Stalker by Shane Clester

6 February 2012

Stalking is the New Marketing? The Sad Rise of Asocial Media

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Who Prefers Talking Over Stalking; illustration by Shane Clester…

If this is the social media revolution, wake me when it’s over.

Social media was supposed to forge stronger relationships between companies and customers. It was also supposed to provide a massive improvement over traditional advertising, since social media doesn’t “interrupt” people when they’re trying to enjoy their favorite reality shows.

In this revolution, customers aren’t pestered by marketers; rather, they give “permission” to marketers by visiting their websites, signing up for their newsletters, or following their social media accounts. It’s an idyllic marketplace where companies and customers all like each other.

Too bad it doesn’t exist.

In Twitterland, amidst the chirping blue birdies and plummeting whales, a new creature has emerged from the undergrowth: the Twitter Stalker (a Twalker?). He won’t interrupt your valuable stream of tweets about where you had breakfast, the deaths of celebrities who haven’t really died, or retweets of articles talking about other people’s thoughts about Twitter.

No, interrupting all that would be sacrilegious.

Rather, the Twitter Stalker just follows you. He doesn’t attempt to send you a message or even comment on your tweets. He just saw that you tweeted something about, say, SEO, and since he works in SEO but isn’t very good at it, he decided the best way to sell you his services would be to simply follow you…


In hopes that you’re one of those tweeters who mindlessly follows everyone back, so that you might see his tweets about algorithm tweaks. And then, maybe, you know, hire him.

It didn’t have to be this way…

Had he done any research, he might have learned that you have no interest whatsoever in search engine optimization — indeed, you don’t even have a website — and that you meant to type “SFO” at the airport, but the damn auto-correct changed it.

But he’s a Twitter Stalker. He don’t do no stinkin’ research. ‘Cause everyone told him “Twitter is revolutionary” and “all you have to do is start an account and start following people.” He was told not to try to sell anything — that would violate Twitterquette — but to just build relationships.

But they never explained to mediocre SEO guy how to start and maintain relationships with thousands of people at the same time. Indeed, he turned to the Internet in the first place because building relationships in real life wasn’t his thing, either.

So he just follows. And follows. And waits. And if you don’t follow him back, he might unfollow you… wait a few weeks… then follow you again, so that you might respond to the second notice that you’re being followed. And somewhere in the background, you hear The Police singing, “Every breath you take…”

You may think I’m exaggerating, but some guy from something called Social Media Marketing Magazine kept doing this to me again and again and again. Given this demonstration of his social media prowess, I ignored him. But he kept trying and trying and trying. A regular Energizer Bunny of Twitter stalking.

But he’s not the only one. I also have all these tango schools and instructors and nightclubs following me, failing to note that Atomic Tango is a marketing site, not an explosive new dance program. They all follow. They never say a word. I do like the image of being stalked by tango dancers, though.

And the stalking isn’t limited to Twitter.

LinkedIn seethes with stalkers who barely have anything on their profiles, and who invite you to their networks by claiming that you’re a “friend.” I’ve messaged a few of them with, “Sorry, my memory cells are toasted. Where did we meet?” but they never respond. Some are obviously spammers. Others are apparently startled that their stalking generated an actual human conversation. “Wait, you mean we’re supposed to talk to people in our networks? I thought we just connected with them, and they would offer us jobs and money…”

To all these people, I just want to say, knock it off. If you want to sell me something, fine, just go ahead and interrupt me already. Look up my contact info and drop me an email or a letter with a thoughtful offer based on my interests. I have actually responded to some of those.

And just run some freakin’ ads already.

Particularly clever and creative ones. I’ve responded to more than a few of those, too. Really.

In fact, lots of people do. For all the claims of social media’s superiority as a marketing tool, there’s far more proof that traditional advertising drives online conversations and sales, and that social media rarely sells anything but more social media. (Hint: “friends,” “fans,” “followers” and other f-words do not necessarily translate into sales.)

What I don’t respond to: silent lurking in the background of my social networks. When it comes to marketers like that, I don’t want a relationship — I want a restraining order.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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