Monday, February 11, 2008

Social Spam...The Push That Broke a User's Back

Spam is not news. But this weekend my mailbox was attacked by a plague of emails from the London based back packing network called WAYN.

The British social network has been rumored to have recently been passed up by an AOL acquisition and is now, clearly trying to boost its user base.

It started with an invitation from someone I didn’t know and then quickly progressed to WAYN itself having added me as a friend. Five unanswered emails later; I’m receiving emails from WAYN users that I don’t know that are part of a network I do not subscribe to.

Ok, granted the tactic drove me to visit the site (only to know the enemy). But the acquisition strategy of spamming mailboxes cheapened the proposition to such a degree that the site lost my patronage before I even looked around it. Had the email contained a targeted value proposition, I may have thought twice before deleting it but the volume of messages and the subject lines were such classic examples of irrelevant communication that I immediately classified it as garbage.

WAYN is not new to social networking (surprisingly). The site has been around for around 2 years, has received generous funding ($11 million) and has 10 million users across 220 countries. Since the AOL let down, the site has been looking for a buyer. Tipping its hand to the desperation of getting sign-ups can’t be good for the brand.

I spend a lot of time online looking at flights, possible travel itineraries and tourism sites. Wouldn’t it make more sense to meet me there? From a media strategy stand point, WAYN would benefit a great deal more from a brand awareness campaign, some cool external application sharing and contextual/behavioral tactics.

Sadly, the concept behind the backpacking network is actually quite good. Users are able to meet up with fellow travelers at their next destinations and send emails or SMS to one another. The site also recently launched a branded pre-paid credit card as a loyalty play. All these features are smart, targeted and useful to the hundreds of thousand of backpackers sprawling the globe. The targeted audience while elusive, can be quite attractive down the road.

But if this is any indication of what I could expect my mailbox to look like once I join the network, no thanks, I’m busy managing the existing spam on sites I joined voluntarily.

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