It is a truth universally acknowledged that a friend seeking a (quick and easy) fortune will get entangled in a Multi-Level Marketing scam endeavor. It’s even more universally acknowledged that said friend will try to sell you on it using Facebook.
The first time I saw a friend try this on Facebook I felt like maybe I had been left behind in some sort of beauty product End of Days. In between posts of babies and day-after party pictures, new posts appeared sharing unsolicited recommendations for skin care regimens, nail stickers and vitamin supplements that are all “amazing” products. And the weirdest thing about it is the comments. At the bottom of each post, 10-15 other Facebook users are congratulating my friend on how well the product is working and sharing their product life-changing stories, too. A scary thought hits me: has my intelligent, capable, creative friend become…a pod person?
It turns out I’m happy to be left behind, because this commenting behavior is downright cult-like. And a little insulting—do these posters really believe their friends can’t see through it? That’s what gets at me the most about these posts, Facebook friends who use MLM are selling their relationships for a product they probably won’t even be selling at the end of the year. What happens when they run out of people to sell to on Facebook or end up irritating their entire network? Is it worth it to jeopardize relationships to make a quick buck?
What doesn’t escape my notice is that the majority of people who partake in MLM are women, and especially stay-at-home moms. Which is why I hesitate to criticize it–I’m all for women finding ways to improve their situation or scratch an entrepreneurial itch that may have appeared while being homebound, caring for children. On the surface, MLM seems like a great idea, the business can be run from home, there’s little overhead (well, except for hefty up-front costs), and women get to use a platform they’re naturally good at, with a network already in place. But the methods being used are ineffective and alienating; MLM is typically a practice that preys on the most vulnerable. So why do most people do it? Because it’s presented as an easy way to make money; and yes, they should know better.
What is it exactly that multi-level marketers do that is so irritating?
They Choose a Bad Product
A lot of the products being hawked on Facebook would make a flim-flam man blush. Plastic wrapped around your torso as a means to permanent weight loss? What are you, last night’s tacos? Do some research and you’ll see that the only method to weight loss is burning more calories than you take in. If you’re not selling a product, but the results of the product, then you better have clinical studies or trials to back those results up. And studies commissioned by the business itself don’t count. Don’t sell your friends crappy products.
That said, not all MLM products are bad. I’ve used the nail stickers and liked them and if I knew anyone that sold Tupperware I’d be glad to buy it (Is it possible to ever have enough Tupperware? Don’t answer that). Why not choose a product you believe in, or even better, sell something you created?
They Exploit Their Networks
Think about it, the way that MLM strategies profit is by 1) selling a product and 2) recruiting members. If you are recruited by a friend, who was recruited by a friend, chances are you work in the same market, on the same platform. When several people sell the same product in one market, you’re inundating the market. This results in fewer profits for the newly established seller, if not everyone involved. And just as you’d been recruited, you’ll have to do the same to your friends.
Additionally, if you only sell to your Facebook network, unsolicited, you’ll run out of leads and waste whatever time you’ve committed to the product. MLM is not sustainable. If sales were as easy as posting on Facebook and simply waiting for leads to introduce themselves, then everyone would do it.
They Think Every Relationship is the Same
I would bet that your grandma and your college roommate are probably not both interested in a mascara that creates lashes an arachnid would envy. So why are you selling to both of them? Failing to know your audience will alienate a few people you could have actually sold to, especially if you are planning on selling a variety of products. Like most people, I’m not against being pitched a product that would work for me, but you’d need to know my needs and problems before you could sell to me.
And this “easy money” is not so easy to make. While most major MLM companies won’t release actual data on how much their average distributor makes, a 2011 article from USA Today cites little over $1.50 an hour. It’s a losing game.
Sales is about building relationships and trust. Suddenly appearing as a salesperson in a forum where it’s unexpected is not going to win you many fans. It’s going to damage what trust you do have in current relationships as well as give you a reputation for not valuing your connections. So, please, this is my plea, do not take up MLM on my, or anyone else’s, Facebook.