Daniel Burstein

Social Spam: Why you should clean out your LinkedIn and Facebook communities

December 16th, 2011

The landing tab for the MarketingSherpa group on LinkedIn is called “Discussions.” Except, it was pretty much false advertising because there wasn’t a lot of discussion happening. It was mostly social spam … blatant self-promotion.

And this self-promotion went far beyond pushing products or special offers, it was promotion of blog posts, webinars, articles, etc … not quite as bad as promotional offers or the SEO phishing we get from comments here on the MarketingSherpa blog.

But still, it prevented conversation. So, Bethany Caudell, Customer Service, MECLABS, and I sat down to discuss the right approach forward. Beth manages the MarketingSherpa LinkedIn group, along with the MarketingExperiments Optimization group on LinkedIn.


Social media shades of gray

When it comes to managing social media communities, there are always shades of gray as to what, exactly, is appropriate. Then, once you set ground rules, the social media platform changes on you (ah, innovation).

For example, the challenge I’m talking about here only arose because LinkedIn did away with the “News” tab in its groups, leaving members with no dedicated place to post links they thought were newsworthy. So on the one hand, I did feel for them.

On the other hand, again, all of this “news” was killing the true point of the tab – discussions.

So at the end of the day we bit the bullet, sent out a warning letter about the new change, and Beth whipped out her virtual machete and started cleaning the groups of all that social spam. I expected some negative kickback, but I was extremely surprised when the feedback was overwhelming positive (in case you have to clean house yourself one day, you can see copy for the letter I sent using that link as well).

So the question arises … how do you combat social spam? How far should marketers go as policemen and women for their LinkedIn Groups, Facebook fan pages, and the like? These social media pages, originally meant for discussion, can be easily filled with junk thanks to a self-promoting audience … or simply inappropriate content.

Below you’ll find a very basic six-step process to help with your own efforts.


1. Take responsibility

If you, or your company, are the ones that set this group up to begin with, then you owe it to all the people who have registered and interact in this community to keep it high quality. This is now, essentially, one of your company’s properties. Just as you wouldn’t let a brawl or blatant solicitation in your brick-and-mortar store, don’t allow it in your LinkedIn Group either.

“You have to take responsibility for the social spheres you created. I am never sure whether to laugh or to cry when I receive e-books like ‘How to deal with social media in only 10 minutes a day.’  Let’s say that is a joke and let’s laugh,” said Ursula Ron, Marketing Manager, Kampyle, a provider of feedback solutions.

“For realms created by you, you have to take responsibility that it is a place that benefits the members. If you are not ready to play role of an administrator, you better rethink your involvement.”


2. Ask why?

You need to determine the point behind your social media group, page or community. Why are you launching, or (if you’re inheriting the group) why did your company launch this community to begin with?

Sure, there is likely a social media marketing/brand-building aspect of it for your company … or even a straight up promotional goal.

But what you’re really trying to get to the bottom of is … what’s in it for your audience? What is the value proposition for them to “Like” or join this community and spend some of their extremely valuable time interacting in it?

This will greatly affect writing the ground rules …


3. Post the rules

Loitering allowed, but no solicitation. No pepper. No shirt, no shoes, no problem, dude. Again, if you had a café, stadium, surf shop or other physical location, you would have no problem publicly posting a few key ground rules.

This virtual space should be no different. You need a set of ground rules. Not only does this give you the justification for policing miscreants, it also helps everyone understand exactly what those rules are – what is and isn’t allowed.

“It is often easier to establish the rules upfront than to employ a take-down strategy for errant messages and spammy self-promotion,” said Vanessa DiMauro, CEO, Leader Networks.

However, you must craft your own. There is not one simple, all-purpose set of rules floating around on the Internet for you to copy, they will vary based on your objective (which is the reason for step #2). “A LinkedIn group for idea generation will have different terms and conditions than, say, one dedicated to promoting a new product,” Vanessa said.

In the example I used above about our own LinkedIn groups, some of the behavior might have been considered perfectly fine in other groups. We drew an, admittedly, very strict line. And we posted it publicly in the group rules on our LinkedIn group pages. As an example, here are the MarketingSherpa group’s rules:

GROUP GUIDELINES: How to benefit from this group (and win new LinkedIn friends) in five easy steps

1.  As a good marketer, you probably have something to promote – from a product to a blog post to a webinar. We wish you success in all your endeavors, and would like that successful self-promotion to take place under the “Promotions” tab. Save the “Discussions” tab for discussions.

2. This is an open forum to share ideas and ask questions related to the many aspects of Internet marketing, but only Internet marketing. If you have a great deal on Viagra, find another group. Please keep all posts or discussion topics focused on Internet marketing.

3. If you’re hiring … congratulations! Our community is overflowing with talented marketers. But please only post jobs under the Jobs tab. And by “job,” we mean “hiring someone to work for pay.” So, please, no business opportunities or chances to make $8,000/week the easy way … even if it was on NBC, CNN and FOX. Online marketing is hard work. We respect that. Please do so as well.

4. Because we will not move discussions from the main group to the Subgroup or Jobs Board, inappropriate posts will be deleted. If you post off topic twice, you will be removed from the group and we will put your logo on our office dartboard.

5. What are you waiting for? This is an open forum. Begin sharing your questions and ideas about marketing channels and campaigns, landing pages, conversion, email marketing, analytics, lead generation, social media and ecommerce.

Thank you.


Click to enlarge


4. Craft rules of engagement

I’ve talked about the external rules, but you need internal rules as well. You need a dedicated resource or resources for each group and clear rules about what is and isn’t allowed (again, even if you make the rules very clear, at some point it just takes a judgment call, so choose someone you can really trust).

You can hire someone who’s role is specifically community manager, or you can assign the responsibility to someone who has the time and skills to stay updated on the conversations happening on your page.

As I mentioned above, at MECLABS, one Bethany Caudell from customer service is in charge of monitoring social spam on our LinkedIn Groups (she also keeps an eye out for questions that need an answer by someone in our organization).

It’s not always a black-and-white decision as to what is social spam, so she’s always free to forward anything in the gray area to myself or someone else in the organization for a second opinion.

If she finds an offender, she will delete the comment and send that person a note reminding them of the rules. If they are a repeat offender, they are banned from the group.

As a community administrator herself in the early days of Web 2.0, Ursula assures us that these challenges are not new … but also that human communication is key …

“What I really took out of this experiment is that yes, there are the ‘bad guys’ out there, but the majority of contributors are entering with good intentions. They sometimes are misled by the application. (Yes, they never are as self-explaining as the developers think.) And it takes personal contact to the most active ones to lead the dynamics.”

For an example of what internal rules of engagement might look like, let’s switch to Facebook. Here is the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa Facebook Page Guidelines (PDF). I thought this might be helpful to you as your craft your own guidelines, and it covers a lot of territory.

But specifically relating to this blog post, pay attention to #13 (note my emphasis)…

  1. Never delete any comments or third-party posts, even if negative (someone raising a complaint) unless they are offensive or include inappropriate language.

While we would never delete legitimate negative comments (hey, we’re not perfect, and when our audience points it out, it helps us optimize our own organization), we do still have to draw a line somewhere, out of respect for the majority of our audience.


5. Repeat … forever

Social media, unlike an ad or marketing campaign, just … never … ends. You have to make sure you are dedicated enough to have that resource monitor your page until the sun expands and swallows up the Earth.

This isn’t just a one quarter initiative, this is akin to customer service … you always have to pick up that phone when it rings. Stop performing this task just for a few days or weeks, and you start putting your brand at risk.

6. Don’t be a spammer yourself

This is perhaps the hardest one to live up to – following one’s own guidelines. After all, as a marketer, there is likely so much you yourself want to promote through your groups.

So don’t be a hypocrite. Take Vanessa’s 10 social media promises pledge. Especially #4 …

“I promise to create thought leadership content that lives up to its name, and not simply babble on about nothing. No one likes or respects social spam!”


Related Resources:

Social Media Marketing: Brand-powered social site is 4th-largest traffic source for nonprofit

5 Tips for Managers of LinkedIn Groups: It takes more than tools

Cyber Monday, Social Media, & the Power of Words

Inbound Marketing Newsletter – Social media, SEO, and content marketing how-to and case study articles



Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Social Networking Evangelism Community Tags: , , , , , ,

  1. Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe
    December 16th, 2011 at 12:56 | #1

    Good job Daniel and Beth! Yes, social media is about freedom of speech (or writing…), but sitting quietly and watching all the spam’y self-promotion show up instead of useful, engaging discussions does not provide any value to any of the group’s members. Housecleaning, backed up with clear and accessible rules is the way to go!

  2. December 19th, 2011 at 13:10 | #2

    I follow pretty strict rules on LinkedIn: 1) Never connect with people I do not know or with whom I may not have a business relationship. 2) If I see a group post as blatant self promotion I immediately report it as such. 3) Any engagements are seen as a possible solution to a need the recipient has expressed.

  3. December 19th, 2011 at 14:13 | #3

    Where do you draw the line though? Does anything with a link in it cease to become a discussion starter? After all, LinkedIn do provide you with a link area in the discussions section so they clearly think adding a link is fair game.

    Of course if people are just saying “I have written this, visit the link to read it etc.” then that’s not so good, but for me if people summarise the content they’re linking to and ask for thoughts from that base that’s fine with me. That approach allows people that want to read in more detail to click the link and do so, whilst those that just want to go straight into the discussion can do so also. There’s no problem with such an approach surely?

  4. December 19th, 2011 at 16:41 | #4

    Setting and managing expectations upfront is a critical part of online community management. Good community managers steer communication in a functional direction without flexing all their muscles. Being proactive, creating guidelines and transparent are extremely important aspects of online communication.

  5. December 21st, 2011 at 09:06 | #5

    Hi Adi,

    There isn’t truly a line. There never will be. But to narrow the gray area a little, we decided that the goal of the LinkedIn post should be to start a discussion ON the LinkedIn page. So a post can certainly have a link, but the discussion should take place in the group rather than in the comments of, say, a blog post.

    Here’s an example of a LinkedIn discussion post I did with a link that I think illustrates this well:


  6. January 20th, 2012 at 22:25 | #6

    Hi Daniel,
    I’m doing online selling right now, specially trough facebook using fan pages, it’s already has 55K+ Fans right now. The problem is, is it possible to make social media like facebook run on autopilot, is there any system or tools or application can handle that? Thanks for your help.

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