Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Inbound or Outbound?: Automated “Thanks for the Follow” Messages Are Terrible

As I develop my breakout session for INBOUND17, I am working to hone my critical judgments about the vast field of marketing social media phenomena down to some of the technical practices involved in inbound marketing. Outbound marketing is making ads and pushing them, whether on Facebook or TV or a blimp. Inbound marketing is making content that pulls people to your stuff. You don’t go them, they come to you, is the idea.

Photo by Mack Male
First, this is not new. Anyone who does local marketing or customer retention does this kind of stuff and has for decades. You build a trustworthy (Washington landmark!) presence (since 1958!) and they come to you when they need you.

Second, I’m not sure I buy that there is much a distinction. Hubspot’s page, linked above, suggests that blogging, keywording and social publishing are the opening steps in inbounding.


And festooning an Instagram post with two dozen hashtags or SEO keywording your content to death or buzzfeeding your titles (You know, “You’ve Got to See These 7 Amazing Marketing Techniques from Successful Gurus” and you share with “Number 4 blew my mind!”), exactly how is this not really just outbound marketing? A hashtag pushes your content to new eyes. So does SEO.

I’m not saying that the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is a lie. I’m saying it’s fuzzy and mixed up, at best. The reason this matters is that I think we do all kinds of inauthentic crap in our work when we believe in this dichotomy. I think we feel like we can be more manipulative when they “choose” to seek our content. “Well, they opted in . . . ."

Just because I subscribe to your email list to download your free book chapter (ahem) doesn’t mean I want to get spammed. Just because I use your free app doesn’t mean I want updates from 12 different email addresses (“Kim from ______.com” and “Dave from _____.com”) so that I can’t unroll.me them or spam filter them.

There are lots of examples.


If I choose to connect with your content, shouldn’t you treat me better? There’s a reason why we get so few “conversions,” to use inbound marketing speak. If I don’t like you, I won’t stay. My next blog post in this series will explore the ways we co-create those narratives, in case you are curious (See? That statement would be considered inbound marketing, but doesn’t it feel as yucky as watching a commercial if you are one of the vast majority of readers not interested enough in this topic to try to find a way to read my next post?).

To focus on the thing I hate the most, let’s talk about automatic “Thanks for the follow” messages, usually on Twitter. Crowdfire, Commun.it, justunfollow, unfollowers.me, statusbrew, etc. all offer this service.

I hate these so much I did a small Instagram series on it (inbound pitch alert!):

A post shared by Steven Vrooman, PhD (@morebrainz) on

I also created my own performatively contradictory robot DM:


You expected a "Thanks for Following . . . oh, yeah CLICK MY LINKS!!!" message.
Don’t those stink?

I know, making an auto message that critiques auto messages feels a bit like hypocrisy. Fine, I get that. But I'm not offering something for FREE (lol) or a reminder to check out my websiteblogfacebookinstgramgooglestoreyoutubechannel or wishing you a happy Thursday, or whatever, to give you a microsecond illusion that I am actually connecting with you for real.

We can do better than this.

If you are going to bother people with spammy DMs like this, maybe say something real about you that doesn't fit into your bio? Give people a bit more of your story. They followed you for a reason. Remind them.

Use this space for good.”

Click here to tweet this
I still have mixed feelings about it. But really, if you work in social media, don’t you usually fee at least half-bad about almost all of your practices? We bear a weight from all becoming explicit and constant marketers of ourselves. We have not yet reckoned with what that is going to mean.

To keyword/buzzfeed/clickbait this up, let’s call what happens next 

“The 5 Surprising Ways You Are Being Manipulated by Twitter!” 

See? Blech!

These are all robo DMs I’ve received over the past two years, sorted using my extreme, PhD-level qualitative data sorting skills (no, really, that’s what I do). I’ve pulled good examples in each section for you. I’ve replaced actual links with “…” in order to protect the quasi-innocent.

1.  The Basic Link Pitch

Okay, this is simple enough. You drive people to a link, no rhetoric, just a plain old simple sell. You might tell yourself that since they followed you on Twitter they probably want this. Yeah, no. Your links are all over your feed, dude, and IN YOUR BIO. I think we will not get lost trying to find the rest of your content you are pushing.

“Thanks for the follow! Like my Facebook Page …”

“Welcome! Subscribe to our YouTube channel …”

“Thanks for taking the time to show some love and follow us on twitter. Check out our Instagram…”

“Thanks for following. If you're interested in learning more about …, please visit …(website)…”.

“Thanks for following. Have you played our new game …”

“Thanks for the follow! Check us out on LinkedIn…”

"Thanks for the follow - if you get a minute - well 90 or 180 plz check out …"

"Thanks for following! Feel free to like our Facebook page as well! … :)"

Well, one of them was funny.

The last one is my favorite. I read this in a snooty Maggie Smith voice: "Although our Facebook page is quite exclusive and filled with the best followers, I hereby grant you permission to soil it with your 'like' since you have thus far proved not too disappointing." Maybe we are supposed to restrain ourselves from liking business pages that exist only to be liked by as many people as possible?? 

I always wonder about the calculus of how many links to try. And the arrangement. Facebook and LinkedIn plus the website. Your blog and Instagram? All of that? At what point, when adding more links, do you begin to feel like a bad person? The most I’ve seen in my DM inbox is 5.

Of course, that competes with the personal attempt. Sometimes people try their best to make the inbound link pitch sound personal, like a favor or an invite:

2.  The “Personal” Link Push

“Thanks for the follow please support me … don't be a stranger :)”

“Hey thanks for following me. I'd love you to check out my … podcast and let me know what you think.”

“Thanks for connecting on Twitter! I also blog on LinkedIn, so let's also connect there if you like: …”

“I'm glad we're connected. Hope you have a … day! For ways to … with joy, visit my site…”

“Thanks for following! Let's chat sometime & introduce ourselves!? My focus is ….”

“Hi ya! How you doing? I hope your well, let me know if i can help you out? I generally reply in 24-48hrs, if you need any design thinking, creative work, off the wall ideas, or strategy take a look at my work …”

“Hi, thanks for connecting! My name is …and I'd love to help you tap into the power of social media marketing for your business or personal brand. Learn more at…”

I'm just not sure the force of those greetings is quite enough to make me bite. It's like the person who comes to your door with a sample case and just wants to say "Hi" and talk about the weather. I'm not sure you can do enough smiling and nodding on my porch to make me forget why you are there.

3. The “Just Personal”

I figure people think this is either ethical or slick (OR BOTH! #ftw!!). They are spamming DMs that DON'T spew links, so that means they are cool, right, and thus not so much spam. But they are inviting a relationship (cue inbound rhetoric), so that's cool, too. 

I guess.

But then you add in the creepy auto call-out to exactly what day it is and these DMs just blow over the uncanny valley toward robopocalypse. 

"Thanks for following me"

"Thanks for the follow. Regards, …"

"Hello thanks for following."

"Thank you for the follow! Have a fabulous day."

Thanks for following me! Much appreciated!"

"Thanks for recent follow, have a great Sunday :)"

"Hey - thanks for the follow! Have a great Tuesday :)"

"Thanks for the recent follow. Much appreciated! Have a great Wednesday :)"

Not feeling it.

4. The Quid Pro Quo, Agent Starling

This one is a straight-up trade. I like the honesty of this approach, but I still hate seeing these in my inbox. It makes me feel like we are making a deal in the back of an alley:

"Cheers for the follow! Feel free to tweet me your thoughts about … I'll gladly RT if it's reasonable."

"Thank you so much for following! If you would retweet me, I will do the same for you!"

"Thanks for following me, check out my yt … pls sub and i'll return :)"

"Looking forward to staying connected! #Happy to follow you. On #instagram? More… pics here: …"

"Thanks for following me,automatically followed back"

"Thanks for connecting! I look forward to our discussions. What would you say is the biggest obstacle in your business?"

"Thanks for following me! I look forward to your Tweets!"

The last one is my favorite. Their DM robot says they will be paying close attention to my tweets, so . . . . . (hint, hint).

The second-to-last is interesting, too. I'm sure a business strategy consultant is offering you a FREE conversation here and not a pitch. Surely...

5. The Bribe

This is fun. "Here's something for FREE that is in no way content I created just for inbound marketing, which I am, now that I am pushing spammy DMs, outbounding. I swear it is valuable in its own right and not just a simple shill for my paid services."

Still, free is okay. I guess. But in an information overloaded world sometimes FREE is just too expensive:

"Thanks for the follow. Here's a link to 2 chapters of my novel …"

"Thanks so much for the follow. Check out our latest super bundle of… for ONLY $29"

"Thanks for the add! Visit our website for a chance to win a free shirt! … Our app is coming in May!"

"Hi MoreBrainz, Pleased we've connected, look forward to your tweets, Andy PS, Grab FREE Book on …."

"Thanks MoreBrainz 4 the follow! We'll keep you posted on everything you need to know to stand out from your competition with the best branding and marketing strategies. Reserve a free strategy session. :) …"

"Thx for joining me, I'm looking forward to learning more about you. If you're wondering how to access the ….(no charge) and our other resources for authors click here: ….You can also ask me questions on that site... just click the button in the navigation menu on my website that says "Ask." I only answer questions through my website because I can reply more thoughtfully there... and I can include links to helpful articles and other resources if/when needed (Twitter often blocks me when I try to do it in a DM)! …."

"I am offering 60% off … TODAY ONLY. Order TODAY, then use your Order at ANY TIME, there is NO TIME LIMIT to when you want to use your Order! Click the link NOW to Guarantee your 60% Discount Order…."

The last one kills me with its coupon. A coupon?? Really? "TODAY ONLY"!! You're not even gonna wish me a "fabulous Tuesday" first to demonstrate that your DM robot actually knows what day it is?

6. The Sell

Sometimes people just rob-pitch in these DMs. Seems unlikely to work, but it also seems like almost all of these are fake Twitter accounts that only exist to firehose pitches into the ether and hope for a .000000001% hit.

"Hi friend, are you want to be a ROCk on Social Media? View my cheap services:  …"

"Discover an easy … system to make money online. Watch this Video..."

"Increase profits with expert web development, website design & online marketing solutions."

"Thanks for following me! If you need the assistance of a virtual administrator or social media manager or know anyone that needs help managing their business please get in touch. Thanks!"
"Hello Increase your twitter 660 followers ||||-VISIT SITE-|||| ...Thank you for following …."

"Get more 619 free followers site Visit ⇒ …"

"Thanks! If you ever want help creating inbound sales send me a note! What is your blog or website address? I would love to check it out!"

"Great to meet you. Let me know if you need any ….for you or your business. Thanks so much for the follow :)"

"Hi ya! How you doing? I hope your well, let me know if i can help you out? I generally reply in 24-48hrs, if you need any design thinking, creative work, off the wall ideas, or strategy take a look at my work …"


If you are reading this and do these kinds of DMs, tell me why. Maybe there is something I'm missing here? Maybe they work for you? 

I'll bet that for every nebulous lead they generate, though, you burn a number of possibles by being spammy and obnoxious. And you don't get that chance back. If I follow you because I look at your tweets and it seems worth it, that is the good essence of inbounding, yes? But you just ruined it with ham-handed outbounding.

We can do better.

Maybe actually look at some new follows and communicate with them for real? No time for that? Use interns for that, maybe, instead of for buffering a content queue when they don't fully know your story. They can't be as bad as your robot DMs, and they will learn the story quickly under those circumstances.

Or maybe, if you claim you are "PASSIONATE ABOUT CONNECTING" you should actually, um *connect*. It's like the recent graduate in their first interview who says, in answer to the "What's your greatest strength?" question, "I'm a people person," and then silently waits to be asked questions.

We are not buying it. 

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