You’re at a gallery opening, discussing the paintings with the artists and other attendees. Someone bursts into the room shouting, “I MAKE PAINTINGS TOO!” and tosses a fistful of flyers on the floor and leaves.
This is what it feels like for many readers when a seller comments on our blog with just a link to her item, completely out of context.
Making a real-life metaphor for an online situation is always tricky. It’s useful here because I want to discuss what self-promotion “feels like” to those on the receiving end. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t use the flasher metaphor?)
This post is about etiquette (or, that wonky neologism “netiquette”). It is not about Etsy’s rules or policies, but rather our behavior and culture — the way we do things around here, you could say. So let’s talk about spam-ishness, self-promotion vs. welcomed participation in conversation and community. What social behavior do we as a community enjoy? What do we tolerate? What makes us cringe? What can we do about it?
It is not just me.
Recently, I, as the editor-in-chief of Etsy’s blog but more so as a reader, was struck by the increasing number of comments on Etsy blog posts that were simply a seller pasting a link to an item in their shop. I’m not talking about posts where the author invites members to show similar items or share links to items along a theme — that is helpful to Admin trying to find undiscovered items and useful to shoppers who want to extend beyond the twenty-one or so Related Items highlighted in the post. I’m talking about sellers pasting links either where none are called for or that are irrelevant to the topic of the article or theme.
I started a Forum thread asking Etsy Forum-goers if they considered this kind of blog comment “spammy.” While clearly these are not professional spammers pasting links to their discount factory outlets and porn sites (believe me, I take issue with those much more!), there was a general consensus in the thread that these self-promoting comments are spam-ish in that they are unsolicited. Some Forum folks suggested Etsy disable linking in comments altogether or make a rule that Admin enforce by deleting comments. On the other hand, some felt that although the comments are off-putting, they can just be ignored. I cringe when I click to an article about Etsy.com on a major newspaper’s website or a blog post where the blogger mentions Etsy, and Etsy sellers have posted a ton of comments with nothing but, “Check out my shop (link)!” Because this is about our community’s culture and because this issue extends beyond the Etsy blog to off-Etsy blogs and social networks too, I don’t think making a rule is the way to go (or at least can’t solve the problem completely). But I don’t want to ignore it for fear of seller spam catching on and becoming common practice. I think we need to start a discussion to raise awareness. And further, I want to hear your suggestions for better ways of participating in comments and social networks without being spammy. A lot the sellers who do this kind of thing are new to Etsy and new to the Internet. Post in the comments with your tips, and I’ll share some of mine below.
Beyond the self-promoting kind of “Promote, promote, promote!”
Let’s acknowledge the motivation behind such spam-ish comments: Sellers want to get their products out there. It’s a hustle, I know. Sellers have heard that you need to be “active” online if you want to get sales — you can’t just sit back and wait for the sales to roll in. And yes, I fully agree that Etsy needs to build more tools for sellers to show off their work. But the linking we’re discussing here is not helping these sellers. It’s making them seem robotic at best and desperate at worst.
You move to a new neighborhood and you’re excited to meet your new neighbor and local shop owner at the corner store. But ever since you shook your neighbor’s hand the first day, now every time you leave the house, she accosts you on your stoop and yells at you, “COFFEE AT MY HOUSE!” Annoyed, you say no thanks and stop by the corner store on your way to work and get your coffee there. The next day and every day thereafter, the shop owner screams at you when she sees you, “AREN’T YOU GETTING YOUR COFFEE HERE TODAY?” More people move into your neighborhood and yell random demands at you. It starts to feel like a neighborhood you don’t want to live in anymore.
Trust me, a seller will annoy her potential customers and scare away returning customers if, every time she lists an item, she auto-tweets and drops an item link on Facebook and that’s it. I’ve also seen sellers repeatedly dump product photos into Flickr groups clearly not meant for this. They’re called social networks for a reason: They are social places. We are not robots that churn out messages on an assembly line and shuttle them out into the world for nameless, faceless customers; we are humans capable of sharing funny, insightful, moving, or even off-the-cuff ideas about ourselves and other people!
I’m not suggesting sellers stop being “active” online. There is an alternative: I want sellers to make their updates, comments and Flickr photos more interesting! I’m looking for a good story — even if it’s bite-sized. I want to see your sense of humor or find out what challenges you worked through. All it takes is some thought and care and practice. Just like in real life, it takes picking up on social cues that may be subtle (or in the case of this article, not so subtle!).
My Tips for Tactful Participation
- Read a blog post before you consider whether or not you want to comment.
- If you are moved to share a thought or your reaction then post a comment.
- If you’re on the Etsy blog, your avatar and username link to your shop. If you’ve said something that intrigues people or resonates with them, maybe they’ll click through and check you out. There’s no need for an additional “footer” with your shop URL. (On an off-Etsy blog, you may want to have a footer or signature with your URL.)
- If you have an item that is meaningful to the discussion because you can use it as an example when telling an anecdote or sharing a tip, then link to it to illustrate your point. Add something to the discussion and show some personality. Same goes for a Forum thread on Etsy, tweeting or updating and commenting on Facebook.
- Link to other Etsy shops, not just your own. In the Forum thread I started, one person likened self-promoters to those people you know in real life who only talk about themselves. Those people are boring.
It takes more time to read the article, to think of something relevant, witty or touching or provocative to say. But that is what Etsy and the handmade movement are all about, right? Take the time to craft something unique to you.
I don’t want to discourage people from simply saying they liked a post or the items featured. Not every comment has to be the most profound thing you’ve ever said — it just has to be true to you and the post.