boiled down to was that I had made the cardinal social media sin of trying to ‘sell’ before I had engaged in a relationship.

As Robert pointed out in a subsequent interview I did with him:

“You would never do that to someone you just met in real life, yet so many inappropriately do such pitching in social media. If you want to be effective in social media marketing you must first earn relationships. Once you have built relationships, then you have earned the right to pitch your stuff to them.  Just like in the real world…”

What Robert was saying is that I had spammed him. I hadn’t made any attempt to engage with him, all I wanted to do is ‘sell’ something to him – OK so it’s not exactly selling because it’s free but you get the drift.

Thought leadership is about engagement not selling – so too social media

Robert had effectively made me feel like a prize hypocrite.  Here I was consulting with my clients, writing blog posts and talking about how thought leadership is all about nurturing and engaging existing and new prospects.  My messaging was all about the fact that it is not about selling your product or service but here I was doing exactly the opposite on Twitter.

Always keen to take on board constructive criticism I decided to absorb what Robert said and I changed my approach.  Now this is my first DM to people who link with me at @thoughtstrategy

Liz, I hope you’re having a great day, tx for following. I would love you to fill in the blank: Thought leadership is_? Cheers Craig.

Then when people respond I ask them whether I can use it, with full attribution, of course, on my blog.  So we’ve had a bit of discussion and I’m using their definition on my blog.  Much better – thanks Robert.

Off the back of my exchange with Robert, I asked him if I could interview him for my thought leadership strategy blog.  What had started out as a negative turned into a positive.  I got to know Robert, I had an interesting interview piece for my blog and there was even a positive endorsement for the way I had handled it from Matthew Ulmer – see exchange below:

social media cardinal sin

social media cardinal sin

social media cardinal sin

social media cardinal sin

What can you take from this?

Social media is an interaction.  It’s not about pushing out your material to as many people as possible – instead it is about sharing it and engaging with your target audience on your point of view then nurturing this relationship further though a variety of online or face-to-face tactics.

If you are using social media platforms to facilitate the distribution of your content try avoid the mistake of not engaging and building relationships.

As Robert pointed out in our interview, most brands:

“…are leveraging millions of dollars already spent in branding and marketing. They ignore comments, don’t engage and build relationships. They use social as an additional push marketing platform, and they can.”

Is it the fear of loss of control?

Sadly I have to admit that my experience is very similar. I attribute it to fear.  What brands seem to fear most is losing control of the message and having people say negative things about them online.

But here’s the thing, the ones who are doing it well welcome engagement whether it is in the Twittersphere or face-to-face. They are the ones getting ahead.

What are some of the challenges you have faced online and how have you overcome them?

Guest author: Craig Badings is the co-founder of Leading Thought.  He is also a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications.  He is the co-author of the award-winning book:  #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.   Join him on Twitter @thoughtstrategy and on LinkedIn as well as @Leadthought




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  • Oh my gosh. I read the first couple sentences of this post and my heart dropped. Firstly, I thought this was written by Jeff, an amazing person I count as a friend. Secondly, Robert is a fellow author at Steamfeed and someone that I very nearly consider family.

    Immediately I went into peacemaker mode, thinking about how could bring these two guys together and make everybody play nicely as friends.

    Then, as I kept reading everything became clear. I should have known that two consummate professionals such as you and Robert would walk away from the situation as friends, each a little wiser.

    Great job on the article!

    • Thanks Kim for th comment.
      It’s all good here and Craig and Robert have made up. 🙂

      • I was incredibly impressed by the level of personal dignity Craig displayed.

        • I know Craig really well Kim and he is the consummate professional. He knows his PR.

          • Craig Badings

            Thanks guys. I had to swallow humble pie and I just hope this story helps other people not make the same mistake I made.

          • Did reacted perfectly. Admirably. You certainly have a new fan in me. 🙂

  • Great example of helping each other! Love it!

  • Peter Lightbody

    That was a really classy response to criticism, Craig. And thank you for sharing the story with us.

    • Craig Badings

      Thanks Peter, as you know it’s sometimes difficult to take criticism but if you can learn and grow from it all the better.

  • I met Robert on Twitter about a year ago, so this story doesn’t surprise me at all. Robert’s style is fairly aggressive, but he certainly made a good point. And kudos to Craig for listening instead of overreacting.

    On a side note, now I know how to get an interview out of Robert–spam him!

    • I thought the same thing!

    • Craig Badings

      Katherine quite frankly he’s the only one who bothered to engage about this. Maybe everyone else was OK with it or they have twitter fatigue. So thanks Robert.

      • I can’t speak for others, but I rarely notice DMs. For some reason, I hardly ever get email notifications about them, so I don’t know they exist. Maybe that has something to do with it.

  • We expect nothing less from you 😉

  • venkyiyer58

    I have not had to face any adverse social media situation as yet, and I am sure this post will help me continue the status quo.

  • vniven

    I met Robert (@fondalo) a few months ago, when he came out of the blue to help us promote our new company – for nothing in return. He’s the real deal – genuine, caring and passionate about helping others. I continue to learn a lot from him.

    That said, I have come to learn that promoting free stuff or even paid stuff via Twitter intro DMs is completely fine – IF the offer comes from a company account, not a personal one. After all, I expect a company to sell to me – that’s why it exists!

    On the other hand: if you have your mug and your name on the account, then please don’t sell or promote something to me in our first exchange. If I just met you, then by default your ‘personal brand’ doesn’t mean a damn thing to me! Promoting stuff (other than your personal blog) in a first meeting reeks of arrogance and hubris. I run away from people like this at any type of social gathering (which is what Twitter is).

    I think the “personal branding” trend is why so many continue to promote offers upon introduction. A ‘personal brand’ is anything but genuine when you try to build and monetize it like a company brand!

    My own Twitter policy is to offer, promote & sell stuff from our company accounts and to keep my personal accounts commercial-free. I might post about a new product release if I’m truly excited about it, but I won’t do that in intro DMs.

    Maintaining both types of accounts helps us interact with people and sell to them just like I do in the real world (to Robert’s point).

  • Sentences like this always make me chuckle “It’s not about pushing out your material to as many people as possible – instead it is about sharing it”. It’s exactly about pushing it out to as many people as possible in the hopes of getting interactions and community. All of us want our content seen by as many people as possible, correct?

  • Craig Badings

    Ruth that’s what I thought…initially. And you’re right you can’t please all the people all of the time. What I can tell you is that since the change the engagement level I’ve had on twitter has been remarkable.

    And no I’m not ‘selling’ anything. Remember, the ebook I was supposedly selling was in fact free. Now I give people an opportunity to share their definition of thought leadership on my blog. If by chance they happen to go and download the ebook fantastic. I’m way happier with the way this is working now. I’m engaging with some really interesting people via Twitter who have some interesting perspectives on thought leadership.

  • What a fantastic story. Can’t tell you how often it happens, that we think .. “sheesh, it’s not the mistake, it’s what you do next – to fix it and to learn from it – that matters more.”

    Always hated the auto-DM, pretty much for the same reason’s Craig’s personalized one sparked all this: it’s spam, it’s going for the marriage proposal when you’ve barely met for drinks yet, it’s almost always ‘like, link, download me’ self-promotional crap from virtual strangers. Oh how wrong so, so many people and brands especially, get this.

    Hat tips to both Robert for speaking up; and really, really to Craig for stepping up, owning up – and turning this negative into a positive. FWIW.

  • Creating a blog is a great way to promote your business or company in an organic and social manner. A blog allows you to create an online presence so that you can communicate with your subscribers, advertise to a wide audience, and develop a strong following. While you can gain a following on your own to an extent by word of mouth, this limits the potential of your blog.

  • Love this story! I know Robert from Twitter and he’s a great guy, heard so many say great things about him and his company. I’ve been feeling the same way with those automated DM’s. I delete them all now. I had done the same for a while in the beginning but realized it was not worth it or a way to be social. That’s what social media is all about, being social – not selling to people we don’t know or haven’t “met” even if in the virtual world yet 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing the story, Craig. You’re definitely not alone in sending auto DM’s to new followers. I typically read them, but rarely take action. Personally, I agree with building the relationship first, then selling once that is established.

    While that’s one social media moral in this story, I truly think the bigger one is your humble reaction. Your admission of a “not so best” practice and amicable resolution is more important, in my opinion.

    With so many social media gurus, ninjas and mavens, it’s not always easy to be called out for an action that not everyone agrees with.

    Your reaction to Robert reinforces that being human and sincere will – in fact – build relationships.

  • Sean Johnson

    Engaging with someone is the goal of anything I do anymore. There is so little personal interaction anymore with the advent of automated this-and-that. I believe one-on-one interaction will be the ultimate goal and analytic measure of a successful SMM campaign.