An Internet You Can Trust

04 Apr
April 4, 2012

The internet is great. It has improved commerce hundreds of times over: it’s made it possible to do comparison shopping, find out more about a product before buying it, and even allowed us to research lawyers, doctors, and anyone we may want to do business with – all before we pick up a real product or go in the door of the business. And while it’s great to be able to go to a company’s website and get more information about the technical specs of a product, or go to a restaurant’s website to check their menu and store hours, or even find out where a particular doctor got their degree; it’s often not quite enough to close the deal. Part of human nature is that we don’t quite trust the salesman – of course the Ford dealer is going to tell me the Ford Pinto is the best car ever made – however, we value and trust recommendations that come from family, friends, and other customers.

This increased consumer desire for validation from other customers has left a vacuum – it has led to the creation of many ratings and review sites where people can give their opinions about products they have purchased or businesses they have transacted with, but the vacuum has also been filled by some people and systems that aren’t designed to improve the e-commerce experience, rather they are created specifically to take advantage of this new consumer behavior.

Much of the abuse that takes place in the e-commerce space centers around online ratings and reviews – because reviews play such an important role not only in the actual purchase process, but also in the exposure products get on certain sites, there is a large group of people (including businesses large and small) who prefer to spend their time trying to figure out how to game the system, rather than focusing on improving their business or product.

In fact, a simple search on Fiverr for “positive reviews”  returns over 500 results – people willing to write fake reviews for a few dollars in return. The posters are willing to write reviews on Amazon, Yelp, Google Places, Yahoo, iTunes, and pretty much any other place that accepts ratings and/or reviews.

Just two examples from the many (notice that there are no shortage of people buying):

Fake Reviews on Fiverr
Fake Ratings on Fiverr

The problem is that the majority of the system is weak. Very few of the sites have any way to check to see if the person (or bot) leaving the review ever purchased the product or had anything to do with the business. Some sites try to check to see if a review “seems fake” with automated algorithms, but I have seen very few cases where anyone is even making an effort. The saddest thing is that in cases where the system is weak, this practice is all the more prevalent.

There is hope, however. There was a time when most forums and blogs allowed comments from anonymous users, but that time is passing. Most of the blogs I visit require some sort of social network login to be able to post a comment, and although these systems aren’t infallible, they are a significant improvement over the way things have been done in the past.

There is also some good news on the ratings and review front. I have actually been doing some consulting work for a great startup in Utah whose goal is to essentially rid the internet of fake reviews. This is a big harry audacious goal, but I think they are on the right track. They have some really great technology, and should actually be going to market within the next couple of weeks.  Here’s a pretty cool video they’ve put together:

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Groupon: A Grimm Tale

28 Mar
March 28, 2012

Do you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood?

A little girl is told to go directly to her grandmother’s house to deliver some baked goods, but she decides to dawdle along the way, where she meets a wolf who discovers her good intentions. The wolf spots an opportunity, so he hurries to the grandmother’s house, eats the grandmother, disguises himself in the grandmother’s clothing, and then lies in wait to deceive Little Red Riding Hood long enough to gain her trust…and then eat her too.

Fortunately, this fairy tale has a happy ending: the girl and her grandmother are rescued from the wolf’s stomach by a passing hunter, who then slays the deceptively cunning wolf.

Also, like every good fairy tale, the story of Little Red Riding Hood has a moral, but I’m going to save that until the end of the post. First, let’s talk about Groupon.

How Groupon Works for Consumers

Here’s a quick video overview of how Groupon works for the average consumer:

 

It’s pretty simple – you sign up for the service, after which you will receive a daily deal for a local business in your area. Groupon claims deals typically offer a 50-90% discount on a product or service from a local business. If enough people decide to purchase the deal, then it “activates” and you can subsequently redeem it.

So, at this point, you may be thinking, “This seems like a really good idea – I get a discount, the local business gets new customers, and everybody’s happy – where’s the fairy tale connection?”  Great question. If this were the whole story, I would agree…unfortunately there’s a also dark side to this story that few people ever see.

A Brief History of Groupon

Daily deals sites like Groupon were born during the great recession (whether this is just a coincidence or not is for you to decide). In this environment of consumers worried about their budgets and cash-strapped small businesses, daily deal sites flourished. Groupon was dubbed as one of the fastest-growing company on a revenue basis in American history.

How did they do it?

Groupon and Small Business

How Groupon is supposed to work for small businesses:

The small biz offers a significant discount on a product or service, and then Groupon will distribute the deal to its’ network of subscribers in exchange for a percentage of the revenue. Let’s use a massage as a best case scenario example:

  • Normal Price: $80
  • Deal Price: $40 (50% off – the Groupon minimum)
  • Revenue Split: 50/50 (could be lower for small biz)
  • Groupon’s Share: $20
  • Local Biz Share: $20

Simple math tells us that the local business is only going to get paid 25% of their normal price for a massage. This is obviously a pretty steep discount, but the idea is that if these are new customers, and you can get them to become repeat customers who will come back multiple times for massages at full price, the discount is worth it.

But wait, there’s a catch…

Groupon doesn’t give the small business their share of the revenue right away – they split it into three payments. The small business gets 33% in 5 days, another 33% in 30 days and the remainder in 60 days. So not only are they giving a deeply discounted product or service, but they are doing so with no cash flow.

The Big Bad Wolf

Time to get back to the moral of the fairy tale. In this case, the moral looks a little different depending on whether you’re a consumer or a small business. If you’re a consumer, you need to realize that you’re essentially feeding the wolf when you buy these deals. The moral for small businesses is a little more obvious: beware the wolf in grandma’s clothing. When the voice, the ears, the teeth, and the fur don’t look like grandma, you should probably stay far away (except in these 6 cases).

What’s really under Grandmas’ clothes:

Meet a Modern Day Little Red Riding Hood: (read her story here)

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5

 

UPDATE: Social Media Class Presentation

Responsive Web Design

21 Mar
March 21, 2012

I recently decided to move away from Posterous and use my personal website as my primary blogging tool. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, WordPress is my CMS (content management system) and blogging platform of choice, so it only made sense to do the design based around a WordPress theme. Before now, my site was built on WordPress, but it was totally overkill because I was simply using the site as a digital business card. In fact, the previous theme I had been using was actually called “Digital Business Card” by John Saddington.

When I decided to redesign my site, I knew that the design I ultimately ended up with would have to be a “responsive” design.

Responsive web design: the website actively changes to accommodate the type of screen it’s being viewed on. You get a different design on a desktop vs. a tablet vs. a smartphone.

This may seem like overkill, but my decision was driven by some very important trends and telling data:

  • More than 50% of Americans own smartphones
  • Some stats I recently read about Facebook mobile usage:
    • Facebook went from 245 million mobile MAUs at the end of 2010 to 432 million mobile MAUs at the end of 2011 (year-over-year mobile growth of 76 percent) – MAU=monthly active user
    • 58 million, or 13.4 percent of Facebook mobile users only access the site from a mobile device
  • Global use of mobile devices to access internet doubled from Jan 2011 to Jan 2012 (4.3 – 8.5%)
  • Desktop screen resolutions are actually increasing

So, there you have my justification for making the change.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I actually did to get the site up and running:

I’m not a web designer, so I always prefer to start with a premade WordPress theme when building a site. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of free responsive WordPress themes out there, and the couple that I found just either weren’t very appealing visually, or just plain didn’t work (i.e. they weren’t “responsive” enough).

Fortunately, when you can’t find a free WordPress theme, there is always the option of looking for a premium/paid theme. In this case, I ended up finding a pretty good selection of responsive themes at Themeforest.net. I ended up going with the Sentence theme by Kriesi.

After uploading the theme to the site, it was simply a matter of finding the right plugins to finish the site, and then a matter of importing my previous posts to fill out the blog. As far as plugins go, I ended up using 3 onsite plugins, and then one app on Facebook to pull everything together:

  • WP to Twitter – this is a plugin that automatically sends my new posts out to Twitter
  • Disqus Comment System – this plugin makes it easy for blog visitors to leave comments on my posts by letting them login with Twitter, Facebook, or another ID.
  • WP Socializer – this plugin powers the sharing links you will find at the top and bottom of each blog post
  • RSS Grafiti – This is a Facebook app that will automatically post new blog posts to your Facebook profile or page

Flying Robotic Architects

20 Mar
March 20, 2012

A team of scientists has demonstrated that a coordinated group of pre-programmed, autonomous flying robots can do the job of construction workers, building a six meter high tower without any human intervention. Architects say this new technology paves the way for new methods of engineering buildings of the future.

Another look:

3 Ways Aspiring Social Media Strategists Can Land Their Dream Job

15 Mar
March 15, 2012

So, you’ve decided you want a job in social media. Here are 3 ideas/resources that will help you land the social media job of your dreams, and get that career in social media off the ground:

1. Know Your Stuff

Being qualified for a job is probably a really obvious point to start with, but many people don’t take the time to understand the industry they want to work in, or actually spend the time preparing to do the job that they so desperately want.

If you are not active on the majority of the major social media platforms yourself, you will find it very hard to even get in the door to interview for a job in social media.

Here is a list of the 5 platforms that you absolutely MUST have an active, well-maintained, curated, well-followed and professional presence on:

Twitter

Facebook

Google+

LinkedIn

Personal Blog – WordPress, Posterous, Blogger, or a personal website

It’s not enough just to have a presence on the social media networks/platforms, you also need to be aware of what is changing, and what additional tools are being added so that you can truly be seen as a leader in the space. There are probably thousands of websites and blogs that try to keep up with all the changes in world of social media. While it’s not possible to keep up with them all, it’s essential to be reading Mashable. I also recommend Web Strategist and Search Engine Watch. You should also be following companies whose social media strategies you like on their respective social networks.

2. Look in the Right Places

There are more and more companies looking for talented people to help them with their social media strategy. Many of these jobs trickle onto the regular job boards, but for those who have absolutely decided that social media is the way to go, here are a few social media specific job boards:

Mashable Social Media Jobs

Marketing Pilgrim Internet Marketing Jobs

Web Strategy and Social Media Jobs

LinkedIn - I personally like the idea of using a social media platform to find a social media job…but that’s just me.

 3. Learn to Love Infographics

If you haven’t yet learned how to read, interpret, and ultimately bask in the glory that is the infographic, you are missing an essential element in the way social media is communicated. Just in case you need a primer, here’s a great social media infographic made just for you:

Website Building Made Easy with WordPress

08 Mar
March 8, 2012

I spent a lot of the last couple weeks doing web design. I am working on a social media marketing project for a film production company, and part of the process has been putting together websites for two of their film projects. The first project is a movie that they recently distributed, whose trailer went absolutely viral. They ended up on the O’Reilly Factor, and the home page of most major news media outlets. The downside to all this buzz was that other than the Youtube video, they had no place to drive the traffic to, or any way to “capture” any information about potential fans. Both sites still have a few little bugs, but here are the links so that you can check them out:

Osombie The Movie

The Shadow Cabal

My intent here is not to showcase the sites, but rather point out some of the resources that are available if you need to build a decent-looking site, have a basic understanding of HTML/CSS, and don’t have a large budget to hire a web developer.

The first thing you need to do is to grab a domain name. There are thousands of domain registrars out there, but I typically use eightbuckdomains.com. A domain (like the name suggests) shouldn’t set you back more than $8-10 for a 1-year registration – assuming the name you want isn’t being “squatted on” or already in use.

Second, you need to get hosting. Once again, there are hundreds of web hosting companies. Bluehost is one that seems to have good rates. You can get a good hosting package that includes most of the features you need for around $6 per month.

Once you get your domain registered, and your hosting setup, you need to decide on a CMS, or content management system. If you plan on having a static site, and not doing many changes, you can bypass the CMS, but if you want to blog, add photos, or if you ever plan to need to change anything at all on your site, beginning with a CMS is the smartest route to go. There are multiple CMS platforms available for websites, the most common being Joomla, WordPress and Drupal. I am personally a fan of WordPress (mostly for its ease of use), so that’s the one I typically go with. Bluehost and most other hosting companies include an easy WordPress installation option with every hosting plan.

Aside from the easy installation and general ease of use, one of the best things about WordPress is the huge selection of WordPress themes that are available. WordPress themes are starting points for you to use so that you don’t have to design a site from scratch. There are hundreds of really great free themes available to use as well as many premium themes. One resource I came across this last week as I was searching for themes to use as a starting point on these sites was web2feel.com.

Orion Theme from web2feel.com

Web2feel is a fantastic site with a great selection of really beautiful FREE wordpress themes. I highly recommend using this site if you are in need of an inexpensive, but updated website theme. As far as premium themes go, a search for “premium wordpress themes” on Google will lead you to many good sites – I have had good experience with WooThemes, ThemeForest, ElegantThemes, and Studiopress.

One other thing that I love about WordPress as a CMS is the availability of so many plugins. Plugins are snippets of code that you can download to your site right through the WordPress dashboard that allow you to easily add functionality to your site. For example, on shadowcabal.com, we are using two Twitter plugins – one imports tweets from our Twitter feed (twitter.com/shadowcabal) and displays them on the site, the other one automatically posts new blog posts to our Twitter account. We are also using a plugin called FIAGallery to do a photo gallery on the Shadow Cabal Photo page.

Like I mentioned in the beginning of the post, customizing a theme to your tastes (especially if you want to make a lot of changes) can result in a few little bugs that may take a little bit of digging and troubleshooting to figure out, but in the end, you get a site that looks good, functions well, and is not only easy to update, but also has the added benefit of having built-in SEO.

Worst Marketing Campaign Ever?

01 Mar
March 1, 2012

Last week I drove through Salt Lake City on my way to visit my parents. There is a billboard near Draper, UT that I have passed dozens of times, and it never fails to strike me as one of the worst marketing strategies ever implemented. (I didn’t manage to snap a photo in time on my way past this last week, but I discovered another billboard by the same company only a few blocks from Brigham Young University. This is the one you see pictured above).

I am positive that some will disagree with me (and I encourage you to post your disagreements in the comments), but I really believe that this campaign has to be one of the dumbest marketing campaigns ever.

There are a lot of reasons I think this is terrible, but let me just highlight 3:

1) Advertising ER wait times on a billboard on the freeway is impractical.

When someone needs to visit an emergency room, it’s not like a hungry man looking for a restaurant – you don’t call around to see who has the shortest wait times. When you’re dying, you either call 911, or burn rubber to the closest emergency room.

2) The text sends a secondary message: “Slower is Worse.”

Any time over 2 minutes sends exactly the opposite message of what they are trying to convey to potential patients. Unless the time is consistently less than 5 minutes (and I think that’s probably too generous), patients will be getting the wrong message. This picture shows an average wait of 24 minutes – I have seen times over 90 minutes on at least one occasion during the last few times I have driven past the Draper sign. Let’s just say I know which hospital I’m going to avoid if I ever need emergency care in the Draper area.

3) There is almost ZERO real upside to this idea.

 I admit that this tactic may potentially have one redeeming quality – it may be an effective way to keep the ER staff accountable (very publicly, might I add) for wait times. However, I think there are way too many downsides for that to even remotely compensate for the insanity I find in this idea. If the times are low, potential patients will see the sign, and think, “Good. They should have low times. They are doing their job.” However, any time the wait time posted goes over 5-10 minutes, it drives home an even stronger message – the message that they are slow, and you shouldn’t visit them.

I see this as the equivalent of McDonald’s putting this on a billboard:

The Fewer.    The Better

# of Food Poisoning Cases Today:

14

Anything number over zero will have catastrophic consequences, and even suggesting the idea of food poisoning to customers will have a negative impact on the bottom line.

 

I think posting the ER wait times on a billboard is counterproductive, damages the brand, and is an absolutely insane marketing strategy. What do you think?

Caption Contest

16 Feb
February 16, 2012

 

I came across this image while doing a project for one of my classes, and I think that with the right caption, it’s ripe to become a good meme.

Please leave your caption submissions in the comments, or tweet them to @brentjacbsen #captioncontest

Geniuses & Idiots: Gas Guzzling Priuses & Vehicular Profiling

16 Feb
February 16, 2012

In the spirit of Bill O’reilly’s “Pinheads and Patriots” segment (and many other comparative pieces out there in journalism land), I figured it was time to add my own occasional blog post contrasting good and bad ideas. I’m calling my segment, “Geniuses & Idiots.”

I just got my new Businessweek from the mailbox earlier today, and being the car guy that I am, two stories in this week’s magazine caught my attention.

Genius Award

The first story that caught my attention is titled “The Efficiency Paradox” and due to some awesome insights around how many “green” solutions actually have a negative impact on the environment, David Owen, the author of The Conundrum, wins this edition’s “Genius” award.

Some examples of the green “conundrum”:

Idiot Award

This week’s Idiot Award was a tie, so the idiots will have to split the glory – the winners are the Polizia di Stato and the Agenzia delle Entrate (Italian Police and Italian Revenue Agency). In an era when racial profiling is considered very politically incorrect, apparently vehicular profiling is perfectly okay.

Ferrari Drivers Beware!

In Italy, if you are out driving in any type of expensive vehicle, the police will pull you over, check your registration, then call the Italian tax authorities, and check to see if your reported income is sufficiently high to justify you driving a nice car. At first, I actually couldn’t believe this, but European socialism seems to have few limits. I’ve heard Marin Lawrence talk about being pulled over for DWB (National Security), but it’s a whole new thing to be pulled over for DWS (Driving With Style).

Here’s the video:

Social Media, Viral Videos, and the Value of Zombie Insurance

09 Feb
February 9, 2012

I have to admit that the title of this post is one that I would never have predicted would land on my blog, but at the same time, I must also admit that I think it somehow fulfills a hidden sub-consious (and very twisted) childhood play fantasy.

I am currently in a Social Media Marketing class, and as part of the class we are assigned to a real company, and put in charge of their social media campaign. My group ended up working for Arrowstorm Entertainment, an independent production company and film investment fund. They recently finished filming a movie titled “Osombie” – here’s a short synopsis:

Osombie is an independently-produced, feature-length zombie film, packed with violence, mayhem, guns, blood and discussions about Pokemon. Oh, and zombies. Lots of zombies.

In short, Osama bin Laden has returned from his watery grave and is making an army of zombie terrorists. I know, awesome right?

Anyways, this is a pretty low budget film, and the team at Arrowstorm decided to beef up the funding (and get some free marketing for the film) by doing a Kickstarter campaign. None of this is all that exciting, but they also decided to give a 48 hour exclusive to the release of the film trailer to Quiet Earth.

RESULTS: It’s been 7 days since the Kickstarter campaign went live – they have raised over $11,000, have almost 200,000 views on Youtube, and I just got an e-mail showing Osombie on the home page of the New York Daily News site.

LESSON: Dead Terrorist + Zombies + Exclusivity + Zombie Insurance = Viral Video Success

For your viewing pleasure:

© 2012 - Brent Jacobsen