How To Not Be Creepy

It's a slippery slope from being an effective marketer in social media to being creepy. Showing someone exactly the right product they might want to check out can be beneficial and therefore effective -- but using certain personal information to target the ad can very easily come off as creepy. Asking and empowering people for endorsing your brand to their social graph can be incredibly effective; but attaching your marketing message to my likeness without EXPLICT permission can be creepy (see: Beacon). Rewarding people who share your brand with their social graph can be effective, but pure pay-per-post is certainly creepy.

I was on a panel at OMMA Social titled "Personal CPM" that discussed the true value of an individual to a marketer. The concept of "personal CPM" is basically that people are now publishers and that each person has a value to advertisers that could be looked at in terms of CPM. Charlene Li ( , moderator of the panel, has really been championing the idea of a personal CPM. I for one am in total agreement that marketers must consider the value of people as a source of media in the age of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, but as David Berkowitz ( ) pointed out, it begins to sound a little "creepy" when we talk about monetizing people and targeting based on personal information. So how can marketers be effective -- without being creepy -- in a world where people control media distribution ?



I think it's actually pretty simple not to be creepy. It's a lot like not being creepy in real life. Don't do anything online your wouldn't do in the real world. You wouldn't slap your brand on someone's back without asking that person's permission. You'd be creepy if you inserted yourself into a conversation, just because you overheard it, without being invited in. Just picture it for a minute. It really boils down to respect for people, their influence and their privacy.

It sounds simple, but not all programs treat social media marketing as the interpersonal interaction that it is. If marketers don't respect people's privacy and influence, the social media ecosystem will adjust to block out the unwelcome, creepy guests, which will set back social media marketing a number of years. Facebook can't have this, MySpace can't have this, Twitter can't have this and marketers don't want this. STOP BEING CREEPY. (Thanks, David.)

11 comments about "How To Not Be Creepy".
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  1. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc., January 27, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

    How creepy is it to leave a comment on someone's blog? Seems like the first comment is creepy, but you lose your creepiness after about 6 or 7 comments.. spaced an appropriate amount of time apart and written with a sparse amount of "OMG, you are so cool" in it.

    Technology changes; people don't. The human condition is the same bag of humanity as that which plagued people Homer and Plato wrote about. I suspect it goes back further than that. Creepy is creepy, online or off.

  2. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, January 27, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

    I think the social media ecosystem blocking out unwelcome, creepy guests will benefit social media marketing not set it back. This will ensure that brands will only pop up in social media conversations when they are invited and/or truly have something of value to say or to offer. Being invited to participate by Key Opinion Leaders is much more valuable than annoying people on a large scale.

    Case in point - how about pop-up windows going away for the most part after "Pop-up Blockers" became common place. This freed up resources to explore more meaningful ways to reach people online. If it wasn't for people demanding protection from this intrusion, digital marketing would be much more crass and annoying right now.

  3. Gretel Going from Channel V Media, January 27, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

    Fantastic article. When I talk to clients about social media, my two rules of thumb are always: "Act like a normal human being." Or, "No need for the multiple personalities--be the same person online and off." I'll have to introduce a new one that takes the creepiness factor into consideration...

  4. Jim Bonfield from Online Advertising and Search, January 27, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.

    So true. I was recently SPANKED for making these mistakes. TORN apart by an all girl video game player's blog site. Read my public shredding here... It's ugly. Lesson learned for me.

  5. Chris Middings from Seventh Generation, January 27, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.

    Creepy also, um, creeps.

    What seemed creepy a few years ago (Google is "reading" my email?) seems commonplace today.

    The volunteering of private information also changes over time. Look at what people now share on Facebook, et al. and you might find some of it a little creepy. A few years ago, all of it might have seemed creepy.

  6. Linda Lopez from Independent, January 27, 2009 at 2:23 p.m.

    Funny, before reading your article, I had just opened an email from someone I didn't know, whose list I hadn't subscribed to, on a topic I was only marginally interested in, and with a subject line that was designed to get my attention but bore little relationship to the body of the email, and I thought, "How creepy."

    It still amazes me how many people email me, or invite me to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook, without bothering to introduce themselves and give me some idea of how they got my name. Unless I'm really busy, I try to always call them on it, because bad manners make it bad for everyone.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 27, 2009 at 5:24 p.m.

    Just a wild question. Just how awful would our lives be and could we ever function without social media sites? Email - ooooooooo, so 2001 !

  8. Jennifer Kushell from YSN/YS Interactive, January 28, 2009 at 3:43 a.m.

    I love that you turned this great OMMA Social moment into another one of your great articles Joe. It was very cool to finally meet you in person after reading god knows how many of your articles over the years. Keep it up...and thanks for putting the creepy people on notice!

  9. Wendy Austin, January 28, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

    In regards to the creepiness factor, what about social responsibility? When you know that a large portion of your subscribers are underage children, is it socially responsible to show sexually provocative videos telling them they will have a better sex life if they go vegan? In one video, women are humping pumpkins and rubbing celery between their legs. Creepiness factor just became possibly illegal factor.

  10. Carrie Seifer from Millennial Media, January 29, 2009 at 5:25 p.m.

    We at Meetup could not agree more. It's exactly what we're asking of brands who want to sponsor our face to face groups. We're training brands to be useful to the community, to support them and do things for them. And we've seen great results for both the community and the brand when it's done this way. So thanks for spreading the good word.

  11. Latease Rikard from LMR Publishing, January 31, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    Awesome information. It inspired me to write a blog post along similar themes.

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