When Street Teams Go Rogue

Aside Posted on Updated on

street team generic logo“A street team is a term used in marketing to describe a group of people who ‘hit the streets’ promoting an event or a product. ‘Street Teams’ are promotional tools that have been adopted industry-wide as a standard line item in marketing budgets by entertainment companies, record labels, the tech industry, corporate brand marketers, new media companies and direct marketers worldwide.” (Source: Wikipedia)  The concept has been used in non-traditional or guerrilla marketing to reach new consumers, for many years.

Many authors, especially new and/or independent authors, believe they “need” to have Street Teams in order to remain competitive.  Street Teams are fantastic when they are carefully organized and administered.  The author should select a trusted person experienced in managing online groups of volunteers to lead or supervise the Street Team.  The members may not be paid staff, but they are working on behalf of the author,   There should be clearly delineated expectations, tasks and goals, and each member should sign an agreement with a confidentiality clause, standards of behavior and causes for termination.

Yes, it does sound like a modified employment contract, because Street Teams have been “hired” to promote authors.   While most people on Street Teams behave ethically and professionally, there are a few bad apples who have turned a good idea into nightmare scenarios for some authors.    Sadly, the bad apples feel a need to bully others, on behalf of the author.  Ultimately, the author is left with the negative publicity and the bad apples move on, unscathed.

As someone who managed volunteers, for a living, I understood the thin line between asking for help, directing volunteers’ energy and harnessing this energy to accomplish the agency’s goals.   All while honoring the volunteers’ spirit of service, time commitments and expertise.   Timely firing of ineffective or disruptive volunteers was a necessary part of equation.  Street Teams should be no different.

no bullyingLast week, Joanna Wylde’s following Facebook post struck a chord with me.   As a member of many Street Teams, I have unfortunately, run across the people she described in her post.  In fact, I left a few Street Teams that became competitive, uncomfortable, and began harassing bloggers and/or reviewers that rated the authors’ book anything less than four or five-stars on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Goodreads.  I am not proud of the fact, that when the author asked, I “disliked” another person’s reviews or left snarky comments (which I deleted when I left the Street Team).  It was not my place to judge another person’s book review.

Ms. Wylde noted that Street Teams are merely one way to promote an author’s work, but not the only one.  Below are her eloquent words.  (Here is the link to her original post.)

On National Public Radio, there is a series called “This I Believe,” where people share things that are important to them as individuals and members of society. Today I want to share what’s important to me.

I believe it’s wrong to throw poo at people.

Unfortunately, that statement isn’t a joke. Recently I’ve been trying to live by the motto “Not my circus, not my monkeys” because the indie world is full of drama, and engaging in drama doesn’t help me hit my daily word count. This morning I woke up to discover so much monkey shit flying that I need an umbrella. I have to say something for the sake of my conscience, because I feel sick.

I learned today that yet another blogger has given up after significant harassment from “readers” supporting an author. She shut down her blog because she can’t take the abuse any longer, and she’s created a new identity to hide from the bullies.

How fucked up is that?

People start blogs because they love to read and feel passionate about sharing that love. They work their butts off because they believe in our writing community, and they’re being rewarded like this? It would be easy to dismiss this as one situation where a blogger was being overly sensitive if I hadn’t seen so much of it myself in the past months. I’ve been a target at times, and I’m here to tell you it sucks ass and I want it to stop.

The people flinging poo are called street teams, and they are a form of organized marketing support for a specific writer. Most writers direct their street teams personally. The goal of a street team is to promote an author’s work and the street team model has been held up as a viable and effective strategy for authors by many experts.

I disagree.

Street teams started out as a reasonable strategy for authors, but so many of these teams have degraded into organized gangs of bullies–creating an atmosphere of fear and hostility detrimental to our entire community–that I think it’s time to stop using them (as authors) or joining them (as readers).

I think it’s time even if you have the best of intentions and don’t mean harm to anyone.

Why? Because they are part and parcel of a publishing world where copying another author’s work has become routine and blatant, and authors gleefully celebrate successes built on lies. Incrementally, the boundaries of decency are eroding and street teams are ground zero for this erosion. Their tactics are horrible, including fake positive reviews for the author they’re championing and fake negative ones for those the team sees as competition for their chosen pet.

It’s gotten to the point where you can’t trust reviews unless you know the reviewer–how does this ultimately help ANY of us as authors? We’re undermining the very system that’s allowed authors to break free and reach readers directly. It’s cannibalism. None of us can sell books if the readers can’t trust what’s said about our work.

It doesn’t stop with reviews or spam, either. Sometimes street teams send hate-filled messages, and have gone so far as to make false accusations and tell lies about their targets. To the best of my knowledge, no street team has physically assaulted a blogger or reader to try and force them to buy a book, but they’ve done almost everything else.

So what does it take to become a target of these teams? Bloggers are attacked for failing to review a book, for giving a negative review, or for choosing not to participate in promotion for the author running the team. For authors, the “crimes” leading to such attacks include a shared release date, a shared subgenre or just speaking out publicly about what’s really happening behind the scenes. I fully expect a fresh attack after I hit publish on this essay.

Bring it on.

For me, silence has become complicity. I’m drawing my line right here, right now–I’m not willing to be an accomplice for one minute longer. If this was happening at my child’s school I wouldn’t stand by, and I’m not going to stand by professionally, either. This is my community and it’s worth fighting for.

That’s important, so I’m going to repeat it. Our community of readers, writers and bloggers is worth fighting for. We need each other.

I’m begging you – if you’re an author, QUESTION what you’ve been told about marketing. Do you really NEED a street team? Ultimately, if your success is built on the corpses of bloggers and other writers, you are destroying the people you need to help you in the long run. An organized gang of bullies is NOT good marketing and it’s no way to live. Can you guarantee that nobody on your team will ever bully someone? How would you even know if they did? Of course, that’s assuming that the authors are innocent, which isn’t always the case… That’s why readers have to be part of the solution, too. As a group, we have to say NO MORE.

It’s wrong to throw poo at people.

Hurting other people to make a quick buck is ALWAYS WRONG.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and nobody finishes a marathon if they have to carry a hundred pounds of shit on their back the whole way.

Let’s drop the shit and start running together, because we aren’t monkeys.


About the Author:

Joanna Wylde is a freelance writer living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She started writing fiction in 2002, then took a long hiatus to explore other writing opportunities. Ms. Wylde returned to fiction in January 2013 with Reaper’s Property, the first book in the Reapers Motorcycle Club series.  She may be reached on her website, Facebook and Twitter.  Please support her by purchasing, reading and writing reviews for her books.


Online bullying of reviewers is also being discussed on Dear Author today. Visit them and join the conversation.

17 thoughts on “When Street Teams Go Rogue

    fangswandsfairy said:
    March 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I have had some issues with street team admins. But, I am currently considering leaving all street teams.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

      I’m VERY selective on which Street Teams I belong to. If there is no “leader,” or the author is trying to manage both the Street Team and her writing career, I’m out.

    Salacious Reads (@SexxyBlogger) said:
    March 25, 2014 at 10:15 am

    this is why I left the street teams I was in and stop taking review requests. I think even with good management, you will always have a couple of bad apples. And there always seems to be some mess going on with bloggers/reviewers getting the bad end of the stick because they didn’t like a book or just some other nonsense…it’s just so out of control and sad. As I’ve said before when readers stop reviewing, then what? Who is going to have say about your work besides your “fan girls/boys”? You want me to buy your book, but don’t say anything if I didn’t like it? that’s nonsense. Every time I see an author who is in the middle of all the “poo” throwing, that’s another author off my list to read and that’s the sad part because I could have read your book and liked it.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Amen, sister. That is exactly why I am so careful about Street Teams, these days. Some of the drama is straight out of middle school “Mean Girls” wearing tin foil hats. Some of it is worse than politics. *shudders

      Ultimately, authors need to protect themselves and their brand. Cut the crazies loose!

        Salacious Reads (@SexxyBlogger) said:
        March 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

        yep…cut em loose.

        you have to protect yourself these days…readers and authors. So much crazy has gone on these past couple of years. Sometimes, I just sit back and smh at it all.

    lupdilup said:
    March 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I had no idea this was going on! What a shame! We all started to blog for our love for books, how did it degenerate to this? I think the authors should take quick action against a member if they find out about any bulling tactics, but if is the authors putting up to it, shame on them! I wouldn’t listen to anybody, (I don’t care who they are or how famous) that asked to me do something like that, I would lose all respect, and I’d definitely quit their team and stop buying their books.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 11:52 am

      That’s how I feel and what I’ve done, but there need to be MORE voices on the side of respectful dialogue/discourse. Right now, the bullies are winning, unfortunately.

    Mandie said:
    March 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

    This is an excellent post, I mean excellent!!! I 100% agree. The concept of street teams was brilliant but it went off course…. WAAAAYYY off course. I will NOT be using one.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 11:54 am

      Street Teams are great – when they have a SPECIFIC, carefully articulated purpose and rules. Otherwise, it’s an unregulated band of crazy. So many authors have moved away from the term “Street Team,” because it has such a negative connotation. Sad, really.

    Michelle (MsRomanticReads) said:
    March 25, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I have experienced some of the things that have already been mentioned here, so I won’t rehash them. We’ve also had a wonderful discussion in our group so far. One thing though that I want to add about Street Teams and one of my less fortunate experiences was that I stupidly thought the Street Teams was mostly comprised of the author of said team, friends, readers, reviewers and bloggers. I did not account for one or two authors who are friends with the ST author to also be in the group. Let’s just say that when people get openly friendly and chatty in a group, it’s not all “what’s said in the group stay in the group”. Talking about a book you reviewed that only got 2 stars is not a good idea when the person who wrote it is in the same ST as you. I don’t think other authors should be in Street Teams of fellow author friends. That’s just my two cents.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Oh boy. THAT’S a whole other topic, girl.

      I haven’t felt the wrath of the author’s fellow author friends, but I know I have felt the cold air of “magic” unfriending, when someone did not agree with my opinion.

      I learned the hard way that the “private” group was in NO WAY private. So, I now treat them like “work groups,” in that my attitude is always “happy happy, joy joy.” I have nothing personal to share in those groups, because I see them as volunteer work. Yes, they are fun, but I am doing a “job,” so my professional demeanor is front and center. I can be funny/snarky, but I’m not likely to share personal things.

    Michelle (MsRomanticReads) said:
    March 25, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I just thought I’d save some people a huge headache in case it was something they haven’t considered.

    I agree, it’s best never to post anything personal on social media. What you post in a closed group may not show up on Google, but people can take screenshots. Anyway, I did go off topic a bit, but even I am not enjoying the concept of street teams as much as I used to. Every author is different and has different expectations. The question is, what do you feel comfortable with.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      I like having all the different ideas that have been expressed. We learn from our collective experince, and if the information helps someone avoid some pitfalls, it’s a good thing.

      Street Teams can be great. Or not. It depends on how they are managed and whether or not they are part of an integrated marketing plan.

    anna@herding cats & burning soup said:
    March 25, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    I’ve really got no problem with Street Teams. I’m on a number that work really well and are done in a healthy manner. But I’ve also been a part of (though short lived) and been attacked by the not so healthy ones. Not to the point of hate mail or anything like that. I do wonder about the blogger in question here and why they needed to go to such an extreme and shut down. I guess I’m more of a fight back when people start acting like idiots kind of girl on things like this. Sad she felt she had to go into e-hiding 😦

    Unfortunately it’s not just street teams that are doing these things but regular readers and authors as well. Just makes you want to shake the lot of them and tell them to all grow the heck up.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Here, here! If grownups would only act like grownups, all this crap would be eliminated.

    Sebella Blue said:
    March 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    i am very, very selective about joining street teams. I am always very familiar with the author and their admins. I have had bullying attempts made against some of my reviews, unfortunately I’m a bad tempered redneck who picks their teeth with the bones of bullies after my dogs have gnawed them clean. I don’t take kindly to bullies and believe firmly in to each his own, but I also don’t back down and believe in protecting those that don’t have that particular skill set. Sometimes reason doesn’t work and you have to send someone to their level, I’m who you send.

      Michelle responded:
      March 25, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      OMG. “I’m a bad tempered redneck who picks their teeth with the bones of bullies after my dogs have gnawed them clean,” wins the Internet today!

      What an epic way to close out the discussion, Sebella Blue!

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