Selling ourselves short

I love social media. I enjoy Twitter and Pinterest. I read dozens of blogs. I ditched Facebook but certainly used it for several years.

What I don’t love is how corporations are weaseling their wares into my personal conversations. And I really don’t love how complicit some of my online friends are in this process.

Long ago, in a world where there were newspapers and magazines and three television channels, ads came for paid sources. Companies would buy space or time on conventional media to promise us that we’d be richer, thinner, taller, hairier, less hairy, smarter, and more popular if we bought their products.

People grew weary of these approaches. Companies tried new tactics. They put their cereals quietly on a shelf in Seinfeld’s fake kitchen. They had celebrities use their sun lotion on a lovely Malibu beach.

The goal and basic message was the same. “Pay us money and you’ll be happier.”

Now, with social media, companies are paying regular people to shill their products. But they’re paying much less than they ever paid newspapers and they’re changing the way we read what friends write.

The basic premise? “‘Like’ our Facebook page and get a coupon. Then all your friends see that you like us. You’re advertising to 100 or 200 or 800 people, and all we give you is $5 off a sandwich.”

Same tune, different channel. “Here’s a great recipe using all our crappy products as ingredients. Pin it on your Pinterest boards and all your friends will do the same. In exchange, you get a delightfully transparent adverecipe. Free!”

Wanting to get their brand trending on Twitter, which gets them a front page advertisement on every screen using the site, companies come up with ridiculous contests. “Tweet our name a lot and we’ll enter you in a drawing. The winner gets a few dollars. You give us free advertising and there might be a trinket in it for you.”

I’m sick of seeing blogs and boards and feeds get covered in corporate slime, especially when I know the people (whom I used to trust) only got a few pennies, if anything, in exchange for interrupting my social media day.

Today was the last straw. I just got a form email from an author whose books I really respect. Paraphrasing, he said, “My new book is coming out. Think you’ll like it.” Fine. Makes sense. Advertise to the people who already like your work. That’s an ad I welcome.

But the email continued.

“I’m going to put together a marketing team of really smart people like you. If you’re selected for this highly respected team, you’ll conceive of and execute my marketing for me. And I’ll give you a free book!”

So I do all the work and you give me…a book. Son, people get paid tens of thousands of dollars to come up with marketing campaigns. I’m not doing one for you for a token of appreciation.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

Aside from being mad at being undervalued, though I am, I’m really angry at how these marketing schemes cost relationships. I see a blogger I really like and respect start shilling diapers. Or books. Or pumpkin pie filling. Doesn’t matter what the product is. I stop reading as often, I stop trusting what I read, and I stop visiting their blog.

One reader isn’t a big deal. One online relationship dead is not, either.

What matters is that the companies are playing us like fiddles. They get free advertising *and* a sneaky inroad into places marketing isn’t expected. I follow people on Twitter because I want their voices. Not their ads for credit cards.

The companies think they’ll benefit from the trust I have in my social network. I’ve been reading Sue’s blog for five years, so when she sells out to Frozen Fish Sticks Company I’m supposed to be more likely to trust FFSCo as much as I trust Sue.

But I see through you, Frozen Fish Sticks marketing team. I’m pretty sure I don’t trust Sue less because of her deal with Frozen Fish Sticks Company. I know Sue wants to be heard and wants to be paid. But I’m also pretty sure they’re not paying Sue what she is worth. I’m pretty sure all she got out of the chance to annoy me and make me think about visiting her blog less often is a box of frozen fish sticks.

You’re better than that, Sue.

I understand the draw. A lot of people want to feel needed. They want their writing seen by more people and they want to get paid.

Excellent goals.

But getting a nickel to do work that should be paid two hundred dollars isn’t a win for anyone except the corporation that just saved $199.95.

But who am I to tell people to stop writing two-cent ads on Twitter? I forward links to books and magazine articles. The authors and publishers don’t ask me to. They don’t know I’m going to do it. But if I blog that I liked a book, that’s advertising, too. Why draw a distinction between (nominally) paid ads and personal opinion that might drive sales?


Maybe I’m grumpy. Or feeling guilty. Soon I’m going to try the aggregating-commercial-site thing that all the kids are doing these days. I’m going to put some of my posts on other sites for free to see what happens.

But I wonder how much that process cheapens what I’ve stood for all these years. I know better than to let my work get away for less than I’m worth.

So why do it?

I still don’t know. I can say that the ads on the sites where most bloggers are aggregated are standard, expected, and usually ignored. It’s like performing on a street corner and being surrounded by billboards. This is simply our online landscape.

But I think it’s really because writers are, at heart, applause whores. We’ll sell our soul to be told we’re good. That’s why we sell ourselves short by selling products, ideas, and companies for far too little.

And in agreeing to have my posts on aggregating sites I’m probably doing exactly that for which I’m thinking of unfollowing other people: shilling crap that nobody needs in exchange for less than I’m worth.

Oh, well. Here’s some Lloyd Dobler to enjoy while you eat your fish sticks. Remember when we were this idealistic? Yeah. Me, too.

Hey, lookit!

This article on the data that online companies have on us, and how they use it, is super creepy.

I assumed at some level that if I searched ideas for fiction or client work that Google would collect those searches and assume I was deranged. Turns out, they’ll also sell that information to Deranged Stores R Us to try to sell me some stuff that deranged novelists and branding types like. And that my credit card company may take the search information and say “that’s it. You’re cut off. You haven’t sold the last novel; why would we give you credit while you write the next one?” I knew it was probably happening, but now I’m really creeped out.

Read more about how your online “likes” and purchases are shaping what Corporate America sells you, who employs you, and how companies treat you. Then take your anti-SOPA energy and go advocate for data mining and sales laws.

Not really. Really?

Wanna know why social networking is not the downfall of society? My brother found a woman’s wallet and keys on the DC metro and sent her a facebook friend request to try to get them back to her. She accepted a week or so later and is now overjoyed to have her stuff back, several states and an area code away.

Wanna know why social networking is the downfall of society? Because now even more f—ing people think my brother is the world’s best human and I have no way to subvert that perception. I mean, who comes off as the petulant a–hole for claiming the whole thing was a hoax and he’s just doing facebook p.r.? Exactly.

Facebook-Starbucks quandry

Some of my facebook friends are part of a group getting all in a dither about going to Starbucks on December 1, 2008 and ordering one of the company’s RED coffee drinks so that 5 cents goes to AIDS research, relief, and humanitarian aid.

Fine, good, and lovely. But am I the only one who thinks it’s a better idea to vow off expensive coffee for, say, a week, and send the proceeds, whole cloth, to AIDS research, relief, and humanitarian aid? Say, if I went out of my way to get overpriced coffee on December 1, 2008, and spent $4 on a chocolately espresso thing, they’d give 5 cents. Nice. If I sent that $4 to one of the charities at, maybe most of that $4 would help. Five cents is a lot. Four dollars is eighty times more.

I think I’ll stay out of Starbucks on Monday. Not because I have taken to heart Ilene’s rejection of their business model (though I’ve always respected her view, and my frustration of their early assertion that the company was named after the firstmate in Moby Dick, whose alleged love of coffee is not supported by the text).

I’m not making a political statement here. I’m making a mathematical decision. And I’m sending at least $4 to AIDS relief on Monday, when I will be making coffee at home.

New Facebook Phobia

So I’ve always been leery of Facebook, what with the full-disclosure, “work life cross referenced with personal life,” “naked pictures of your kid online for all the pedophiles to find” kind of stuff.

Now I have a new reason to be afraid. (Not very, very afraid. Let’s be real, here. It’s just a Web 2.0 social networking deal-io. It’s not actually Orwellian. But I love me some melodrama. And I try hard to keep myself awake at night worrying about something, so it may as well be this.)

Tonight after Peanut finally crashed, I created my little Facebook world, happy to see friendly faces. Then I made the mistake of searching for old friends, classmates, colleagues. Ugh, what a terrible blow to the old (very, very old) self-esteem staying at home to raise world citizens can be.

The friends I used to admire, but with whom I held my own have impressive resumes and lists of degrees. But they have kids and PhDs. Or kids and careers. Or careers the likes of which I might have achieved if I had stuck with anything. But I’m a gypsy geographically, emotionally, artistically, and academically. I don’t stick with much, and the resulting resume looks impressive but feels thin. You know? And all the other hardcore, drive, self-defined brainiacs have their shit together. Even those who have kids.

So I could blame my lack of personal, professional, and intellectual development on the break I’m taking to raise a fully realized human. Or I can admit that I’m a lazy git who can’t stick with anything long enough to get impressive at it.

Me no likey Facebook. It puts the “what do you do?” shame of parties with full-time adults into my living room, where I strive to keep self-doubt at bay.

Didn’t I, just this week, blog twice about vowing to get productive, to unpack and finish two novels and get more freelance work and get back into shape and publish academic articles and get to work on applications for more grad school? Didn’t I?

Well, I organized my browser bookmark file. Does that count? Hmmmm? Does it, valedictorians and MDs and JDs and well-groomed, perfect people with whom I can’t bear to be Facebook friends because you intimidate me now, even though I only barely admired you considered myself a peer way back when?