Yeah right.
Creative Commons License photo credit: jadakatt

I have a new online community. I am going to go to other, similar online communities and tell them about my community and they will join! I’ll post threads about it or, if I want to be really sneaky, I’ll send private messages to the members there, telling them about it. The community manager will never know!

So said far too many people. It’s a tactic of the inexperienced, the naive, the lazy and/or the unethical. People justify it in ridiculous ways. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to get permission! No, it’s not. It’s embarrassing and it fails to pass a basic test of humanity: treat people as you want to be treated.

If you don’t care about those reasons, you don’t care about your own credibility or self-respect, let me give you one more and this one you ought to really care about. It’s a waste of time. Efforts like these tend to fall on deaf ears. Here’s why.

You Aren’t That Clever

When you spam people via private message, yes, it is technically private in that it is likely only going to be seen by you and the person you sent it to. But, inevitably, a member will report it to me and then what happens? Well…

  1. I delete all of the private messages that you sent, likely before most of them were even viewed by the intended recipients.
  2. I ban you.
  3. I blocked your website from ever being mentioned on my community again – by anyone, in any context.
  4. Optional: often, community managers talk about things like this and share notes. So your reputation takes a hit not just on my community, but in others.

You may wonder, why will members report this to me? I’m glad that you asked.

Members Are Loyal

When you are an active member of an online community – the type of member you likely hope to recruit to yours – you often are loyal to that community. You enjoy it. You know other communities exist, you know you could spend your time elsewhere, but you spend your time here by choice. You like the community, the people in it, maybe even the community manager.

If that is your position, you don’t take kindly to someone coming in and telling you to go somewhere else. You don’t want to leave, you like it here. Not only do you not want to go to their community, but you don’t like the person who sent it. Why is that?

They Don’t Like Spammers

Online community members might more familiar with spam than anyone else. They know it when they see it and they don’t like it. So why would they be receptive to your spam? It’s just another message for them to ignore, report or publicly criticize.

End to end, this type of tactic is a no win situation. I think people often decide to simply not care about the reputation and ethical side of this and just do it because they think it’ll get them traffic. But even that aspiration is rarely realized, because the current members of the community you are spamming just don’t want to hear it.