zero tolerance social media

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on the receiving end of Peter Shankman’s thrice daily HARO email blast.

I think it’s great — on many levels. I have functioned as a source for a few reporters doing marketing and/or business stories. But I really enjoy HARO more as a great example of how the web2.o (sorry) economy functions and how that new economy is sometimes a threat to the mainstream establishment. Like a typical web2.0 (sorry) service, HARO is free — both to reporters and sources. And that’s a problem to HARO’s old school competitor, PR Newswire. It’s a great case study of the conflict between the economies especially when Shankman and PR Newswire head David Weiner have discussions in public comments about their businesses.

But even with all that, what I enjoy most about Shankman and the HARO are his reprimands and banishments for the good of the list. You can imagine that publishing email addresses and phone numbers for reporters at major media outlets to a public list of over 24,000 sources would be like crack cocaine for PR flunkies who enjoy spamming and pitching irrelevant topics to those reporters. But if someone steps over that line, Shankman severely punishes the offenders. Take the lead of tonight’s HARO for example:

Hey listen – I hate to bring this up again, but it would see that WOW Public Relations, specifically Nan Murray and Chris Burres, continue to SPAM HARO reporters. Now, I know for a fact that I’ve kicked them off the list, but for whatever reason, these people don’t get it. Here’s the problem: They continue to spam on behalf of their client, [redacted] – I’ve talked to [redacted], and he’s told them to stop, yet WOW public relations continues to SPAM reporters. So, if you get an unsolicited email from them, know that they’re not welcome on HARO, ever. I’d never, ever work with them, nor would I ever recommend them. I personally have added @[redacted] to my killfile, and you all might want to consider doing the same. It’s sad – some people just continue to do the wrong thing, despite being told repeatedly why it’s wrong.
[Edited: Peter said he thought he was too harsh on the client in the next morning’s HARO and has asked me to omit the client’s name.]

I’ve noticed that these outings and banishments happen rarely. But there’s usually an uptick after a massive influx of new members. (Shankman got a plug from Seth Godin earlier this month — so now is a tumultuous time.)

Shankman warns offenders, but some don’t listen (see above) and face the consequences. It’s very much like the first week in a prison or boot camp, learn the rules or face the wrath.

Look on the web and you’ll see a lot of criticism of his tough stance. I think some of that has been generated by the PR establishment or people who have been on the receiving end of a public lashing. But Shankman’s zero tolerance policy is necessary. For HARO to work or even exist, he needs the trust and respect of the reporters. They have seen he means business.

The problem with the web being open for anyone is that the web is open for anyone. Anytime we see a major step forward with communication, the snake-oil folks show up with viruses, spam, and other noisy junk. I wonder if email spam would have gotten to its current critical mass if people could have punished those who abused the system.

While you hear alot from web2.o evangelists about the goodness of open source / cluetrain / kum-bah-ya / feelgood communication, it needs to be remembered that there will always be people who will take advantage of the system. And that needs to be accounted for. Shankman’s HARO is a good example of how the community can deal with it.