spam

LinkedIn is not where we go to share family pics, Vine videos, or snopes-worthy rumors (unless someone has a Vine of Marissa Mayer replacing the whole Yahoo! senior executive team with members of her family, and definitive proof that nothing was doctored in post). LinkedIn is a business network, where we go to further our professional aspirations and relations. With this in mind, our actions on LinkedIn will inescapably reflect directly upon our brand proposition, both professional and personal.

So what’s with all the sales spam I keep getting from so many LinkedIn members? Do the senders not realize the damage they are doing to their brand value, not to mention that time they are wasting at my end?

I am not a fan of unsolicited emails from previously unknown parties. I admit to sending out one email missive at the end of each year to all my clients and business contacts, wishing them the best of the season, and good fortune in the year to come, and that’s about as far as I am prepared to go down the twisted path of Spamdom. My reasoning is not founded in knowledge borne of complex market studies, but rather the result of the icky feeling I get whenever I receive spam, and my own desire never to have my own brand associated with such negative feeling.

An unfortunately unsurprising number of LinkedIn accounts are fake accounts, created to front spam sales services that suffocate bona fide business members’ inboxes with a glut of irritating sales pitches, repeated ad nauseam by a rotating gallery of stock photo “bot babes”. The fact that these accounts almost always pretend to be attractive 20-something women is already insulting enough to the many enormously talented women on LinkedIn. I sincerely hope someone more qualified than I takes the time to examine and comment on why certain elements of our society still believe that predominantly young, seemingly vacuous, albeit attractive, women are the perfect sales tool. For my part, I’d like to restrict myself (for now) to the simple request that LinkedIn administrators take more proactive measures to pre-qualify the “real person” credentials of new registering members.

Fake accounts represent, however, only one side of the counterfeit currency that is Spam InMails. There remain a robust number of InMails that are sent by living breathing account reps who should know better.

I receive about 20 seemingly Spam InMails per day. Communications from existing contacts are addressed first, followed by correspondence from recognized or respected indirect contacts (2nd or 3rd degree contacts via individuals who I consider valid pre-qualifiers by dint of their own selective personality. I have a few contacts who accept LinkedIn connection requests from any and all accounts, in their ongoing quest to hit the mythical jackpot of “most LinkedIn contacts ever”. Their contacts and others with whom I’m not previously acquainted fall into the “potential spammer” bucket.) Any InMail that begins with “I represent…” invariably ends up trashed without further thought, which leaves about 4 -6 daily InMails that may or may not have value to me. These I have to read, evaluate, and act upon – which means that as much as 10 minutes of my workday is spent managing LinkedIn Spam. That may not seem like much, but that represents more than an hour per week of repetitive clutter. I dutifully mark Spam InMails as spam, in the hope that LinkedIn staff are processing this feedback conscientiously. However, the health of communications within the LinkedIn community depends most on its members’ willingness to agree upon the nature of the community itself. If the majority of us see it as a virtual flea market where we can hawk our wares aggressively to as many members as possible, the value of this community will decline precipitously. We are all eager to make beneficial connections that will provide lasting professional value. I’ve yet to meet a LinkedIn member who joined in the hope that they would be sold “web development, expertise in Obj C (iPhone Apps), HTML/CSS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, NodeJS, and Database development, all at affordable prices!”. Every individual or brand that thinks such solicitations are providing valuable ROI to their brand is doing themselves and our community a disservice.

I am eager to learn from and share knowledge with other professionals, and I have benefited greatly from LinkedIn in the past. The benefits are becoming obfuscated by the burdens, and there may come a point where the mathematical equation tips irreversibly from benefit to cost.

As more and more sales spam inundates our inboxes, the responsible parties will be stocking the flames of a Pyrrhic victory. I and other members of the LinkedIn community will likely discontinue our memberships, and seek other platforms and channels on which to conduct our professional business. LinkedIn will have lost revenue, and unsubscribing members will have lost a previously valuable business ecosystem. More importantly, the spammers will have lost their targets. Nobody will have won.

Dear Spammers: If you are trying to secure new customers on LinkedIn, do so by demonstrating your value through knowledge sharing, not unsolicited sales pitches. Write a post about the relative merits of various database development toolsets; join a group and share your insights on the challenges faced by mobile application developers; give a little of your time and expertise. The returns may not be as immediate as the few bucks you might secure from the one in 10,000,000 who is willing to respond to your spam InMail, but they will be far longer lasting and exponentially lucrative.

LinkedIn is a community garden, and the output will be directly correlative to the seeds we sow, and how we care for the ground upon which we work.

Voltaire’s famous phrase “il faut cultiver notre jardin” does not translate into a justification for selfish greed, but rather recommends a life of horticultural quietism. I personally don’t subscribe to the “calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them”, but we would do well to focus less on exploiting situations to our personal advantage, consequences be damned. There exists a middle ground, where we may actively influence our collective good fortunes, and I still believe platforms such as LinkedIn offer such an opportunity. It falls to the combined efforts of LinkedIn feature developers, designers, and members to protect and enrich that opportunity. Failing that, the selfish opportunists will destroy both their own and this platform’s value.