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Business

Snake oil at its slickest: A social media spam story

I'll tell you a little secret: I love spam. No, not that icky meat-like stuff in a can.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

I'll tell you a little secret: I love spam. No, not that icky meat-like stuff in a can. The email kind. I'm not silly enough to click on most of it but I love reading the headlines and intros. The ridiculousness of it all makes me laugh most of the time, and then I can continue my laughter when I learn of people clicking on these things as if they are real. So yes, I scan my spam filter folder every day, just hoping for hidden gems of hilarity.

Since I'm so on top of my spam I can pretty much mentally catalog which ones I get and how often (I used to keep a running tab on "v1agra" ads, just for kicks). I noticed the following spam from "trusocialguru" a few times within a week:

No kidding? Social media snake oil is becoming so rampant that potential scammers have taken to spamming out emails like this in the hopes of what? Making money, of course. I couldn't let this go. It wasn't even amusing this time; it was more of a reality check on the state of our industry. My friends at Web security company Purewire helped pave the way for me to dig into the situation by checking out the Internet trail for malicious code:

"The link in the email took me through a series of redirects that ended at a (benign) site advertising a "make money on the Internet via social media" program, which is unlikely to make people anywhere near the amount of money it claims," said Paul Royal, principle researcher for Purewire. "It's a 2009 analogue to the early 1990s commercials with Don Lapre selling a program that enabled people to get rich by placing "tiny classified ads'."

Next: Who is this "trusocialguru"? -->

If this approach is working, it's really the social media industry's fault as a whole. "How can you say that, Jen?!" I say that because we've let so many people who tout the basics of signing companies up for Twitter feeds and Facebook fan pages rise to the top, and give that kind of social media "consulting" any credibility. Shame on us. But kudos to Matthew Bredel for being outward about the snake oil. Yes, Matthew Bredel is the mastermind behind this "trusocialguru" thing. To be clear, I not outright calling Bredel a scammer, he may think he has a legitimate business (like many social media gurus do). But at the very least, regardless of his well-sold bio, he clearly is missing some marketing smarts if his attempt at selling his business is the above screen-captured email. Here's the bio in question:

OK. We get it. You're a self-discovered Internet marketer who has determined how to make wads of cash and feels it is his duty to "help" everyone else make this discovery for themselves if they part with their own cash. Right? Well yes, I'm right.

Next: "The gurus are bleeding" -->

Hear that, gurus? You are bleeding. So now is the time for anyone, including my computer illiterate cousin (sorry cousin), to take advantage of social networks and make some money -- if they pay Bredel to help them figure it out, of course. I mean, social media is so simple that anyone can do it. Now check this out:

Yes! Social media sounds technical (what?) but if you follow his program, it's not:

"Social Media, is really just the internet version of people talking to people. When your child does something funny, and you put that video up on YouTube, that’s social media. Your teenager’s Myspace page, that’s social media."

According to Bredel, anyone can play the industry and make money. Oh, and it's always a good idea to take advice from someone who admits to stealing graphics from the Internet in order to promote his business (note sarcasm: I will not be held responsible for anyone who tries this program). Don't worry, Matthew, I don't think "question mark guy" reads my blog, either.

Next: For only $47... -->

Bredel guarantees that if you spend just $47 on his program you can make 10 times your money in just 90 days! Wow, I could certainly use an extra $470. Is it really that easy? Note the semantics around the guarantee: "I want you to ask for a refund." Doesn't necessarily mean he will honor it. Doesn't mean he won't either - I can't say for sure. But I have a really hard time believing that anyone who spends $47 on this package will make just under $500 in three months by leveraging social network traffic. If for no other reason, the market is over-saturated with consultants and "gurus" who do know what they are doing (sort of). Why would you possibly spend your money on someone whose only credibility is buying a "trusocialguru" package?

Next: But wait, there's more! -->

When you try to leave the site (I tried clicking away to Google) I was forced to view two pop-ups before I could even leave:

Come on, you haven't yet paid for anything or given away your contact information. If you decide you don't want to spare $47 at this time, you'll get this pop-up begging you for help. It says that if you fill out a survey you will get one of his "Social Media Cash Cow" videos for free (value $17). Once clicking through to the video, you actual do get a very low-quality, very static presentation video talking about yet another way to make money off of the Internet. And all you need to do to get the next video in the series? Provide your name and email address.

I'm sure if we had kept digging into the site, entered our email addresses, etc., we could keep this going for hours. Regardless of the direction we took with our clicking, however, one thing is clear: This program will not work. Authenticity, true experience, understanding of all components of marketing (i.e. not spamming, no pop-ups, decent email campaigns at the least) are necessary for "true" success in social media.

How many more of these spam stories are going to pop up if we don't get a hold on this industry? I don't even want to think about it.

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