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The Internet-borne Ultimatum – FTC Heading Towards Supporting Legislation for Internet Marketers

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Companies and other businesses who have shown interest in pursuing social media marketing must be made aware of certain developments at the federal level before going through on that front.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, says the efforts of online marketers have “fallen short” to create a do-not-track mechanism, through a 120-plus page report. The efforts, the report describes, have been overly-complicated for consumers to opt-out of being tracked for marketing information, as well as other self-regulatory efforts.

On the night before he is scheduled to testify before a congressional hearing, Leibowitz and the FTC have called for markets to voluntarily create a user-friendly mechanism that would allow consumers to easily opt-out of data collection.

The reports detailed the marketers efforts to self-regulate and described them as being slow and failing to “provide adequate and meaningful protection.”

It has been over two years since FTC first called for online marketers to provide a clear and concise way for consumers to opt out of data collection, and as it would appear, those calls have fallen by the wayside. Now, the congressional hearings are being called in.

Before being called in from of a congressional committee. Leibowitz expressed his dissatisfaction with the marketers self-regulatory initiative and said, however, that he and the FTC are not calling for privacy regulations, but are not opposed to supporting legislation in the future should it come to that.

In a roundabout way, an ultimatum has been set by the FTC, that it’s been too long and things need to change.

If you are a business or company moving towards online marketing, the FTC is looking for two things – an opt-out mechanism, and that that mechanism is user-friendly.

Some companies have responded and have gotten out ahead of any prospective legislation, most notably Mircosoft, which has included an opt-out function for its latest version of Internet Explorer.

Buzzphoria passionately believes that companies must carefully monitor where and when their messages appear online. We adhere strictly to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s (WOMMA) Code of Ethics along with those set fourth by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as well as our own sense of keeping our clients’ best interests in mind.

MySpace is not YourSpace – Bringing up the Question of Social Networking Security

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Businesses that wish to take advantage of the social media space in their marketing strategies should be aware of recent developments in the courts with regards to the privacy and confidentiality in online sites. In these cases, unsuspecting site users have had their private conversations violated by site owners, who furthered their own interests by passing along valuable user information, navigation habits etc. to outside marketers.

In March of this year, judgment was handed down in the Facebook privacy lawsuit – the “Beacon Settlement,” in which user information was leaked to advertisers via banner ads – which resulted in Facebook being levied a $9.5 million fine. Furthermore, the court stipulated that Facebook set aside $6 million for the purpose of setting up a foundation, to be headed by a three-person board, tasked with ensuring the privacy of information for Facebook users.

It would appear that the online privacy issues have been resolved with social media users free to Twitter and post at will without fear of private conversations being violated.

However, the judgment which was levied down brings with it its own liabilities. The Facebook privacy foundation will be helmed by Tim Sparapani, the current Facebook director of public policy, which has led critics to call this a conflict of interests. In fact Ginger McCall, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed an appeal in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court, calling the settlement “deficient and illusory.”

In addition, lawsuits have been filed against social media networking sites MySpace and Google Buzz for similar lapses in user privacy. MySpace applications – including TagMe, GreenSpot and RockYou Pets – have allegedly been passing user information to its advertisers.

Buzz – Google’s social networking service – has been charged with passing along personal information that might be held in a user’s Gmail account, making it public, and releasing what was confidential information if users did not specifically change the default settings. Google was recently forced to pay $8.5 million in damages.

Critics like McCall have lampooned the courts decisions, saying the penalty award amounts are misleading with only a small percentage of the damages go to the individual users who filed the lawsuits with the bulk going toward watchdog foundations.

Google admitted the February launch of Buzz was premature. But critics knew about these allegations beforehand and called Google out on its services deficiencies, but they continued with the launch anyway. This brings into question the security of social media more than ever. It is one thing when sites are passing consumer information to advertisers, but it is quite another when the safety of your confidential and personal information is jeopardized.

Even though a precedent has stemmed from these cases, McCall and others are left unsatisfied, even with millions of dollars made in settlements. They wish to go further and set additional legal precedents that will protect the privacy of social network users by having the site that violates those laws face serious penalties.

Buzzphoria believe that companies must carefully monitor where and when their messages appear online. We adhere strictly to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s (WOMMA) Code of Ethics along with those set fourth by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as well as our own sense of keeping our clients’ best interests in mind.

I “Like” You – Integration of Social Networks and Internet Searches - Buzzphoria Blog Post

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Microsoft announced recently a partnership with Facebook that would take the first step of a long-sought after goal to integrate social media and Internet search. Microsoft Bing will allow users to enter search terms and view responses as well as feedback from matches to those searched items from their Facebook “community.” For example, if someone should entering their Bing a search for a steakhouse, they might find several names of places in the area, but they will also find that a number of their friends have “liked” a specific steakhouse on their Facebook page. This has been a goal of search engines for some time and this marks the first step being taken in a new front of social media marketing.

You better believe that companies are taking that front very very seriously. Crown Imports EVP, which brings in Corona Beers, has launched a campaign centered around Corona Light to make it the most “Liked” beer on Facebook. Crown has purchased a large electronic display in New York’s Time Square urging people to “Make Us The Most Liked.” Not to buy Corona Light or drink Corona Light, but to make them the most liked on Facebook. To sink serious money into an advertising program such as that adds to the validity of the social market. Corona Light ranks eighth among light beer sales, but has risen in consumer sales since August while its competitors – Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light etc. – have declined in sales. And this is something that for certain will continue. If an average conusmer is sitting at home some night and is going to look for a movie to go see, he or she might go on Bing and check show times. If that person sees that 15 of their friends have seen and “liked” The Social Network, then they might be inclined to go see that.

Of course this brings into question the protection of personal information displayed on Facebook and other social media site – something which already has brought into question in the past. However, Mircosoft and Facebook, both, of course, have stated that personal information will not be taken or pulled or pirated or used. But with all that aside, this major push from a top company brings to the forefront the importance advertiser and companies alike are putting on social mediums, and how that is now paying off. Now, however, it will become on more important on more of a micro level with seeking after “likes.”

Buzzphoria will take that initiative and plan with the companies from the start to create a plan – a social media marketing strategy – whether it be gather “likes” on face to increase search engine optimization. Do you want your company to come up on the first page of a Google or Bing search? Who doesn’t? Of course an increase in exposure will get you company’s name on the mind of the consumer, but just where is that consumer located?

Open Faced…Book? Personal Security Questioned on Social Networking Sites - Buzzphoria Blog Post

Monday, November 8th, 2010

From early 2010 until the beginning of the summer, two Facebook users allege that the social networking site leaked users’ personal information to advertisers and marketers. David Gould and Mike Robertson claim that from February to May, Facebook leaked a generous amount of information about users who clicked on ads via refer headers. The clicks transmitted enough data to marketers that they could specifically identify the people (through their Facebook account) who arrive on the advertisers’ site after clicking on ads on Facebook. The pair claim that this violates federal and state privacy laws, as well as Facebook’s own privacy policy it ensures to all its users.

This is not the first time Facebook – or other social networking sites – have been accused of privacy violations. Just last year, two computer scientists published the report, “On the Leakage of Personally Identifiable Information via Online Social Networks,” which focused on how networking sites could be leaking personally identifiable information to marketers. One example given in an article published on MediaPost.com, if a gay Facebook users was struggling to come out of the closet, he or she might be view a Facebook gay support group page. If they should click on one of the ads on the page, the advertiser would then know that person was on a gay support group page, as well as their personal information given on their personal profile.

With just the click of the mouse, this person’s personal information – as well as the information from all the pervious pages they have visited – have been made available to advertisers and marketers, and what’s to stop the marketers from blindly soliciting these people? The truth – nothing. And what’s to stop these marketers from sharing information? Nothing. There exists no checks and balance system in online social media and marketing. Privacy laws exist, but it’s readily apparent how well those are followed if these allegations turn out to be true and Facebook glitches pass this information to its advertisers. Even so, nothing exists to check and see where these marketers obtained this information – it’s a roundabout way of “Everybody gets what they get,” and they will all use what they get.

Information needs to be protected, whether it be on a social media networking site or directly given to advertisers and marketers. For instance, when people sign up for Google Alerts and receive emails throughout the day because they want to monitor particular terms or information, they are trusting Google that they don’t need to worry about what else Google might do with that information or that they’ll have to deal with unsolicited, marketing emails. Much the same way they sign up for Google Alerts or other updates, people will sign up with marketers to receive emails about their products so they can be advertised to as opposed to a blind solicitation and are forced to wonder how a marketer got their information and what else they might be doing with it.

At Buzzphoria, we strictly adhere to WOMMA’s (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) Code of Ethics http://womma.org/ethics/code/intro/ and those of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/?utm_source=prsa_website&utm_medium=top_nav_intelligence&utm_campaign=ethics_nav. It is our feeling that as marketers, we need to provide consumers with a level of confidence when dealing with brands and companies not only to be transparent and authentic but to also protect the trust a consumer places in our hands when they provide us with personal information.

Chief Marketing Officers on Digital Marketing: To Expense, Or Not To Expense - Buzzphoria Blog Post

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

In a time when it seems to be a no-brainer for most companies to make the switch from analog to digital marketing initiatives, marketing strategists are making important decisions not only about which digital markets to reach out to, but also how much time and money could and should be allotted to digital expansion.

Enter a new study from the CMO Council and Accenture shows that not all Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are gung-ho about investing company funds into digital outlets.

According to the study, most CMOs agree that digitization is important — 78 percent agreed with the survey statement, “digital channels are important to their organization.” Also, half of those that were surveyed agreed that “Technology now underpins and shapes the entire customer experience.”

However, when asked if they’re “heavily committed and invested” in interactive digital marketing strategies, only one-third of the respondents agreed that they are prepared. Which begs the question: If so many marketing professionals feel that bridging the gap from analog to digital is essential to the future of their company, why haven’t they invested the necessary time and funds to do so?

(Un)Preparedness — Of the CMOs that were polled in the study, only 38 percent said they “believed their organization was prepared to exploit the opportunities presented by digital marketing channels.” So what about the other 62 percent who say they don’t feel that they’re ready to take advantage of the growing digital climate?

· 59 percent say they feel that they don’t have the funding for digital upgrades.

· 46 percent say that there is a disconnect between how digital marketing operates, and general understanding among senior management that curbs digital marketing investments.

(Lack of) Confidence — Perhaps even more daunting is the number of CMOs that agreed that they know how their customers utilize digital outlets. Only 27 percent concurred, “We know what we need to know about customers’ usage of our digital channels.”

Here at Buzzphoria, we understand that it takes a multi-layered approach when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of digital marketing. We help our clients find ways to bridge the gap that stands between companies who understand how important digital marketing has become, and what it takes to effectively understand and tap those essential resources. In an ever-increasing digitized business climate we believe that it is absolutely essential for companies to understand which trends their target audience is most likely to follow, and finally how to effectively meld digital with traditional marketing.

Has your company decided to go head-first into what it takes to meet the needs of your digital consumer? Tell us about it!

Online anonymity: A right or a responsibility? - Buzzphoria Blog Post

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Since the beginning of the Internet, a wild-west mentality has prevailed with people anonymously blasting articles and blogs with caustic comments. The authors and bloggers are stunned and left shaking their heads wondering about the anger and venom they’ve suffered.


For decades the Internet hasn’t held users accountable for reckless comments. But that may be changing in two ways. First, social networking sites, such as Facebook, are requiring participants to use their real names. In addition, lawsuits are also being filed against anonymous Internet users for slanderous comments or posting vital information about crimes.


Many would (and still do) argue that online anonymity will not fade away. Just imagine the sound of keyboards declaring that Internet users deserve their first amendment rights- FREEDOM OF SPEECH. So, the question is, does the first amendment cover a person who hides behind a false name only to harm others or add fuel to the fire? The answer is NO.

Consequences: It’s widely known that unruly or harsh comments associated with a person’s real persona could cost them a prospective job, clients and reputation. Hiding behind a fictitious name does not provide real protection, as digital fingerprints are easy to track.

Take for example the non-ethical behavior of companies who have asked their employees to provide glowing third party comments to impact stock price or sales. The courts have simply called this type of corporate behavior, fraud.

Here at Buzzphoria (www.buzzphoria.com), we respect the disclosure of identity standards from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMMA, which requires members to disclose their relationships or identities with consumers when they may influence a customer’s buying-decision. Our rules of the worldwide-web begin with an introduction of who we are, the name of client we represent and our purpose for responding to the blog or article. That is just the way we do business.



Telling the truth –It’s not only the right thing to do- it takes courage. For example Activision Blizzard Inc., one of the world’s largest videogame companies, boldly set guidelines for users’ online posts.

The company placed a requirement that gamers list their real names to post messages in online forums, just in time for the change to be applied to its first forums of the company’s highly anticipated “StarCraft II,” which was released in late July.  The purpose of the policy was to deflate the sometimes-nasty discussions amongst gamers.

Sadly, the policy collapsed after a widespread backlash from game users. The service is based on paid-subscriptions, and the company was concerned a revolt from consumers could mean a drop in sales.


But what is to be said about online sites that are not held at the mercy of consumers’ demand? Are they more willing to allow users to post factitious names without being held accountable for any wrong doings? A growing number of legal decisions are making it easier for lawyers to use legal proceedings to have online users’ names disclose. A move that hints the guidelines for Internet postings may shift for safety reasons, and to control unruly and malicious users.


One infamous case, the Lori Drew MySpace trial, made international headlines as the court reviewed evidence that a St. Louis suburb mom established a fake online identity to bully her daughter’s rival, who eventually committed suicide. Although the court eventually threw out the case, the judge threatened to criminalize the act of creating a fake persona online. The publicity surrounding the case echoed through the Internet community.


For now, users still have the right to their online anonymity. But based on the string of legal cases and Internet company reactions, there may soon be a major change to Internet users rights. In the meantime, users should be careful about their content, and the possible damage it may cause.

The simplest rule to follow is- use your name and stand behind your words. Why would so many users fight this?

Three Ways Social Media is Changing the Way We Do Business

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

As more and more people hop onto social media platforms, we are seeing more companies tapping into technology in new ways. The word is spreading that there are ways to create dialogues and conversation with your own customers while being introduced to millions of potential new clients.

For those not tuning in to the stats, Facebook is currently leading in terms of users. On September 15, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, posted a message stating that Facebook “now serves 300 million people across the world.” To put some perspective on that number, there are just three countries with a 300 million+ population: China @ 1.3 billion, India @ 1.2 billion and America @ 307 million. Simply said, your consumers and potential customers are out there… and they are talking.

So how is social media changing business strategy?

  1. Social Media Gives Candid Feedback:

Last time I took a restaurant phone survey, there was no option along the lines of ‘push 7 if your waiter should have been fired on the spot for the horrific service you received.’ However, many consumers will express this frustration in the medium most commonly at their fingertips. Before a company is even aware that someone has dropped their name in cyberspace, their brand is smeared all over Twitter within hours. Or the total opposite may be occurring and users are mentioning how much they love your product. Either way, it’s up to the company to react and create dialogue or to be totally absent from the conversation.

2. Social Media Creates B2C Dialogues:

One of most influential factors in a company’s choice to plug in to these networks is the opportunity for consumer dialogue. Instead of buying ad space to talk AT your target market, we now have the option to talk WITH them. Time to phase out the little feedback cards and mini pencils; the answers are right in front of us! Using social media gives companies a perfect opportunity to show personality and character 24/7 rather than trying to cram feeling into a :30 or :60 second ad slot. As for ROI, your success is solely dependent on the effort you put into your accounts. Dell has around 40 Twitter accounts, each personalized to a different target group of consumers. Definitely a lot of work to maintain correctly, but the end result is an estimated $3 million in sales attributed to Twitter.

3. Social Media Allows Personalized Service:

Of course, so does a customer help phone line. Here’s the difference: a recent Mashable poll showed that people spend an average of 68 hours per week on the internet. Social media-savvy companies are reaching out to their customers in a place they know they can find them. This is proactive approach can save a lot of problems down the road. For example, when a user tweets about their negative experience with Comcast, Frank Eliason (@comcastcares) responds with tips or offers to help. Eliason’s efforts were highlighted last year in a NYTimes article that shows how effectively social media works to allow companies to help consumers… and hopefully quiet the consumer’s negative postings!

Buzzphoria stays connected to the web, constantly seeking out conversations involving or affecting our clients. From there, when a company really sees how consumers are reacting to their brand, they can respond in an honest and helpful way.

Has your company gotten in to social media? Why or why not?

The Wall Street Journal Says: Forget the Website…Create a Blog. Why We Partially Disagree.

Monday, May 11th, 2009

In our last post we covered To Blog or Not to Blog. In that post we mentioned that too many brands and corporations take a Field of Dreams approach to creating a blog believing that just because they build it the audience will come.

A report in the Wall Street Journal, noted the effect of adding a blog to a web site: unique site visitors increased from 100 per month to 150,000 per month; total sales increased 18 percent; web-site generated sales increased to 25 percent of referrals, up from a mere one percent.

The Wall Street Journal article also suggested that a blog can be more important than having a web site.

While we agree that blogs can be an important component of a brand’s marketing mix, we feel that it would be reckless for a brand or company to depend solely on the blog as their online marketing initiative. A blog is a great tool if properly planned and executed, however, if there is no voice, no plan and no audience it can also fall into the proverbial tree falling in the forest argument…

Creating a blog can be inexpensive when free blog sites such as Google’s Blogger.com (www.blogger.com). And while no one can promise that using Google’s blog site will get your blog a better listing in a Google search, it just seems like common sense that it would be a plus.

Other free blog sites include Wordpress.org (www.wordpress.org), LiveJournal.com (www.livejournal.com), and . . . we’ll stop here, because any list will be sure to omit the one blog site that someone thinks is the best blog site on the web. But that’s one of the great things about a blog: readers add value by posting comments. So, let the debate begin over the best place to be blogging. Or whether Blogger.com earns better positioning in a Google search.

But back to business . . . your business.
 
Why Blog?

A blog is alive.

A web site is static.

A blog is fresh, it’s now: content with a “born on” date.

A web site is like . . . that jar of peanut butter of an unknown vintage, lost in the back of the pantry.  Contaminated with salmonella? Who knows how long it has been sitting.
 
A blog engages the reader by empowering each reader to post comments.

A web site is mere dictation . . . dictatorially delivered.

A blog collects consumer feedback . . . in a place where your business can respond, especially to show the world you care about satisfying any unhappy customer.
 
A web site may invite an email or phone call, but can fail miserably at enabling you to show the world you care and do deliver excellence in customer service.

Updating a blog is as easy as posting your latest text, pics, or video to the blog.

Updating a web site? Unless you’re technically savvy, you’ll be writing text and a check with every little update.

A blog allows you to show your expertise. With this blog, Buzzphoria aims to illustrate details about our being our own best case study while at the same time showing how your business can use digital marketing strategies to enhance your bottom line.

To help stimulate the discussion, Buzzphoria will continue, intentionally, to do some things wrong, while unfolding all the elements of endgame and “we are our own best case study” illustration . . . and, we invite readers to demonstrate their informed opinions on the better way to achieve marketing success in this space. Uncensored.

Coming soon: What is a social media reality check? and What happens when your brand gets hijacked.

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

In our last post we talked about Buzzphoria being our own best case study. Our example was blogger journalism and some of the comments received helped to also illustrate other elements of our case study such as freedom of speech and brand hijacking.

As part of our case study we decided to illustrate the mistakes companies often make in thinking they absolutely have to have a blog…

Perhaps that’s why there are estimates that there will be 110 billion blogs by 2010.

See, so often companies feel compelled that they have to have a blog just because they have to have a blog.

They never ask themselves the critical questions:

- why they have to have it,
- how are they going to maintain it,
- what do they want it to achieve - what’s the blog’s purpose,
- how are they going to build a following for it,
- what voice do they want to set with it,
- what do they want to say,
- more importantly, do they have something to say?

Instead many companies rush to set up their blogs. They post a couple times, get side-tracked by other projects, lose interest and ultimately abandon the blog.

They enter into the blogging endeavor like Kevin Costner clones in Field of Dreams thinking all they have to do is say, “Hello World”

And they wait, and they wait and they wait…a long time. Like a tree falling in a forest, did anyone hear it fall?

Waiting…Waiting…For that one person to say hello back.

For most no one ever says hello back.

In our case we waited patiently for 5 months from the time we posted that blog page for the first hello.

In our case it came through five months later through a tweet by Jim “Genuine” Turner who was first to note that we had left the original Word Press message “Hello World” sitting out there.

This led to Mr. Allen. That led to tweets and blog re-postings and link backs chastising us for what these folks perceived to be our foolishness, a novice error.

Thank you gentlemen for proving another of our points to our clients:
You don’t need a blog just for the sake of having a blog. Only do it if there’s a reason why anyone would care…

And then maybe, if they’ve developed the right strategy, done the proper planning and knew what their end game was the pollination effect will begin to take hold. 

The Buzzphoria End Game — We Are Our Own Best Case Study

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

In our last post, we talked about having the end game in mind when you enter your brand or company into the social media stratosphere.

We figured the best way to illustrate what brands and corporations often do wrong (without pointing fingers at brands and corporations that are doing it wrong) was to create a case study and example.

Congrats to journalist, blogger and social media guru Scott “Social Media” Allen for revealing typical bungles brands make and special thanks for also illustrating our point about the dangers many companies don’t realize when they embark on the social media journey. Naive mistakes, they make, but that’s what happens to the naive.

Numerous studies estimate by 2010 there will be over 1 billion blogs worldwide. 

According to Reuters, many people see blogs as alternatives to the mainstream media. Reuters goes on the say that many bloggers do so as a hobby rather than as a vocation, with 77 percent of them saying they post to express themselves creatively rather than to get noticed or paid.

Reuters pointed out these specifics:

37 percent of bloggers cited their life and experiences as their primary topic, while politics and government came in second at 11 percent.

About 34 percent see their blogging as a form of journalism.

 Just over a third of bloggers said they engage often in journalistic activities such as verifying facts and linking to source material.

 More than 40 percent of bloggers said they never quote sources or other media directly.

11 percent said they post corrections.

61 percent said they rarely or never get permission to use copyrighted material.

55 percent of bloggers write under a pseudonym.

Nearly 90 percent invite comments from other readers. 

Four out of five blogs use text, while 72 percent display photos and audio links play on 30 percent of blogs. 

82 percent of bloggers think they will still be blogging in a year. 3 percent say they have quit. 

We especially appreciate Scott Allen’s help in communicating an important message to our clients by  dissecting many  of the things we intentionally did wrong or left incomplete. (See his blog posting published March 27 @ http://scottsocialmediaallen.com/index.php/buzzphoria-social-media-reality-check/)

But Mr. Allen never called the subject of his critical story prior to publishing it.

Had Mr. Allen — who admits in his post about Buzzphoria that he had contact information (it is after all posted on our website), contacted us he would have learned the end game strategy around our public launch.

In fact, we reached out to Mr. Allen via email through his blog and received a response in less than 24 hours.

The good news is that Scott Allen is an exception to the complete point we were looking to illustrate.

After our reaching out to him and letting him in on our end game, he’s turned out to be an amazing good sport.

Mr. Allen makes the #1 point we needed our clients to realize:  many bloggers feel no responsibility to contact the subject of a critical story . . . at all!

Thank you Mr. Allen. You helped us achieve our end game…generating social publicity for us and reinforcing the many points we evangelize to our clients about the dangers of lack of proper planning and the potential irresponsibility of bloggers and journalists who do not properly fact check.  This is EXACTLY why our clients hire us and why we generate such great results for them.

Watch for posts over the coming days and weeks as we reveal more of our end game…