5 Signs Your Social Media Campaign Goes Against Permission Marketing Basics

5 Signs Your Social Media Campaign Goes Against Permission Marketing Basics image SMT screen15 Signs Your Social Media Campaign Goes Against Permission Marketing BasicsSome time ago, a friend of mine asked, “Why won’t my social followers engage with me? Why won’t they comment on my posts? Why, out of the 10,000 followers I have, only 10 are engaging on a regular basis?”

My first thought was to tell her that, you know, one has to be client-centric, try to think what makes them tick, use permission marketing techniques…

And that was when I halted. Permission marketing… I’ve read, heard and spoken about it to others a gazillion times. I’ve used it as an overlay, or rather as the basic principle, in my marketing activities. But how is it implemented in social?

Well, many marketers believe that social marketing IS permission marketing by default. I mean, if following a company on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t equal explicit permission, then what does?

However, if you think about, it’s not that straightforward. There are certain things social marketers do nowadays that violate permission marketing principles, which leads to poor results (such as nobody wanting to engage with you).

Permission marketing vs interruption marketing

First off, how is permission marketing different from its opposite, interruption marketing?

Permission marketing is…

Interruption marketing is…





Highly personalized


Well targeted

Poorly targeted



An effective conversion driver

A poor conversion driver

Again, one may say that, when people like your Facebook page, they do expect to see updates from it in their feed, which makes your marketing efforts expected, highly personalized (maybe) and well-targeted (well, not always).

As you see, the deeper one looks into permission marketing basics, the more it becomes obvious that social offers a lot of room for deviation from these. Could it be that, on the one hand, following someone on Facebook means giving them a permission to talk to you, but, on the other hand, could this be just like subscribing to a TV channel with interrupting ads?

Why social is NOT ALWAYS permission marketing

Now, one important remark: permission marketing is gradual in nature.You approach a prospect step by step, getting permission after permission, until you are allowed to actually sell stuff to them.

A good analogy would be a person attempting to sell something in the street. If you just stop a passerby and tell them “buy a toaster from me”, they never will. However, if you ask “would you care for a free toast?” they might say yes, and then you could start pitching the toaster at some point.

So, in fact, it’s the gradual nature of permission marketing that makes its social incarnation prone to corruption. Turns out, there is a risk that your social campaign will deviate from permission marketing basics at some point, and your fan page will turn into a TV channel with advertising if you’re not attentive enough.

Even worse so, as Seth Godin says, at least on TV the time you spend talking about yourself is limited:

Some mistakes to watch out for

1. Calling something else “permission”

Some marketers hold it that, whenever one agrees to a site’s Terms and Conditions (which often means agreeing to share personal data for ad targeting), this gives them permission to target the user with personalized ads.

But do people really want to see ads, or did they just overlook the fine print?  Melissa Megginson wrote a great post not long ago saying that many people are actually “creeped out” by socially targeted ads. A survey mentioned in the article revealed that 68% of social network users were NOT OK with ads tailored to their needs.

I’m not trying to say that social ads don’t work – they do to an extent, or else no one would be buying them. It’s just that they are not necessarily part of permissions marketing, because people don’t really want ads – they want answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. If your ad happens to provide one, then you might be on the right track.

2. Getting permission by wrong means

Now, how do people get social followers? In fact, they do it in different ways. Depending on the methods you use to expand your fan base, those follows could be real permissions or not.

The ideal situation is when someone follows you because you made a specific offer/promise which you are going to keep.  For instance, when you promise to help users with their technical questions on your Twitter support page, this lets you get real permissions.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see such methods of attracting new followers by poorly-targeted viral campaigns (for example, a plumbing equipment company encouraging users to like them on Facebook to unlock some scandalous footage featuring Justin Bieber), marketers buying followers wholesale, etc.

3. Not setting your priorities

Are you doing what you’re doing just because your competitors are doing it as well? In order to avoid spending too much time on unnecessary activities, it’s best to focus on platforms that drive real permissions (and sales).

For instance, Pinterest is still hot these days, but it could be just the wrong place for some online businesses to make money. Or it could be that you just have the wrong approach to it, as Olga Filonchuk says in “Kiss Your Pinterest Strategy Goodbye“.

You might be surprised to learn that Apple has neither a fully-functional Facebook page, nor a Twitter account. Technically, they do, but they never post anything there:

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4. Using different permissions for one and the same purpose

Now, with email marketing it is easy to create and maintain different lists of customers who expect slightly (or totally) different things from you. How does one do this with social media?

In fact, many companies are doing it correctly, but not all. The right way to do it would be to use particular social media channels to deliver on particular promises. For example, many brands have a separate support account, separate product accounts, etc.

As an example, here is a twitter account we had created for SEO Olympics 2012:

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5. Not even trying to be personal

Finally, another discrepancy I see in social media marketing is that some managers do not even try to interact with their followers as they would interact with people in real life. Permission marketing is all about replicating real-life conversation. If you don’t do that in social media – you waste your permission.

For example, asking people a question and not getting back to them when they answer it is unacceptable. Yet this is what Verizon did at least on one occasion:

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Well, just to give them their due, Verizon do have a separate Twitter account for client support where they DO answer people’s questions, but still…


As you see, social marketing bundle does not necessarily come with permission marketing coupon inside. It is possible to make your SMM campaign adhere to permission marketing principles, but you won’t be doing permission marketing by default.

Know other ways permission marketing techniques can apply to social? Do let everyone know in comments!

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