Social media is NOT network marketing

I had an unusual business experience the other day. I am not going to trash the company involved, nor the person involved, however I had a meeting about a business opportunity based, apparently, on my significant social media experience and metaverse evangelism.

It turned out that this was not a consulting job, nor even some free advice, and certainly not startup sweat equity.

Instead it turned out to be a “network marketing” opportunity. I sat through the presentation, knowing from the first opening gambit where this was going, and used the experience to observe the selling technique, and to be a little more observant on the mix of actual facts and science blended with emotional pointers to personal greed and aspirational statements.
Walking away from pyramid
At the end I pointed out it looked and sounded like a pyramid scheme ( which I was assured it was not as that’s illegal). Of course the answers are there for anyone challenging such a business, at it may have indeed been the best opportunity that I have never taken, but calling it network marketing still feels like a pyramid scheme. The definition of that made me challenge my perception of what we all do across social media. Obviously some people use these channels for network marketing. However where does snake oil, spamming crossover with good moral codes?

It became clear to me that when I am interested in something I will promote it, I will share it and I will help people understand why. However, and this is important to me personally, I do not do that to try and extract cash from my network. I view my network as a varied mix of people who are influenced and influence in equal measures. It is a support mechanism to lead to other business and other interesting avenues of investigation. That mutual support could be said to be what they do in an MLM but they really aren’t that are they?

In thinking that though there is clearly some difference, but also at a certain level of abstraction its the same as any Multi level marketing? I share things, get them passed on, and hope that they come back in a good way. In virtual worlds that was passing on the lessons and opportunities in Second Life initially and then on other platforms. It helped in some small part, make SL’s enterprise demand arise. That experience of growing that type of interest and business through social media and through being in all this together is what comes back to me as the sort of consulting, development and public speaking that I now do to generate further reputation and also money to pay the mortgage as a startup.

The Network Marketing approach seems geared to help others become passionate enough about the product that they persuade others in.

I am, though, still convinced that my personal intent and business ethics have less direct greed, or less apparent preying on others. That may be a naive attitude to some of the more hard nosed business people out there but I think that doing things for the right reason, not solely for the cash, not solely out of pride should be an aim in life, if at all possible. That starts to be a huge moral issue, when is it all right to make enough money that you can than be philanthropic?

For me though, I know that right at the moment I cant see me wanting to partake of any of this network markering gigs, no matter how good I may end up being about it. If was was great at it and lucked out I would be doing so at the expense of others. If I was not then I would just have been suckered in.

7 thoughts on “Social media is NOT network marketing

  1. Ian,

    I can’t agree more. I’d also add that there are a growing number of “personalities” on the web and immersed in virtual world environments that do not understand the professional ethics regarding self promotion while speaking on subject matter at the invitation of a peer or company. It’s terribly tacky and unprofessional and attendees don’t appreciate that type of social marketing/networking.

  2. ePred —

    I agree with your general concerns here, which are part etiquette and part more serious ethics. But a key thing is that I don’t thin you need to worry about being involved with an MLM scheme, or, God forbid, a pyramid scam. While you are basically talking about the spread of messages and memes, those other two things involve money. The pyramid scam (Bernie Madoff) is based on outrageous returns promised to all, paid to a few from the input of late comers. MLM, that I’ve seen is about expanding an active sales force, with commissions paid upstream to more senior members, with each member encouraged to build their own substructure of agents under them — for more commissions.

    I think you’re more on the subject of tweets of exuberance vs. tweets of aggrandizement. Wonder which this comment is? … hmm …

  3. Thanks Kim, yes professional ethics thats the key. If things are not really in context or are just full on blatant product selling when the audience is expecting something else, entertainment, information etc then it can go wrong.
    Doug, I wish I had thrown Madoff into the the discussion too. I suspect the MLM people have answers for that too, as to why they are not like Madoff. Of course in all this the “too good to be true” test has to apply. I have noticed that genuine pitches on things do not persuade you that x, y or z will solve all the problems, but instead have an honesty about the gaps and the trade offs you make. Love the aggrandizementword 🙂

  4. I really like this line, Ian: “I view my network as a varied mix of people who are influenced and influence in equal measures.” That’s a great way to describe the power — and responsibility — of professional social networking. Nice job.

  5. i could cite a great example of this sort of “promotional networking” going on now, in forums that everyone here is likely a part of. I see if distilled down because i use Google alerts, and get a couple dozen emails daily with the latest headlines from blogs, etc. its a fantastic way for me to cover alot of ground on a proactive basis. what it also highlights are the people who is my view are “spamming” the forums with lots of sensational headlines, over, and over, and over. I’ve even softly communicated(privately) a couple of time to let the “spammer” know that possible their enthusiasm for pumping the product might be best used in another manner. didn’t work.
    As for Networks:
    I maintain a few diff social media accounts, and tend to keep them somewhat isolated from each other. IMHO, for example, my LinkedIn network is more valuable because I don’t accept alot of requests. the guy who sold me my last car wanted to join me on LinkedIn. maybe I am short sited, but I thought that would dilute more than enhance my networks value.
    RE Blogging:
    I blog about things that I think present new/fresh opinions or perspectives.
    Forums:
    My comments on forums tend to be direct, counterpoint, and/or INMHO thought provoking. if I have nothing new or different to say, I don’t say anything.

    and it would be great if each of you could pass along this comment to 5 of your friends, and ask them to do the same. the return on your time will be 500% if everyone keeps the chain going. oh yeah, its also bad luck to break the chain

  6. I agree. The distinction between participating in social networks and developing them for exploitation is critical — and it would be the same distinction if we weren’t using social platforms to manage these connections and communications. As you imply, the VALUE of a person’s social map reflects the authenticity of their pings across it — these need to be (I guess) frequent enough that one is perceived as alive in the medium; they need to contain information perceived as relevant and of value; and they need to be sufficiently sparse that one is not perceived as grasping for attention. Any deviation from this (fairly) strict formula is quickly taken as abuse by high-value correspondents, and lowers status and quality-of-attention-paid. The irony, I guess, is that the only way to ‘use a social network for marketing’ is almost NEVER to use it for marketing.

    It all puts me in mind of the notion that social maps are organisms. We _join_ them, rather than _build_ them. And this makes the pinnacle of the social web — high-value nets populated by empowered people — relatively difficult to game. Or at least resistant to cheap, mechanical gaming. And I guess, by that token, one would expect to get best results in social network ‘marketing’ when the meme can be made palatable to the organism, as well as to particular individuals.

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