July 9, 2013

You must get over your fear of being annoying

Photo courtesy of albarber3 (Creative Commons)

In digital marketing, persistence is paramount

Chris AbrahamAccording to Jonathan Alter‘s new book, The Center Holds, it was Barack Obama’s young geek volunteers who crushed Mitt Romney‘s “Mad Men” campaign out of the 1960s in the 2012 election. And while much of their success had to do with their collective beautiful mind, it also had to do with something that Alter said as a matter of fact: They got “over the fear of being annoying.”

The whole quote from the below interview on the Colbert Show is, “You’ve got to get over your fear of being annoying” (minute 4:30):

So not only did the president’s merry band of geeks learn how best to microtarget and activate 2 million volunteers, they also learned how to push past their fear of rejection to ultimately realize the truth. According to Alter:

“The emails were annoying as hell … they studied this … they had all kinds of tests…the biggest conceptual breakthrough in the campaign, as the guy running the digital team said, was you’ve got to get over your fear of being annoying … and once they did, they found that the number of people who unsubscribed was much lower than the extra money they were getting by sending out more appeals.”

thecenterholdsThe result of this aggressiveness (maybe inspired by being headquartered in Chicago, known for being tough) was growing the revenue from online donations from $15 million per month to over $150 million per month and, ultimately, beating the Romney campaign by over 5 million votes.

As you may well know from my blog posts (see below), I am fully on board with pushing a little hard. With my blogger outreach campaigns, I reach out to bloggers three times instead of once or twice. People are busy so not only do you need to get your message out there (especially if you’re not the president or a presidential hopeful) but you also need to keep on asking until all the stars align and you get them at the perfect moment when they’re free, their wallet’s close, they’ve deposited their paycheck, they’ve had a change of heart, or they just have the right moment.

Nobody’s going to go into their Google archive and look for that one tentative appeal you made months ago. You’ll always need to remind, repeat, and follow up. And don’t be a wuss — don’t forget that if you can’t prove an ROI to your boss or to yourself, you’ll soon give up on content marketing or be fired, if that’s what you were hired to do.

The level of messaging that the president engaged in was aggressive enough that it became a national joke. Stephen ColbertJon Stewart, and all your friends probably mentioned the deluge of fundraising email from Michelle, from Barack, from celebrities, from senators — from everyone! We as a nation talked about the intimate subject lines, the insulting “Hey!” and any number of other attempts at getting our attention.


And, I am sure that loads and loads of people unsubscribed. But not enough people unsubcribed, blocked, spam-boxed, reported, or filtered out the fundraising appeals to change the fact that this sort of supposedly unforgivable behavior resulted in a 10x growth in month’s donations: $15M to $150M. Between you and me, isn’t that worth it?

Yes, do A/B testing. Yes, write the perfect appeal, tweet, Facebook post, or ad copy. However, if you’re not willing to take a little heat with the understanding that there will always be complainers, unsubscribers, haters, the forgetful (dude, this is an opt-in list, you subscribed to me!), and the general grumpy by nature, what’re you going to do?


Does being annoying bother you? Are you going to be polite or effective?

Related by Chris Abraham on Socialmedia.biz

Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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7 thoughts on “You must get over your fear of being annoying

  1. Oh wow, I never thought of it like this before. I have always tried to “be polite,” but I can see that there may be merits to just pushing a little bit more!

    • CarmenRaneHudson Push the envelope! You can be a bit aggressive and proactive without being rude and crude. :~)

      • Our engagement per our ESP is above average – and there’s a ton of value in each email – so I believe most of them are! I’m with you that it’s sad, though. I wish you didn’t have to push folks, but most of the time it works.