I just read an interesting post over at Chris Brogan’s site about the Tricky Path of Brand Relationships.  And while commenting, it hit me like a ton of bricks- Social Media is A Tupperware Party.

In the “mommy world”, women are often invited to “parties” where the main purpose of the event is some sort of sales pitch.  This could be one of at least fifty different women-sales-from-home oriented businesses, including Tupperware, Mary Kay, Avon, Southern Living at Home, Pampered Chef, PartyLite CandlesDiscovery Toys, a couple of jewelry parties and the like.  (You could also add Girl Scout Cookies, school sales for magazines, wrapping paper and candy, and Scholastic Books to this list without much problem).

The main thrust of these events is Woman A is a sales rep for the Company.  Her friend, B, is asked to hold a “party” for her.  In return, B gets a hostess gift and a credit towards purchases of her own, based on what the people who attend the party buy.  Woman B is then obligated to throw a little get-together, imposing on her friends and her friend’s friends to attend said event some evening or weekend.  Everyone knows that it’s a great time to get together and see friends, but it’s also pretty clear that you are obligated to buy “something”.  There’s often a few door prizes or little give aways with the pitch and “demonstrations” of how wonderful  each of these products are.

Now, I will say up front, that I have been to many of these events for friends.  And I’ve bought a lot of stuff, too.  I still have and really love most of my tupperware; my favorite serving pieces are from Pampered Chef, and my favorite wine glasses are from Southern Living at Home.   I have only once ever hosted one of these parties, and I just could never be a “consultant” myself, because I just couldn’t bear constantly imposing on my friendships with everyone I knew to host parties for me.

As happy as I am with most of the stuff I’ve bought on the whole, there’s that sense of obligation to buy that always bothers me.  The hostess often seems to invite people by saying “Hey, come on over- I am trying to help out Woman A, but I just really want to see everyone and it will be fun.”  All of us who are invited desperately try to figure out if we have a polite excuse to avoid the party, yet want to go and get together with our friends at the same time, putting us into a social bind that ends up with- “Fine, I’ll go, but I am not spending more than X this time, I swear.”

I always end up finding something I do like or think I can use.  Some of the stuff has been really fantastic.  The tupperware mixing bowls and kid cups I got have lasted us for years- they are terrific, and I would not be able to get them anywhere else.  The Pampered Chef square bowls and dishes get constant use, and my husband, who usually rolls his eyes at whatever stuff I bring home from these events actually counts those as among his favorites.  So this sense of obligation and social has led to a lasting good feeling from those particular events.  But I will be honest-note to all my friends- Please do not ever invite me to a candle party again- I will not buy and I just won’t come, kthanxbai.

This applies to social media in the same way.  We have friends who are approaches by Brands to do something with their product and pitch it to us.  Or, we work for a company that wants its brand out before our friends.  Our friends care only if the brand/product/service is relevant to them.  They will only buy if they need to.  And if we try to pitch too frequently, or impose on the friendship too much by asking for spread/retweet/blog posts/word of mouth, our friends will stop helping us out, and start avoiding us as a result.

How do we avoid this?  One response is to get lots and lots of friends, that way, you aren’t imposing on the same group of people all the time.

One response is to pitch less frequently, so you aren’t asking your social media neighbors to hold a tupperware party for you every week.

And every once in a while, we get a product in that everyone wants, and it doesn’t matter if you pitch, because the relevance and delight is high enough, the demand is high enough, no one cares.  The product is then selling itself, and you are no longer “pitching”- you are just a distributor.

Where do you fit on this progression?  Are you the “Sales Associate” for the affiliate marketing program for a Company?  Are you the Party Hostess?  Is the product relevant to your audience or is it an imposition?

Is this a good analogy?  What do you think?