Stoop to Congoo?

Is business networking site Congoo resorting to spam to build its user base? I suspect it is.

Congoo is on one hand a good idea — a place to gather and monitor content on your industry, including content that is usually subscription only (like WSJ.com, who publish my weekly Loose Wire column.) But it’s also a networking tool — indeed, its blurb emphasizes that over the content:

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But I don’t like being spammed, and I think Congoo may be doing that. Of course, they’re not alone in being accused of spamming — the likes of Plaxo, Zorpia and other networking services make it overly easy for a new recruit to send an email blast to everyone in their address book without them realizing it. To me that’s spam. Even Facebook isn’t entirely blameless: Add any application to your profile and you’re usually within a whisker of spamming all your friends unless you’re alert and scout around for the “skip” button.

But Congoo seems to be taking a different, and in a way more openly spammy, approach. It’s emailing non-subscribers — apparently at random — inviting them to join the network — with no apparent invitation from an existing user, or even a personalized email to indicate the recipient is being chosen for a specific reason. Here’s part of what I got this morning, from someone called Rebecca Simpson, identified as “Manager Network Development”:

We would like to formally invite you to add your professional profile on Congoo. You may recognize many of the professionals already featured:  Media & Advertising  Healthcare  Internet Finance Technology  Politics  & Law

Rebecca’s Congoo profile says she has “specialized in working with press and media outlets to distribute information. I have also organized and executed guerilla marketing campaigns as well as developed proprietary systems and methods for measuring ROI on Web buzz.”

That may be so, but frankly I’m not impressed at this particular pitch. No attempt is being made to categorize me, as I’ve shown only an amateur’s interest in healthcare, and my grasp of law goes no further than thinking ‘tort’ must be in some way related to the word ‘retort’. And I’ve had no prior dealings with Congoo that I can recall aside from several pitches from their (somewhat, er, insistent) PR company, whose own contact database could do with some consolidating.

It appears I’m not alone in thinking this might be a bit too spammy to be decent business practice. The net-abuse mailing list last week collected four examples of an identical message from one Heather Faulkner, who also happens to carry the title of “Manager Network Development” (how many managers of one department are you allowed? I’m not really up to date on that kind of thing), while the spam manager at AKBK Home captured more than 50 in a few hours.

And then there’s Congoo’s own policy on spam, of which this seems itself to be a transgression:

Congoo is concerned about controlling unsolicited commercial e-mail, or “spam.” Congoo has a strict policy prohibiting the use of all Congoo mail accounts to send spam.

I’ve asked Congoo for more information on this, and on their policy about emailing people. At best, I’ve got it all wrong and it’s all a big mistake. At worst, it’s a pretty poor display of a networking site trying to build its base through tactics that make it little different to those of a Viagra salesman. Times may be tough amidst the runaway success of something like Facebook, and the critical mass of LinkedIn, but stoop low and there’s no way back to standing straight.

23. August 2007 by jeremy
Categories: Networks, Privacy, Spam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 comments

Comments (4)

  1. Jeremy – Thanks for writing about Congoo because in this day of high noise and low signal, we feel most publicity is better then no publicity at all. Since we are a small company we do what we call “human marketing”. One of our methods is to perform advanced keyword searches for various professionals and thought leaders within key industries. When we come across those people’s personal pages, blogs and profiles, many of them (like your own blog) make their email publicly available to all users who visit the site. If we think the person might be interested and their email is public, we send an invitation. This is a lot of work on our part but it works extremely well as you may have noticed by looking at Congoo’s channels. Congoo’s traffic is exploding exponentially with real live professionals. Even though the email we sent to you was to your public address and was sent by a human being, you’ll notice it still had an opt out link. This is the first time we have heard that an email bothered anyone and for that I am sorry. I’m not being sarcastic when I say this but if I had called you and invited you to try Congoo, would you think it was telemarketing? Congoo has evolved into a portal for professionals and we want to invite them as intimately as possible. When we find someone we feel is of high quality and that has a public email address, we send an email invitation to them.

    Best Regards,

    Rafael

  2. Rafael, thanks for this.

    The only problem with this argument is that the email address you used in the invitation was not one I’ve publicly handed out for some years.

    There is always a thin line, I grant you, between spamming and getting the word out (generating buzz, whatever you want to call it) but the email I received, and the ones I saw in spam traps, make no effort to personalize the approach, including no “Dear xx”, or narrowing down the field of the individual’s interest or employment, which would in my view place it on the side of generic spam.

    True, if you’d approached me as a journalist and asked me to check it out I might have done (actually your PR have tried to, several times.) The quality of any such networking invitation — and the measure of whether it’s spam or not — is whether it appears to be addressing me and acknowledging me as an individual. Congoo’s “invitation” contained none of these things.

    If you are getting exponential growth in your network that’s all good. If you are, why bother with the “invitations” then?

  3. I think all social network were built by emailing people in one form or another. I dont know that its “Spam” but it is certainly emailing. To me “spam” is someone who sends you an email but either doesnt identify themselve or pretends to be someone else….like your bank. Or those nigerian money tranfer emails. Anyway, heres how myspace seeded their community in the early days: http://valleywag.com/tech/myspace/myspace-the-business-of-spam-20-exhaustive-edition-199924.php