The Online Hustle: Make Sure to Only Meet People With Good Intentions.
There’s so much content about the best online hustle techniques, but I can’t seem to find anything that describes how it could all go wrong.
Years ago, I noticed that my son was beginning to grow in his independence and the expenses to facilitate his raising weren’t getting any smaller.
I had been writing flash fiction on a personal blog, but when a friend invited me to join an MLM (multi-level marketing, like Amway or Mary Kay), I agreed to try it out. The remote aspect and that I could set my schedule seemed pretty ideal.
I’m kinda Type A and am probably un-diagnosed-ADHD, so try-it-out was more like full-speed-ahead. I listened to instructional books. I went to local meetings and meetings that featured talks from experts. I paid $100 for a series of classes for women in multi-level marketing. And, I took notes, lots of notes.
All this continuous learning gave me clear instructions. It was so straightforward, it should be foolproof. The work included cold calls and networking.
My son would help me collect business cards left at coffee shops and I’d take pictures of phone numbers printed on car windows. When we went camping, I would send Facebook connection requests to our campsite neighbors. I tried to consistently make five phone calls every weekday.
I expanded the scope of my blog to include product education and brand narrative. My blog was automatically sent to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts.
As I was working, I got personal training and advice from local leaders in the MLM company that I was selling for. My messaging was continually being fine-tuned. All the training and instruction, whether an online class, e-book or personal conversation with an expert, encouraged me to continue expanding my social presence. The more people I could reach, the more opportunity to recruit and sell.
At the start of my MLM experience, I had ninety-something Facebook friends. In less than a year, I had maxed out the 5,000 direct connections and had a continuous list of accounts waiting for a connection request to be accepted. It looked like I got the part about building a social network down.
My free software accounts didn’t include data analytics, but I could still notice some trends on my own. For example: the more intimate or personal the post, the more response the post received. So, I added selfies with candid text describing the image.
Another example: Facebook parties didn’t sell very much, but they had more participation than I had expected. I guessed that the effect of those parties was due to the frequency of posting. So, I tried to post at least once a day. I also spent time liking and commenting on others’ posts. At that point, I had sold a few hundred dollars of product, which translated to less than 20 dollars in my pocket.
In the process of building my social network, I got a connection request from someone in Africa. I had already started to accept requests from people I didn’t know, but they were few enough that I could take a minute to glance at their profile before I clicked Accept and they were all from the same country as me. I was very curious about this person from Africa.
How exciting; I’d love to learn from this person’s feed, maybe even ask questions. Also, Facebook said that he was a friend of a cousin of mine. Well sure, a friend of a cousin is a friend of mine. Later, I found out that my cousin had no idea who this person was.
It was like those stories, where someone sends out a message, goes to bed, and in the morning they’re bombarded with responses. First it was 20 daily connection requests to my account, then it was always 99+, which is the max notification, and they were coming from exotic places, like India, UAE, Gambia, and Seychelles, and also from all over the US. I was having conversations with people all over the world.
I spent five years, in my twenties, working in bars. I thought that I could discern integrity from deception. So, I treated my Facebook account like a bar. Everyone was welcome until they were offensive. I thought that the fewer people I blocked and the more people I connected with, the more chance I would have of meeting people who would want to join my MLM. The training said, it’s a numbers game.
I didn’t know how this kind of network could help my sales, so I asked a local leader in the company I was selling for if he would meet with me to discuss this issue. I could tell that I was starting to get in over my head and could really use some advice. His response was that he is married and he doesn’t meet alone with women. This response was so hurtful.
I considered this person like a trusted uncle. Why couldn’t he meet me out at a public place, like a coffee shop? Did he think that I would try to do something to jeopardize his marriage? I analyzed all the ways I might have conveyed that kind of message and stopped going to the company meetings.
Without any advice, not even from the course for women in network marketing, I tried to understand how to respond to my ever-expanding Facebook network.
There were marriage proposals, boyfriend claims, money and cell phone donation demands, and so many dick pics. There were also book recommendations, exchanges of art and support to continue our art (I had still been writing fiction), and enjoyable conversations.
I was being targeted for my evolutionary propensity to nurture. I was told that I was inspiring, that I was needed, how I could be helpful, and that not helping or responding would cause something terrible, including suicide. I was a specific demographic, middle-aged Western woman, with specific psychological triggers that were being pushed via comments and messages.
I was so naive; it was slow and painful to learn that Facebook was stalking me, that lots of accounts are robots, and even more are scammers. My biggest mistake was accepting friend requests a hundred at a time without making sure they were real people with good intentions.
After two and a half years of this experiment that began as an attempt to afford braces for my son, I shut everything down. A detailed and crafty scam call scared me.
This experience was so embarrassing. Some of my closest relationships teased me about it for many months. They also gossiped about it. How could I be so stupid? Sadly, those people are now caught up in the QAnon mythology. I don’t feel as stupid anymore. Instead, I want to help amplify the conversation about online discernment.
There are ways to protect ourselves. Most of all, I look closely at who I’m connecting with and where. Would you trust a clipping from the National Enquirer given to you by someone you just met at a dive bar? What if this person was wearing a suit and tie, or scrubs? In the virtual experience, we can’t see each other’s eyes and everyone claims to be an expert, but we can still ask questions.
Read the About and profile pages. Inspect web and email addresses. Protect your data, like using Firefox instead of Chrome, using apps through a web browser instead of downloading the app onto a device and only publicly post the things that you don’t mind a scammer knowing about you. And, it’s okay to admit when we’ve made a mistake, because then we can learn and make better choices. I do.