Now that we’re all marketers, we might also be spammers. Are you?

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Spending time with a Hindu or two has helped me question a few things. Our society’s surface-notion of Karma is a big one. I don’t know what Karma is, probably never will. But I’m beginning to understand a bit about what Karma is not.

Karma is not a bank where you deposit good actions so you can make withdraws during times of selfishness. There’s also no parking Karma. And a tip jar is not a place to work on your Karma.

Most importantly, Karma does not operate independently: it’s connected with many other ways of approaching life that I’ll likely never understand either.

I connect to this the way brands – product, service, or personal – build relationships in networking spheres (traditional or virtual). Aplenty are the opinions about our new media landscape giving anyone the ability to build relationships, market, brand, sell. But brands need to think more broadly about what’s behind the promises.

I think brands need to expand their understanding in a number of ways. Carlos Miceli posted some excellent thoughts on the nature of self promotion in our new social web landscape. At a tactical level, brands also need to think broadly about spamming.

We’re all marketers now that we have access to the tools, but we’re all potential spammers as well. It’s not unlike how the desktop publishing revolution gave non-designers a naive courage to design. And like we were forced to think about design in ways we never did before the early 1990’s, it’s worth some time rethinking what spamming means today.

I’ve come to believe that when brands self promote it isn’t about the latitude a brand has somehow earned from time spent sending links or commenting on blog posts, like some kind of Value Bank from which a brand can make deposits and withdraws.

It seems to me that we’re all patient with self promotion—in fact, we sometimes welcome it and want to support it—if (a) we have a history with the promoter and (b) what is being promoted is perceived to somehow add value.

Value Exchange has become as key a marketing concept as any other in today’s social web landscape. Not only because of the rise of social media’s importance and ease-of-access but also because of mobile marketing’s rise. Mobile marketing isn’t a place over which to salivate because of the eyeballs, great in numbers as they may be. Quite the opposite, brands should move deliberately into mobile marketing because, as Freddie Laker put it in a great post, our mobile devices are “a place of great privacy and perceived intimacy.”

And since a great percentage of our interaction in the social web sphere takes place on our mobile devices, brands have to be even more careful not to be perceived as spamming.

It logically follows, then, that the convergence of relationship building with ease-of-access technologies requires a deeper understanding of what it means to add value to our various communities and how we connect our other activities to build trust. Call it integrated personal branding. Call it authenticity or consistency. (But please don’t call it Karma.)

Are you a spammer? Here are four questions I’d suggest a brand ask itself to determine if it’s spamming. Would love to hear from you: What am I missing?

1. Does your perceived value correlate to your historical value?

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The problem with spamming is not so much in the lack of value it promises to add. I’m sure yours is the best deal on the web. Perhaps we will get rich together. It’s conceivable that I actually want thousands of new Twitter follows each week. You actually might hold the secret to public relations in the 21st century. Maybe I will want to attend your free seminar that will blow the doors open on my FaceBook marketing strategy. I suppose I could use thousands of new highly qualified sales leads delivered straight to my inbox every Monday.

It’s not the potential value. It’s the complete lack of value that has been added before the promotion. You know. The stuff that builds trust.

2. Do you know how to recognize a Pollyanna?

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If you can’t recognize the affectation in an update like “I love what I do and I hope you do too – follow your heart! Income will follow. God Bless” then might I suggest that you spend some time with the Read Head. Learn how to focus on you, avoid mediocrity, and stay away the small stuff without pretension.

There’s an extremely high level of potential new value in the above update (the promise of divine intervention, especially) but the authentic value factor correlates terribly.

It’s one thing if you’re a cheerful person behind a brand. Be that. Just don’t add any more airs than you need to or chances are good that you’ll be called out as a fake. As fake as… well, Spam.

3. Do you re-post compliments?

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This one might be a personal pet peeve, but I think thank you’s should be sent as a direct response. An @ reply, a comment to an update. But not a retweet or re-post with your thank you imbedded in it. This is spam in my stream.

It’s a recurring meme that in my mind is a blatant attempt to self-gloss – self-promote your value – as opposed to letting it happen socially.

4. Could you say what you want to say in a physical networking setting?

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This is an easy one. Say your update out loud. Better yet, in a mirror. Look yourself in the eye, say it, and then ask yourself how you’d respond if someone said it to you at a real-life networking event.

This was well put by Alli Gerkman in her blog for lawyers: “Would you really walk up to someone at a reception and say, “I OFFER GREAT LEGAL SERVICES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES–SEE MY WEBSITE FOR INFO!”?

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