Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

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Imperial Knight
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Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Mon Jan 04, 2016 12:38 am

I've heard of this happening before, and now sadly a couple of my friends have been infected by Multi-level marketing (MLM) zombies, and as everybody knows, once you're infected by a zombie, you become one. One day you're a human posting about your daily life or whatever interests you, and the next all your posts are devoid of conscious thought, just simply "BRAAAAIIIIINNNNSSSSSS," I mean "have I ever told you how great this product and especially this 'business opportunity' is. You can be your own boss and make BIG MONEY working part time in your pajamas" followed by a million hashtags and replies from other MLM zombies in enthusiastic agreement. There's only one known cure and that is to realize it's all basically a pyramid scheme after you've lost a bunch of money and wasted a bunch of time on it.

Seriously though, it's depressing to see people I care about caught up in this whole exploitative industry. These MLM companies are scams, every last one of them.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Ardent Fox » Mon Jan 04, 2016 5:47 am

Is this a thing? I haven't seen anything like this recently.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Mon Jan 04, 2016 6:52 am

Well, "invasion" is perhaps dramatic language given that its only a couple of my friends who went into the same MLM together, but I wanted to fit in with the "zombie" theme because when this happens it's really like the person becomes a zombie who is only capable of talking about the MLM they're in. It's something I've heard about before from other friends, but this is the first time I've noticed it on my feed. One of my wife's friends from high school got caught up in another MLM a few years ago with the same results (Facebook posts suddenly become almost entirely advertising).

It's clear some MLM companies are really putting a big emphasis on using social media to sell/recruit. I suppose it lets them pass their business model off as innovative and give their distributors the impression that they're getting in on the ground floor of something that's going to explode (one of the posts advertising the "opportunity" was using a quote from Mark Zuckerberg to imply just that). I suppose they also get people who might be uncomfortable with standard MLM selling/recruiting techniques (hosting home "parties" or prospecting strangers) but who think it will be easier to just make some eye catching posts/images/videos to share on social media and the money will just come rolling in.

Of course at the end of the day it's still the same old pyramid scheme with all the same fundamental problems. Multi-level marketing is such an inefficient way to distribute products that they're either overpriced or just plain dubious (my wife's friend was/is selling pseudoscience based "body wraps"), which in turn makes the products hard to sell, and friends/family get annoyed really quickly when every interaction is an attempt to sell something. People in MLM are generally exploiting relationships to sell junk, and damaging those relationships in turn. To top it off, they're being exploited themselves by the people at the top of the pyramid making money off of them by selling them the dream of making money in their spare time and eventually striking it rich when the reality is that, after accounting for expenses, the vast majority of distributors lose money. And of course the whole thing is based on an unsustainable recruitment model. It's just a terrible deal all around.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Kizyr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 5:25 pm

Ok for starters, I have a bit of a fascination with MLMs. ...and IK, I'm really, really sorry about your friends and other people you care about who got wrapped up in that. I say that in all seriousness. (If you don't mind my asking, do you know which one(s) they got caught in?)

MLMs are a lot like a cult -- and I mean that matter-of-factly. They (1) Encourage you to sever ties with anyone except other people in the same MLM, (2) Fit the entire world within an us vs. them worldview, (3) Get you to commit all your resources to the MLM, and use psychological tricks (sunk cost fallacy, convincing you that any failure is 100% your fault because you're not trying hard enough, etc.) to keep it that way, and (4) Prey on people in a moment of vulnerability (usually financial vulnerability). This, especially #4, is why I really hate it when people write off folks who fall into one as just idiots who deserve to lose their money. Like a cult, intelligence has very little to do with it -- as smart as you think you are, if you were in dire straits and someone from an MLM or cult caught you in your moment of highest vulnerability, you'd be just as much at risk.

Unfortunately, the cult-like nature also makes it really hard to get someone out of an MLM. From my observation, it's very difficult to reason someone out of it once they've been in an MLM for several months (most of the folks I've seen who do reason out of it do so early, once they see the structure, laugh at it, and get the hell away -- but those are the kinds of people who weren't so vulnerable when someone initially tried to rope them in). They'll have a prepared answer for any criticism -- even if it makes no sense to you, it's enough to keep them convinced (e.g., if you point out that no company asks its employees to pay to work, they'll say they aren't employees but independent franchises that are paying for business opportunities; if you point out that they're not making any profit and borrowing just to pay their bills, they'll either lie or reference some mythical person in the company who's making money and driving a fancy car -- and it's always a fancy car... I dunno what MLMs' obsession is with fancy cars...).

You can do some more research to find ways of getting someone out of an MLM, but most of what I can find are just ones to either (a) prove that MLMs in general are scams (which doesn't help get someone out once they're already enmeshed, because of what I said earlier), or (b) all about convincing you that "this particular MLM is totally not a scam, guys!".

So, my best suggestions are below. I can't guarantee that they'll work, but I welcome any better suggestions and research:
  • Never indulge: Don't ever purchase a product from them to just help out a bit, and don't ever go to a marketing meeting. It'll raise false hopes that they can rope other friends/family in.
  • Flat-out reject the subject: If they're your friend and they want to hang out with you, make it clear that you'll ditch them (for the day, not permanently) the moment they start trying to sell you stuff or convince you of anything -- and follow through. Likewise, don't bring up the subject yourself, not even to try to convince them to abandon the MLM (it falls into their "us vs. them" narrative and will result in the friend being more isolated from anyone outside the group). But, be willing to be back the next day, even if it happens again, since...
  • Don't cut them off: Make it clear that you're willing to be there (if they're friends or family) and will gladly reconnect with them as long as they don't try to involve you in their MLM. Don't flat-out say that you'll be there only once they quit the MLM -- mostly, you want them to know that (a) if they do abandon the MLM, they haven't burned their bridges, and (b) they don't have to cut you out of their life or turn you into another "business opportunity".
  • Point out the damage: Especially if they're family, point out that their constant attempts to sell or get people to be their downline is ruining their relationships and estranging them from everyone. Don't try to convince them that it's a scam (again, it'll fall into the "us vs. them" thing), just point out the actual damage that they can see and leave it at that.
  • Do/don't lend them money: This will probably come up a lot... Since an MLM means hemorrhaging money, they'll probably fall behind on bills and ask you to spot them. I got nothin' for this suggestion -- I don't know if it'd be better or worse to lend them something, so you'd have to play it by ear depending on how close they are to you.

Again, glad to hear any other thoughts or research on this. KF

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Wed Jan 06, 2016 4:38 am

My friends are in Rodan and Fields (skin care) while my wife's friend was/is doing It Works (the body wraps I mentioned earlier, homeopathic and herbal products).

They haven't tried to recruit or sell to me. I don't know if it's because they're just focusing on spamming Facebook or if they haven't gotten to me yet, but I basically agree with your suggestions. Buying products from them or humoring attempts to recruit me would just amount to being an enabler. On the other hand I don't think trying to convince them to get out would do any good, for all the reasons you mentioned. One of them had a post advertising the "opportunity" that mentioned unfollowing "negative" people on social media as a positive life change to make in 2016. Of course a common MLM tactic is to brand critics of the MLM "negative people" and telling their distributors to listen to the successful person who bought a big home and a fancy car with the money they made through the business and not the negative people who will just steal your dream or whatever.

I find the whole training and motivational side of the business to be a particularly disgusting aspect of MLMs. In addition to indoctrinating people and convincing them to stay, they often function as a "pyramid within a pyramid" for the people at the top to make additional money off of their downline. Aside from some advice on approaching people and propaganda about how great the company is, typical messages tend to be things like "yeah you're working hard and not making anything, but it's totally about to pay off when you start to earn a BIG residual income and can retire early, it's just around the corner," "the most important thing is to keep going to seminars and buying the motivational books and audio," "always listen to your upline," and of course "we have a proven system so if you fail it's your fault."

The part about severing ties with people not in the MLM really struck me since it's so stark how all of a sudden they have all these new friends who are in the MLM and they're all posting on each other's pages about the business to the exclusion of talking to pretty much anybody else. It's really creepy and I hope they get out with their outside relationships at least mostly intact. It's one of the things that bothers me the most about these things.
Last edited by Imperial Knight on Wed Jan 06, 2016 4:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Nobiyuki77 » Wed Jan 06, 2016 4:40 am

Oh God I see this ... stuff, all the time. "Make $1,000 a week working from home!" and other such nonsense. I mean I get it, when people are vulnerable they want to believe, and I can relate to that (with regards to love pursuits rather than financial ones, mind). But sometimes I feel like I was the only person whose parents taught me "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,". Made me a very skeptical person, but probably safer as a result.

Glad to see I'm not the only sane person.
-Nobi

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Wed Jan 06, 2016 5:20 am

There's a couple of reasons why the pitch can be seductive beyond just the dream of easy money (which of course turns into "it requires hard work but once you've built your own successful business then you're on easy street" once you discover you're not making any money). First since MLMs ostensibly involve sales it passes the initial smell test in ways other get rich quick schemes might not since sales are actually a legitimate way to make money. I mean, if everybody in a given MLM did sufficient retail sales it would theoretically be possible for all of them to be turning a profit (nothing even remotely like this ever happens for a variety of reasons though). Also, since some people actually do make money in MLM a new recruit can be pointed to actual verifiable people who are "living the dream." Now it's only a tiny, tiny fraction of participants who are doing this, and they're making their money off of the other participants, and they're often exaggerating their success, but still there's "evidence" that the business works.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Nobiyuki77 » Wed Jan 06, 2016 12:27 pm

Yeah, it certainly makes it a challenge to convince someone they're setting themselves up for disaster, or at least a massive struggle. It's a highly seductive price and some people have a hard time refusing when someone pitches a particular business model hard like MLMs do. :(
-Nobi

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby GhaleonOne » Wed Jan 06, 2016 3:56 pm

I second Kizyr's comments about it being cult-like at times. I've had some friends jump in to various MLM (Amyway comes to mind specifically) who go to the giant conferences some of them will put on. These friends will come back with stories from the conference talking about how the leaders said "God wants you to be rich and successful, so keep working hard to get people under you!" It's as if some of them prey on people by trying to make it seem religious.

Lately the big MLM that seems to be circulating with a few people I know is Nerium. It's not so much cult-like as it's just super obnoxious with floods of posts invading my feed.
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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Alunissage » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:23 pm

AAAACK IT'S A GHOST

Hi G1!

I don't think I had a specific comment to make on the topic because I have very little web presence (though I do have a blog now, with one reader who isn't related to me) so I haven't encountered it, but I sympathize. Kizyr's suggestions sound like good ones. I'm old enough to remember Tupperware parties (as a kid, not a peer of the host), though I don't know if the idea of using personal relationships for marketing originated with them. At least Tupperware was useful.

Re the fancy car thing, it reminds me of Mary Kay cosmetics (which were/are? sold at private homes), where the big reward for the sellers who were really successful was a pink Cadillac. That may have changed in the last couple of decades, though.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Kizyr » Thu Jan 07, 2016 7:56 pm

I've tried to keep up with new MLMs that come into the fray, just as a precaution, but there are so many that bubble up: Amway (which has always been around, but they occasionally use different branding names since too many people are familiar with them), Wake Up Now (which apparently went bankrupt just last year), It Works (I have heard of that one before), Herbalife (responsible for most of the "work from home" lawn signs you see), etc. Both Rodan and Fields and Nerium are ones I haven't heard of before though.

Imperial Knight wrote:They haven't tried to recruit or sell to me. I don't know if it's because they're just focusing on spamming Facebook or if they haven't gotten to me yet, but I basically agree with your suggestions. ... The part about severing ties with people not in the MLM really struck me since it's so stark how all of a sudden they have all these new friends who are in the MLM and they're all posting on each other's pages about the business to the exclusion of talking to pretty much anybody else.

I think we're pretty much in complete agreement. The way an MLM takes over your life and forces you to change your entire support structure, cutting off non-MLM contacts, is also the number-one thing that upsets me about them (how they flat-out lie about prospects for making money is number-two). But at least, if it's someone you care about, you can erode at an MLM's power by remaining in contact and not letting the person get isolated.

...but because of the patience it requires, I don't begrudge anyone who gives up. To be honest, I think I'd only do that if it were someone I was really close to.

Nobiyuki77 wrote:But sometimes I feel like I was the only person whose parents taught me "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,". Made me a very skeptical person, but probably safer as a result. ... Glad to see I'm not the only sane person.

I think that's a bit of a dangerous mentality. I mean, the people who buy into these schemes aren't always brainwashed or unskeptical -- they're usually just targeted at a moment of vulnerability, and I think almost anyone can be taken in if they're approached at a moment when they've let their guard down. That includes people like us. I think it's better to recognize those moments when we might be vulnerable, or illogical, or easily swayed, rather than assume that it'll never happen to us.

Imperial Knight wrote:First since MLMs ostensibly involve sales it passes the initial smell test in ways other get rich quick schemes might not since sales are actually a legitimate way to make money. I mean, if everybody in a given MLM did sufficient retail sales it would theoretically be possible for all of them to be turning a profit (nothing even remotely like this ever happens for a variety of reasons though). Also, since some people actually do make money in MLM a new recruit can be pointed to actual verifiable people who are "living the dream."

Exactly. A lot of them try to use past, recognizable examples in their marketing pitches. Avon and Mary Kay are cited a lot (and sometimes Tupperware), since those are all products that are recognizable. But there's a big difference, since (1) recognizability doesn't mean profitability (everyone knows McDonald's, but you probably won't get rich just selling hamburgers), (2) that was a different time, and citing that as a viable example for the present-day is like suggesting that door-to-door vacuum salesmen could make a comeback, and (3) MLMs are set up to reward you based on recruiting other people ("downlines") far more than just sales, so calling up an example that's familiar because of the product rather than the business plan is disingenuous.

...also they like to bring up that this structure has been followed by people like Warren Buffet and Donald Trump. A lot. Not sure why they like to name-drop those two, especially when the former made his fortune via investing, and the latter made his fortune via cheating investors.

Besides that, yeah, there's always that 0.01% who make a significant amount of money. But they spend all their time talking about how rich he/she is (and what kind of car he/she drives and house he/she lives in) and how you can do this too!, instead of talking about how he/she actually made money (which is by suckering other people into the scheme). But this is emblematic of their entire approach: focus on the success and the outcome, and only give vague descriptions of how you actually get up to that point.

Lastly, yes theoretically you could turn a profit on just selling, and that's one of the ways it passes an initial smell test (and why MLMs can remain legal, but pyramid schemes cannot). Unfortunately, MLMs completely obfuscate the likelihood of turning a profit. And the fact that the market is so saturated with other people trying to do direct-selling already means that, realistically, there's no way to turn a profit by just selling.

Alunissage wrote:Re the fancy car thing, it reminds me of Mary Kay cosmetics (which were/are? sold at private homes), where the big reward for the sellers who were really successful was a pink Cadillac. That may have changed in the last couple of decades, though.

For Rodan and Fields, it's a white Lexus. They don't even try to use a different approach -- they just palette-swap stuff. KF

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Sun Jan 10, 2016 5:32 am

This American Life did a segment on Wake Up Now back before they shut down. Apparently the idea for the segment came from watching a few videos advertising WUN that left the viewer with absolutely no clue what it actually was. I watched a few of their videos and they all focused on how wealthy you would get and little to nothing about how you would. One featured a couple of top earners driving fancy cars and partying on a private jet, another "proved" it worked by having someone withdraw a few hundred dollars from an ATM (seriously), and another tried to explain how you could make money from it with a diagram that looked suspiciously like a pyramid.

I've known two people who have been approached by Amway, and in both cases the person trying to recruit them tried to hide that it was Amway. When my brother was approached by an acquaintance he flat out asked the person if it was Amway and got an evasive response (something along the lines of "Amway? You mean selling soap door-to-door? No, you won't be selling soap.") Some time later, after the person had quit, he confirmed that it had in fact been Amway. A friend of mine was cold contacted by a stranger while shopping about joining "Quixtar," which turned out to be the name that Amway was using at the time which was totally because it was a revolutionary new e-commerce site which would change the way that people shopped and not at all because Amway has a terrible reputation. I'm not surprised at what G1 reported about his friends who did Amway, as they're known to target Christians/use church membership as a recruiting tool. Other MLMs target women (especially stay-at-home moms), often ones which use home parties to sell, and I'm sure others target specific demographics as well.

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Kizyr » Tue Jan 12, 2016 2:56 am

Imperial Knight wrote:This American Life did a segment on Wake Up Now back before they shut down. Apparently the idea for the segment came from watching a few videos advertising WUN that left the viewer with absolutely no clue what it actually was.

Yeah, the This American Life episode was the same way I heard about Wake Up Now also. It confused me for the same reason -- it took forever to figure out what the hell they expected people to do to make money (other than "believe in yourself!" and "don't let anyone tell you no!"). I mean they tried really hard not to come across as an MLM, only to turn around and be exactly as evasive and vague about what they did like every other shady MLM.

Imperial Knight wrote:I've known two people who have been approached by Amway, and in both cases the person trying to recruit them tried to hide that it was Amway. ... A friend of mine was cold contacted by a stranger while shopping about joining "Quixtar," which turned out to be the name that Amway was using at the time

Quixtar! That was the other name they were using... I think they changed back to using Amway when it was clear that wasn't working. These days they usually downplay the name and try to divert the question. (The soap line is a new one I haven't heard before. It'd actually be really hilarious if it weren't for the fact that people get coached that line as a way to convince themselves.)

Imperial Knight wrote:I'm not surprised at what G1 reported about his friends who did Amway, as they're known to target Christians/use church membership as a recruiting tool. Other MLMs target women (especially stay-at-home moms), often ones which use home parties to sell, and I'm sure others target specific demographics as well.

Ah, yeah, different ones seem to have different target demographics, and get really specific about recruiting in those demographics. Amway has always had a specific religious bent to it. WUN seemed to focus on women and minorities. There was another one based in California (I forget the name, but it sounded like an auto insurance company -- though it was purely MLM stuff) that seemed to only go after 18-30-year-old African American men. This also bothers me since, well, it's not done with the intention of helping people who are typically disadvantaged -- it's done with the intention of getting them to drop their guard more.

BTW, this is a little tangential, but one company that's actually rather hard to place is Vector Marketing (they're the guys who sell Cutco knives). Technically it's an MLM since it involves direct marketing (i.e., if you work for them, you go around and sell directly to customers). But, while it's actually a pretty lousy business model for most people who work there, it's not really the same since (a) there's no focus on an upline/downline (you're only encouraged to go and sell knives to make commission), (b) they don't hide what you do when you walk in (they tell you you're selling knives), and (c) the most you're out is maybe $100 for an initial set of knives, so there isn't as much risk in sinking your entire savings into useless products. Mind you, it's still not great to work at: if you factor in the time you spend traveling and pitching, you're making less than minimum wage (unless you're just a fantastic salesman, which is almost never), and it's basically a combination of telemarketing and door-to-door sales (even though they insist that it's neither). ...full disclosure, I was about to work for them when I was 18-19, and ended up just taking a job at a factory for the summer instead (from which I think I made more money than if I wasted my time with Vector). As best as I can tell, their business model is exactly the same as it's always been. KF

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Re: Zombie Invasion on Facebook!

Postby Imperial Knight » Sat Apr 16, 2016 8:04 pm

Update time.

Neither of my friends has tried to contact me but, perhaps not surprisingly given how Rodan and Fields markets itself, one has tried the pitch on my wife a couple of times via Facebook, mostly in the form of invites to virtual events. She's just been ignoring the invites.

However, I was cold contacted at the laundromat today by a man doing Herbalife (not that he mentioned it was Herbalife of course). He was talking about the products rather than the "opportunity" but he wanted me to come to some meeting next week where I'm sure the focus would be on joining the business.


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