Now that’s what I call viral marketing.

I find an unusual URL in my blog stats. Naturally, I click on the link and it takes me to a free backlink checker. Nice. Whose site? ‘SEO PRO‘ of Australia. Thanks, chaps.

Did they spam me? No. Did they get me on their site? Yes. Did they give me something that added value? Yes. Am I blogging about them in return? Yes.

The mechanics of how someone appeared in our blog stats is the clever bit. Think about it. Unknown to us, one of the hundreds of businesses we’ve put a link to on G2B@blog has used the SEO PRO tool. Their results have turned up a backlink to the G2B@podcast, which they’ve then clicked out of curiosity. The referring page’s URL that appears in our stats? SEO PRO’s backlink checker. “Ooh” says I “who’s that linking to our blog?” and off we go again.

Email marketing – the law and spam

Most people starting out in business don’t know what the law actually says about what you can and can’t do regarding email marketing. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what constitutes spam – especially those people who offer to sell you one-off email-shots to their 10,000 name lists.

If your eyes glaze over when you read what the various official websites have to say about email marketing, don’t worry – you’re not alone. With guidelines like that, no wonder everyone’s spamming everyone else.

So, in a spirit of public good-heartedness, I’ve boiled down the rules to a couple of points that you’ve no excuse for not being able to grasp. Honestly. Here it is

1. You can send mail marketing to a LTD or PLC company without consent – so long as the addressee is non-personal (e.g. info@bigcityconsulting)

2. You can’t send email marketing to individuals, sole traders or partnerships unless there is consent.

The rules define 3 ways consent is given (or construed):

1) Where (at the point of collecting email addresses) you’ve offered an ‘opt-out’ box but the person hasn’t ticked it

2) Where (at the point of collecting email addresses) you’ve offered an ‘opt-in’ box and the person has ticked it

or

3) Where the email address was obtained ‘in the course of a sale or negotiations of a product or service AND then only where the email contents are concerned with that sale AND then only where the person has been given an opt-out option at every stage’.

This is what’s known as ‘the soft opt-in’.

If you’re outside of that, you’re spamming.

¡mu! news

We’ve been going through a complete review here at ‘mu:kau and taking stock of where we are after just over a year out there in the world of business. The process of reflection hasn’t been easy (it never is) but vital to do.

Just over a year ago, we made our first podcast. Since then, we’ve got our name out there as the right people to talk to if you want to know anything about podcasting in the South West of the UK. The ‘G2B@podcast’ has also been a great vehicle (read ‘excuse’) for tramping around the business networking circuit and meeting and interviewing loads of interesting people

We’ve captured seminars, interviewed happy (and not so happy) customers, podcasted business networking events, created fun podcast ‘serials’, trained groups to podcast and delivered customer feedback surveys. We’ve set up 24/7 audio feedback lines for hotels and given presentations about podcasting across the region. We’ve partnered up with several creative businesses to add podcasting to their offerings.

It hasn’t been easy. The process of starting out in business is hugely challenging – especially if you do everything in the wrong order, as we did. And doubly so when you throw all manner of personal challenges and serious illness into the mix. Its been a tough – and in many ways, a humbling – experience. And we’re still here.

Right now, we’re developing the ‘mu:kau Heard package, producing various podcasts (including a series for BT global group), designing audio blogs for businesses and providing ‘mu:kau full-strength feedback for individual projects. Along with podcast training, podcast production, blog design and various audio feedback services our focus for 2008 is in the area of Online Reputation Management.

Online reputation management. Not.

This is a recent, real review about a real hotel. It is public, still there, available for anyone to read.


A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT.

We were allocated a second floor room fronting onto the street and the noise from late night revellers outside adjacent bars continued into the early hours of Saturday morning. Sleep was impossible.

OK you say, typical for [location] and it did finally settle down – for about an hour. However, persons in the next room returned and we endured loud conversation, radio/tv at high volume and hysterical laughter throughout the rest of the night. Our complaints to reception resulted in the comment “They are entitled to laugh” It continued, even louder. We checked out in the morning!.

We expected some explanation, regret and maybe an apology. No contact until 3 emails inviting us to “Visit [name] Hotel This Festive Season”. This prompted a reply from me reiterating our experience. It was ignored.
I sent a reminder email – “HOW ABOUT THE COURTESY OF A REPLY?” No response – But I did receive a copy of an internal email in error, it says everything about [name] Hotel, [location] viz. “John remove them from the email database please Regards”

How beligerant. Unable to recommend to anyone.


When we read online reviews, we’re doing two things simultaneously: we’re looking at the detail and the bigger picture to decide whether to buy. We expect the odd slip-up in service or the occasional faulty goods. But if we spot a trend of poor service, faulty goods or a failure of the business to respond to such problems – we’re suddenly on consumer high-alert.

What we won’t forgive is someone’s unwillingness to listen when we’ve had a less-than-satisfactory experience. In the case of the hotel (above) there is a worrying silence despite there being a facility to respond via the online review site. Of course, it’s possible the hotel has resolved this matter to the customer’s satisfaction offline. But the absence of any online response suggests that’s unlikely.

A prospective customer will conclude that either this hotel is as beligerent as the reviewer asserts or that they are incapable of handling this situation. Either way, the original problem of noisy rooms still remains unresolved (bad) and now, added to that, the impression that nobody gives a damn (worse).

This situation presents two significant challenges for this hotel. It clearly needs to develop the skills to monitor and respond publicly to such critical and public online reviews.

But in order to address and resolve this particular review – and to avoid others like it in the first place – the management in this hotel has to change how it deals with feedback in the first place.

1 star reviews on national hotel review sites are – make no mistake – acts of punishment.

The crime isn’t the noisy bedroom. The crime is not listening.

This is what I like about podcasting

The means of podcast production and the means of podcast consumption – together in one place. I love the fact that these two small pieces of equipment are the basic components to allow you to talk – and listen – to anyone in the world.

Everything we do is recorded on the m-Audio mp3 recorder. It’s perfect for interviews, events, voicetracks… you name it.

The Emperor’s Old Clothes

No. It isn’t. See?

The above is a transcript of a ‘The Best Of’ audio ad I heard on their site yesterday. Word-for-word, it simply isn’t true, and yet it goes unchallenged. The trouble with this ad is that it puts forward ‘The Best Of’ as the solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And that pretty much sums up the last 50 years of advertising.

For businesses, the era of advertising is rapidly drawing to a close. What you say about yourself is a myth waiting to be debunked; what others say about you is the reality. The website, that concrete monument to you-as-you-want-to-be-seen will soon start to look like a Victorian folly.

O.R.M

They say that 2008 is lining up to be the year of ‘online reputation management’. I agree. The consumer review, whether clustered in online review sites or splattered through blogs all over the web, has turned conventional marketing on its head – and most operators don’t even know it.

Right now, we’re seeing the rapid growth of ‘online reputation management’ solutions – tools and consultancy services designed to roam the web and harvest what people are saying and suggest ways of countering negative feedback.

We’re interested because ‘mu:kaumedia seems to be working at the opposite end of the process – launching a package designed to stop consumers punishing organisations through the use of the damning review in the first place.

Watch this space. ORM is what the social networking revolution is all about.

When 5 stars = 0 stars

Our business is about using feedback to develop ourselves and our organisations, so you’d expect us to be sticking our noses into all kinds of feedback and review systems. Here’s one I came across recently. ‘The Good Garage Scheme”.

This feedback scheme is ostensibly about driving up the standards of workmanship and customer service in garages across the UK. However, the first thing that struck me about this scheme was that every garage listed (and there appear to be several hundred at least) seems to score 5 out of 5 stars. The written feedback (where supplied) also appears to be exclusively positive.

I then learned that the scheme is operated by Forte – a company supplying high-price, high-margin ‘emission-control’ fuel additives to the garages in the GoodGarageScheme system.

The absence of balancing feedback undermines the value of any 5-Star rating but that’s not the only issue for me here. The fact that it’s clearly in Forte’s interest to have as many 5-Star-rated garages as possible recommending its products to a trusting public leaves the whole thing open to criticism.

Google serves porn to kiddies (allegedly)

So apparently Google’s filtering system went doo-lally and started serving up hard core images on its front page results. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. We create the internet so that anyone can fill it with anything and, in its default mode (i.e. unfiltered) anyone can access anything. Then we get upset when the clunky filtering systems we invent to try to oh, er… stop certain people (i.e. kids) seeing certain things don’t work properly.

What bothers me more is the internet’s underlying ‘pornography’ – its capacity to supply endless, necessarily shallow, amoral, 2-dimensional chunks of increasingly visual material for the pleasurable consumption of everyone from pre-school upwards.

It astonishes me that we’re outraged that Google serves up a jpg of genitalia to our kids but we’re completely comfortable with them spending their lives constructing their self-esteem around how many Bebo friends they have acquired – or them spending hours ‘consuming’ 2-dimensional people on ‘Hot or Not’.

You might think I’m being over the top but if – for a moment – you could stop identifying porn with a ‘thing’ (the picture, the stage show, the DVD, the private shop)- then you could only describe it in terms of what it does to / for people and how we relate to it.

What is porn, then, if we can’t name the ‘thing’ we usually label it as? Its a way of looking; a way of using ‘things’ to feel something; a way of relating to the world. Its a way of representing people and things. How does porn treat people? The portrayed? The consumer? Aha. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Difficult? Deep? Heavy? Yes. The girl on the front page of Hot or Not when I clicked through is there for what reason? To know how hundreds of anonymous viewers will judge her. Her what? Why is she there? To try to build her self-esteem based on how many men find her attractive. How is that different from what we call pornography?

Long tale…

I recently read ‘The Long Tail’ by Chris Anderson in which he outlines the new ‘niche’ economy. It’s definately worth a read – because the basic principle is important. Put simply:

• The old material economy puts a premium on physical space – hence it’s all geared to creating ‘hits’ and selling large volumes of a limited range of things (movies, products, services etc).

• The new digital economy does away with the constraints of physical space and connects niche buyers with niche products, enabling a market for niche products. These technologies are able to capitalise the fact that there is greater overall volume of ‘stuff’ in the tail than in the peak.

This new economy, Anderson says, is shaped by 3 key forces:

1) The aggregators (those who bring together lots of virtual, niche, stock – like Amazon

2) The connectors (those who connect niche markets to niche products) – like Google and

3) The niche content producers.

What I find interesting is that in this model, the aggregators and the connectors win because they’re fed by an endless stream of content / product from niche producers in pursuit of good old-fashioned ‘hit’ status.

This is the main contradiction in the book for me. The examples that Anderson cites of niche content producers benefiting are in fact, the opposite. They’re niche content producers using social media (like YouTube and blogging) to infiltrate – guess what? – the mainstream ‘hit’ economy. Their motivation? To become mainstream, to sell mainstream and to make money mainstream.

That for me is the weakness of this dream of ‘win-win-win’ techno utopia. Not only is this argument inherently slanted towards digital content (where do toilet rolls fit in?), it claims a paradigm shift which, on very mild inspection, turns out to be rather more like ‘paradigm-as-usual’.