The Ugly Side of Social Media: Entitlement

by Shannon Paul on January 5, 2010

Entitlement isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but an overinflated sense of personal entitlement certainly can be.

As our expectations grow around business communication to include personalization, hyper-targeted messaging and responsiveness to our most trivial concerns in social networks could we be growing into a bunch of self-entitled brats?

As much as I appreciate the shift toward treating people like humans in our communication, how human is it to disregard and dismiss anything that isn’t packaged the way we prefer? Today I’m talking primarily about email, but I think this issue extends into communication in social networks as well.

While this may be your prerogative, I prefer human communication to mean that we are free to evaluate information, individuals and even technology on a case by case basis. To me, this is what it means to be a part of social business communication, not simply applying a new dogma with a new set of rules that must be adhered to as rigidly as the old ones.

Personal Entitlement Impacts Scalability

One thing I’ve learned is that when you transcend expectations at the very start of any relationship, the second you take a short-cut because your resources are stretched, the parameters have changed or you’re just plain having a difficult day, people do not react well.

People never seem to think that since you went above and beyond before that they should be grateful. For some reason, memories of past special treatment only ever seems to raise future expectations.

The elevated level of individual expectations means more and more people will be disappointed by your ability to scale any outreach.

Does mass communication still have a place?

Look, I understand that the best practice is to make sure you know who you’re talking to before sending any kind of outreach or PR pitch, but is it really that hard to hit delete? Do people need to be outed, blogged about and publicly dissed because you received an unsolicited email?

Call me a crank, but I can’t help but think we have bigger issues to tackle in this space.

I’ve received mass email communications from personal friends and colleagues who chose to blind copy a whole slew of their contacts in order to communicate something personal, or invite me to participate in a special event. I was glad to be kept in the loop.

I have also received mass email communication inviting me to take a sneak peek at books and other projects to be published about social media from authors I respect. Again, I was glad to have the heads up whether or not the announcement felt personal.

We all use social technology (including email) to take shortcuts in our communication, can’t we allow others to take similar shortcuts at least some of the time?

Honesty over Research

I may be alone here, but I would prefer honesty over cyber stalking with respect to pitches I receive.

I can’t help but wonder whether a better, more human approach to communication might be to cop to a lack of personal reference rather than some sort of ad hoc background check?

I would much prefer something like, “hi, I know we haven’t met or interacted at all, but this post on your site led me to believe you might be interested in this information. Please disregard if this isn’t your thing, or if you have the time, let me know if you think of a way we might be able to work together in the future?”

Admitting to a lack of intimate knowledge seems more human than any amount of doing homework on the front end. Unless, of course, you include the word “contrived” in your definition of what it means to be human. Besides, if you’re unfamiliar with the person’s work you may make the rookie mistake of latching onto some personal detail that seems more important than it actually is.

Besides, I thought content was King

If the content of the message is something I want to know do I really care if anyone took the time to “get to know me” by Googling my name or referencing my favorite band in the communication?

Even when a pitch or some other request is uber-personalized, sometimes it creeps me out a bit when the person takes so much time to talk about me to me, especially when I’m still unclear about what they’re asking me to do for them. I don’t necessarily need to be flattered, but I do value clear, concise communication.

Maybe I’m alone here, but if the content of the message is something I’m interested in receiving, I don’t care if it’s delivered by a spam bot, carrier pigeon, the pony express, my best friend or worst enemy.

I appreciate well-targeted information as much as anyone else, but sometimes I can’t help but think all of us could use someone who might come along and tell us to take a number, especially if it will help us come back down to Earth.

Since so many people liked this post, I decided to write another in the same theme. The Ugly Side of Social Media Part 2: Crap. The next one gets a bit more operational, but you might like it, too.

Photo credit: HK’s creative distraction
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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

January 5, 2010 Brian Clark

Preach, Sister! ;-)


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul

Holy crap! I got a Brian Clark comment AND it’s the first one on the post? I might just pass out. :-)


January 5, 2010 Jim Kukral

“Maybe I’m alone here, but if the content of the message is something I’m interested in receiving, I don’t care if it’s delivered by a spam bot, carrier pigeon, the pony express, my best friend or worst enemy.”

You are not alone here. Agreed. People who rally against these types of things are people who just hate marketing at it’s core.


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul

I think you’re right, Jim. There are a certain group of people that really do hate marketing… until they happen to need it of course. ;-)


January 5, 2010 Jim Kukral

Yep, as I have said, everyone hates self-promotion on social media until they have something they need to promote.


January 5, 2010 Medisoft

Yeah, and it works too or it wouldn’t happen.


January 5, 2010 Jon

I second that!


January 5, 2010 Jim Goldstein

I’ve been saying this for years particularly in relation to photography. Hell any online content is seen as free and those that want to use it feel entitled to it. Social Media just reinforces this attitude. To be fair it also has the ability to do the opposite. It’s the attitude that ultimately needs to be addressed… perhaps as the rush into Social Media dies down we’ll see this bubble of entitlement diminish. One can only hope.


January 5, 2010 Bob Waltenspiel

This should be a ‘Don’t Be “That Guy” post…


January 5, 2010 Kevin

American Airlines screwed up my reservation! Best Buy wouldn’t let me return my 8 year old xbox! Outback overcooked my steak! Comcast sucks! Hello, are you listening to me? Hello? Hello????

2010. The year brand beyotching in digital public forums becomes trendy.


January 5, 2010 Teresa Basich

I know there’s all kinds of talk about there about we shouldn’t comment on a blog post if we’re not going to further the conversation, but…

I just wanted to say this is gold. All this targeting has set our expectations out in the cosmos and we need to be knocked down a bit. Thanks for putting into words what so many people are too scared to even begin discussing.


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul

Please tell those people to be quiet. I love comments. You’re more than welcome to add any your thoughts whether anyone else thinks they “further the conversation”, especially if they are in agreement or complimentary to me (kidding, sort of). :-)


January 5, 2010 Brian Hancock

Well said! It makes me sick when I see someone with a big web following use that as a vehicle to tear some other entity apart for something trivial.

Ego has always been one of our biggest weaknesses as a people, and I think the web and social networking in particular is adding rocket fuel to the fire.


January 5, 2010 Candace Sargent

I enjoyed the post. I think this is the side affect that will only grow in the future as more and more contact is digital, not tactile as in one-on-one contact in the flesh where *hugs* are actually occurring. Your right that “talking to me about me” can get creepy or at least unsettling, but then there’s that vacuum I just described…the tight-rope is thin…


January 5, 2010 Shonali Burke, ABC

You should get a crown for this, not in trouble. :)

I do think SM is a great way to keep companies “in line.” The problem is that I see a lot of people “dissing them” without even trying to have contacted them to resolve the problem to begin with. I don’t think that’s really fair. Not everything is “United Breaks Guitars.”

I especially relate to the email thing. I’ve marveled (recently, quite a bit) at people who take pains to point out to you just WHY they are going to look your gift horse in the mouth. Dude, seriously. If you’re not interested, that’s ok. No need to make a Bollywood drama out of it.


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Shonali. I would prefer a Bollywood drama to some of the kvetching I see over unsolicited email any day of the week, but your point is well taken. :)


January 5, 2010 Chris Selland

good stuff Shannon – anyone you’d ‘get in trouble’ with for asking these questions probably isn’t worth the ‘trouble’ anyhow (IMO…)


January 5, 2010 Bruce Walker

I get hit by unsolicited emails but I also get direct mail I don’t want, or commercials on TV I don’t want, but at some point there is information that when I’m ready to receive it I’ll accept it. I see a ton of crap come through on a live Twitter stream and trying to sort through it all can be a pain, but so what? I don’t claim to be an expert in anything and the more information I receive, whether it is asked for or not, may lead me to new sources of knowledge.

People need to get off their high horses and realize that we live in macro and micro communities where not everyone gets along. If you enter, you can’t do so with blinders and ear plugs.


January 6, 2010 Shannon Paul

I just had a funny thought. Maybe I should start taking pictures of all the direct mail pieces I’m forced to physically throw away and blog about them. ;-)


January 5, 2010 Trey Pennington

Do email clients still come with filters? Seems like it’s possible to be immersed in the digital world, have incoming messages from all over the place, and then, like, totally, use technology to filter, sort, aggregate it to our own personal satisfaction.

Oh, and then there’s always unplugging, too.

Now I’m off to find the dictionary to look up that concept you mentioned: “be grateful.”

Gotta go. The PE rider is here to pick up this message…


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul

I think good filters are going to be a must moving forward, but if we really want to be human in our business communication. Unplugging definitely helps a lot of people get grounded again.

Hey, I’m grateful you stopped by! :-)


January 5, 2010 Olivier Blanchard

I think that the lashing out at unsolicited DMs and tweets comes from a fear of what could come next: Today, one or two companies pushing out unsolicited tweets our way. Tomorrow, thousands of companies doing the exact same thing and spamming us to death.

I personally don’t look at Social Media as a push channel, but many companies don’t see it as anything else. The overreaction may be a collective defense mechanism. Freaking out and making a big deal of it every time a company makes a slight social media faux-pas today, and we may scare every other company into treading very carefully next time they feel like spamming the twitternets?


January 5, 2010 Shannon Paul


I’m not sure. I was talking more from the perspective of pitching via email. True spam is something else.

Although, for the record, I think channels and networks are tough to define in terms of push vs. not push. The channels are malleable depending on the amount of social capital, inherent brand recognition, sentiment, etc. Lady Gaga can push messaging all day long and people will likely eat it up (as long as her fans appreciate her work), whereas you and I cannot.

I also think you’re giving some people a lot more credit than they deserve. I don’t think anyone is considering what companies will do if given free license to spam — I think most are hoping to get something for free or make themselves look/feel superior. Maybe I’m being a cynic, but I see what people have to gain by making a lot of noise over others’ bad behavior.


January 6, 2010 Olivier Blanchard

“I also think you’re giving some people a lot more credit than they deserve.”

You say all the right things. :D


January 5, 2010 Christine Cox

Excellent blog. I totally agree. All the complaining about social media just sounds like ‘blah blah blah’ to me. We’re lucky to have so many ways to reach out and communicate; and to learn. If someone doesn’t want to read something, hit delete. 1 second of your life, gone. Oh well.


January 5, 2010 Danny Brown

Ah, we’ve had a great convo over this one before, Shannon :)

Perhaps we (I) would feel less inclined to bemoan impersonal pitches if the emailers in question even took the barest of time to use a service that at least puts your first name in the email.

Getting a “Dear Blank” email doesn’t set up the rest of the content well. And getting pitches about books that have nothing to do with your blog isn’t doing anyone any favours.

Just as an example, I received two absolutely fantastic email pitches today, and I’ll be writing about both products in the coming days. Not because they got my name right (they did) or actually were relevant to what I write about (they were), but because it didn’t start with a “Dear Blank” or “Dear Blogger”.

Impersonal is just a short hop away from personal – surely that little jump is worth it?


January 6, 2010 Shannon Paul

Nice touches are just that, eh? Nice. Not everything can be nice and I don’t think we should fault things that are simply adequate. “Dear Blank” or “Dear Blogger” are examples of faux pas for sure, but I would rather it say nothing at all.

The point I’m trying to make is that for *some* things it’s a short jump from impersonal to personal, but for many things it’s a leap. The irony here is that I’ve never been a bcc’er when it comes to sending out releases of any kind. When I worked at an agency I used to stay late and send them one at a time and not clock my hours for doing so. I figured it wasn’t the client’s fault I was neurotic (in comparison to others). Now of course I would copy and paste language I wanted to make sure to include in every pitch, but I personalized everything almost manually.

However, I don’t think it’s worth it to overreact when others don’t operate the same way. I’m okay if my going out of my way to personalize is special. I don’t expect everyone else to do what I think is best nor do I view it as an excuse to let them have it, school them or otherwise make them aware of their gaff.

Also, nobody has ever thanked me for personalizing a pitch. Some days I doubt whether it made a difference or not, dear blogger ;-)


January 7, 2010 Danny Brown

Then you haven’t sent me a pitch – I always make a point to reply and thank every personalized one :)


January 7, 2010 Danny Brown

PS – While I see what you’re saying, bad/impersonal/mass/whatever you wish to label will remain that unless we highlight bad (perceived or otherwise) pitches along with the good. I’m not too keen on that, myself.



January 5, 2010 mark

An astronomy professor of mine once told my class that “in an infinite and expanding universe, you are, in fact, the center of the universe.”

He paused for effect and added, “but take a look at the night sky and notice…the universe is FILLED with a whole lot of ‘not you’.”

The two most powerful tools of our trade are the delete key and the off button. Everyone on line is in someway, just trying to make a connection.

If ya want to connect, great. If you don’t, that’s what the delete key is for.

If ya find yourself getting upset at what you find online, that’s what the off button is for.

Life is far too short to be upset by what happens at work or what one finds online.


January 5, 2010 Ari Herzog

Sidebar: Many nations are ruled by kings. Would King Juan Carlos I of Spain agree content is king?

Just wondering after reading your final section.


January 6, 2010 Shannon Paul

I think the ball may be in your court to spell out the connection if you see one there.


January 6, 2010 Ed

“Today I’m talking primarily about email, but I think this issue extends into communication in social networks as well.”

Hits home after being flamed for a blog comment
yesterday, through (not for) ignorance.

“Honesty over Research”
This is so crucial.
Not necessarily “over” research,
but what ever level of knowledge one has
below ‘intimate’, be honest about it.
Some call it transparent. The old marketing
managers’ hype “look like you know them well even if you don’t know anything about them”,
is fatal in 2010 (and should be)!


January 6, 2010 Shannon Paul

Good point — I didn’t mean to dismiss research, but I would definitely like to elevate the level of honesty in introductions. Relationships are built on trust after all.


January 6, 2010 Melissa DelGaudio

“Is it really that hard to hit delete? Do people need to be outed, blogged about and publicly dissed because you received an unsolicited email?”


There’s a certain delicious irony when people yammer on about unsolicited messages that have taken up scads of their precious time. “I don’t have TIME to read … THIS!! But I DO have time to harp about it for three solid weeks.”


Thanks, Shannon, for an extra-primo good post!


January 6, 2010 Shannon Paul

Good point – I don’t have time to delete, but I have time (and energy) to get upset and flame you all over the Interwebs :-)


January 6, 2010 Nikki Stephan

Thanks for this post, Shannon! I agree with Melissa’s comment. It’s very ironic that the journalists/bloggers who spend the time outing some PR pro who (according to their standards) didn’t properly “pitch” them are also complaining that they don’t have time to read through all these irrelevant e-mails.

You can argue that the result of all this public ousting of PR pros who are being lazy and not sending relevant and personalized e-mails to media/bloggers has forced many to always make sure they’re bringing out their A-game. On the flip side, it’s not necessary to get on a soap box and preach about how “another dumb PR pro” sent out a mass e-mail.

I wish everyone were as open as you are to receiving a “hey, not sure if this is exactly something you would write about, but wanted to run it past you anyway” type of e-mail. That’s being human right, but sometimes that’s viewed as not doing your homework. There are many PR pros who do a darn good job of researching a reporter/blogger before doing outreach, but sometimes it’s still unclear if a particular news item will interest that person.

I know people in the PR industry who are terrified of sending e-mails in fear of being one of those who gets trashed on a blog. And that’s sad. A simple “no thanks, not interested” is much more respectful, thank you!

I’ll cut my rambling off there, but thanks for giving a voice to this topic.


January 6, 2010 Anna Barcelos

I think as humans we are so tricky. I have days when even if it’s an email I subscribed to I still feel like these people just don’t get me. The obviousness of it being a mass email urks me, and I’m a marketer who does email marketing for companies. Go figure. Other days, I will get a spam email that I find interesting. A lot of it has to do with timing as well. I liked your reference to the typical “you don’t know me well, but I see you on and sent you information on my product/services/pitch” I think as marketers ourselves we are ultra-sensitive to these types of communications because we know “the man behind the curtain routine” before even getting these communications.


January 6, 2010 Anna Barcelos

Edit: I liked your reference to the typical “you don’t know me well, but I see you on __insert social network here____and sent you information on my product/services/pitch” I think as marketers ourselves we are ultra-sensitive to these types of communications because we know “the man behind the curtain routine” before even getting these communications.


January 11, 2010 Loren Rochelle

“To me, this is what it means to be a part of social business communication, not simply applying a new dogma with a new set of rules that must be adhered to as rigidly as the old ones.”

Shannon, I really enjoyed reading this, and I couldn’t agree more. I feel so often in this social space everyone knows better than the next person about “the rules” and are so quick to scrutinize the actions of others (pitch practices or anything else for that matter) when the beauty of social media is that it is so fluid. There are no strict guidelines. You do what is best and works for you, your company, your service etc. within reason

and generally speaking few people have the time or energy to send out 100 personalized emails (except for you apparently: re: Danny Brown comment ;)
so why bash someone for being human? Seems a little contradictory if you ask me.
At the end of the day many need to put away those egos.


September 8, 2011 Colene Reyna

Unquestionably believe that which you statedYour favorite reason appeared to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware ofI say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they just don’t know aboutYou managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signalWill likely be back to get moreThanks


{ 4 trackbacks }

  • The Ugly Side of Social Media: Entitlement « Chicago Mac/PC Support January 5, 2010
  • Internet Strategy, Marketing & Technology Links – Jan 7, 2010 | Sazbean January 7, 2010
  • People Are Bored of Mass Communication and Expect Personalised Communications That Mean Something to Them « New Media Marketing Conns' Blog August 17, 2010
  • The Ugly Side of Social Media Part 2: Crap — Very Official Blog April 11, 2012

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