Some freelancers are natural networkers. They have no problem introducing themselves to clients and colleagues, and they know how to build real relationships that benefit both parties. Other freelancers don't have the same social skills. In general, that's okay. I'd like to think we're a fairly welcoming bunch overall. But every now and then someone takes networking or marketing too far, and they come across as more of a stalker than a colleague people actually want to get to know.
This has happened to me a few times in the past, and I know the same is true for a few other established colleagues. Usually it's not a big deal. It's a case of a new writer trying too hard. And that's forgivable. Sometimes, however, it's more than that.
Crossing the Line Between Networking and Stalking
Over the last several months I've dealt with an individual who seems to struggle with this line. They bill themselves as some kind of marketing expert, yet their own marketing turns off colleagues like me because they resort to abusive tactics like spamming and trolling, and they engage in the stalker-like behavior of following me around from site to site. Here's a quick look at what's happened:
- This writer found me on a colleague's blog where I published a guest post. Their initial comment was fairly typical troll-like behavior. In this case they were being deliberately provocative while adding absolutely no value to the conversation. They took an article about the importance of the business side of freelance writing (as in knowing your value), and commented that they agreed with it. But they went further, explaining that they "agreed" that writers should not be paid well for their work (because then "everyone will expect better pay" -- paraphrasing). They took the position of the article, turned it upside down, and commented to agree in a way that implied my position was that writers were not worth decent pay. You know me well enough to know that's bullshit.
- I didn't think much of the comment initially -- perhaps that someone just didn't bother to read. This was also a person promoting their own copywriting business -- very clearly the pushy marketing type desperate for traffic, even if it comes through trolling. I responded, clarifying my actual position. Later on that blog owner actually removed the comment exchange after seeing the pattern of this person's comments.
- Shortly after this person followed me to my own blog. That's fine. That's why we write guest posts -- to build our own audiences. But I started noticing a trend. This person was pushing links left and right, blatantly spamming with meaningless comments to get backlinks (to a site that was somewhat spammy in its own right). And there were a few other instances of twisting words to imply I meant the opposite of what I said. I don't tolerate spammers or trolls here, and as per our comment policy that person was put on a permanent moderation list. For months they have continued to try to comment here, and not a single comment has been approved. Now I put them on a moderation list rather than a block list so I could reconsider them if the behavior changed. Sadly it has not.
- This person followed me around to a few other blogs, responding to comments I'd left when there weren't posts of my own for them to respond to. And this wasn't a case of them responding to everyone -- most were direct responses to what I personally shared.
- This same individual sent me emails trying to get me to send my clients their way or outsource some of my work to them. Remember, to that point their only attempt at networking was to push their links down my throat, act like a stalker following me around from site to site, and twisting my words whenever they wanted to be controversial to get attention because they had nothing substantive to add to the conversation. I'm all for being open to controversy. But you must have something to say.
- I've ignored this fellow writer. I don't do anything to encourage them to continue. Yet every time I think they are finally backing off, they resurface. They don't seem to grasp the fact that their attempts at networking are a turn off rather than a legitimate marketing strategy. For the record, I'm not the only writer who has dealt with this person and had to block them or remove comments due to spamming and trolling. But for some reason, I can't seem to shake them.
- Most recently this person followed me to a client's website. Again, they're back to posting useless shallow comments that add nothing of value or that are completely irrelevant. This is a case of a typical manual link spammer as they toss in home page links to their website in nearly every comment they leave (no legitimate reason, it's already there tied to their handle, and it's frequently irrelevant to their comments). The sad thing is that their comments are just coherent enough that some people don't notice the pattern and they get away with it. That's why they aren't likely to learn from their mistakes. They're still being rewarded for virtually stalking colleagues and littering their work with spam. I chose to leave my client out of it for now, so those comments were approved although I still won't acknowledge them. If it becomes an ongoing problem and they move from simple link spam to more aggressive trolling again, I'll chat with the client about it.
Sometimes it's almost flattering when someone new to the industry follows you around and tries to pick your brain on a near-constant basis. You can dismiss it as growing pains and a certain amount of excitement on their part. They grow and mature and settle into the networking scene eventually. But sometimes aggressive networking and pushy marketing feel more like stalking. Does yours?
Remember that networking and marketing have long-term effects, not just immediate traffic. And your colleagues do talk privately. Once you're identified as a troll or spammer, chances are good word is going to spread even if you don't see that happening publicly. Don't risk it. Don't abuse members of your network. Don't leech onto someone with desperate pleading for attention, and don't do that with sites just because you think they'll send a lot of traffic your way. When networking with colleagues, act like the professional you're trying to be, no matter how new you are. While it's nice to know a new writer values your opinion or appreciates your site, it's something else entirely when that person is there every time you turn around.
Have you ever dealt with a situation like this -- where one person has been so pushy with their attempts at networking or marketing to your audience that you have to cut off all ties? I'm happy to say this is extremely rare, and most colleagues are amazing people to chat with whether we're bonding over experiences like these or having a heated debate. At what point would you feel the need to cut someone off?