As I look back on my 17+ years as a professional marketer, it occurs to me how far we have come. Once popular marketing methods like direct mail, trade shows, cold-calling, and print advertising have been completely replaced by Internet-based technologies—technologies which are not only less expensive, but much easier to use. Today, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can become a marketer. And because of this, the Internet we previously promised to love, honor and cherish is quickly becoming the electronic equivalent of a public toilet. Ah, the joy of technological advancement.
So why is our once beloved Internet turning into a place customers fear to tread? Has the Internet joined airport bathrooms and Dancing with the Stars as things that were invented for good, but used for evil? I believe the answer is a resounding “yes,” primarily due to the use—or more accurately, the overuse—of four marketing-based technologies.
Technology #1: The Automated Friend Finder
Just a few days ago I was doing my twice-weekly Twitter maintenance, evaluating the new people who chose to follow me, when I noticed a Twitter account that nearly pushed me off of my chair. This particular account was following over 96,000 people, but had only 17 followers. Even more shocking was the fact that the account had been activated less than three days prior. Although I didn’t think about taking a screen shot at the time, I logged back in a few minutes ago and found another account in my queue that was well on its way (See Screen Shot Below—Click to Enlarge: a pace of 1,776 follows in 5.5 hours will add 23,000 follows to this account every three days).
For many ‘professional’ marketers, automated friend finders are nothing more than an opportunity to score some quick follow-backs by mass-soliciting thousands of untargeted people per day. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that I actually use an automated friend finding tool. It’s called SocialOomph (formerly TweetLater) and I use it for three reasons: 1) it saves me time, 2) it’s cheap, and 3) it’s ethical. Instead of attempting to ‘game’ the Twitter API by allowing me to follow tens of thousands of people per day, SocialOoomph will find a maximum of 40 in any 24-hour period. And before it starts searching for follows on my behalf, I have to tell it who to look for. (I actively seek to follow consultants, business bloggers, company owners, managers and business publications.)
Technology #2: Social Bookmarking
Back in May of this year, I took a great deal of heat from bloggers and web designers when I wrote and published an article titled Social Bookmarking: Dos and Don’ts. In this article I had the nerve to suggest that maybe—just maybe—marketers would be better served narrowing the list of social bookmarking options they offer to website visitors (I suggested no more than six options be presented). My primary argument was that web marketers were ignoring a founding principle of human behavior: a person who is given too many choices will almost never make one. This article quickly generated dozens of flaming emails, most asking the question “What if my visitors don’t support any of the six bookmarks I choose?” And to every emailer, I sent the same reply: “Get to know your target audience.” (See Screen Shot to the Left—Click to Enlarge: 30 social bookmarking icons in one block? The perfect combination of distracting and overwhelming.)
The fact is, websites and blogs were never meant to look like the front fender of Tony Stewart’s #14 car. When marketers give website visitors this many options to bookmark content, they might as well be saying “I have no idea who you are, and I don’t actually care.” A good marketer will know enough about his or her target audience to figure out which social bookmarking technologies they support, and which ones they don’t.
Technology #3: The Automated Comment Poster
After nearly one full year as a blogger, I am happy to say I have almost 1,000 heartfelt, well-constructed comments on my posts. Unfortunately, I have had to sort through nearly 24,000 spam comments to find them. Sometimes, these unwanted comments are nothing more than overt solicitations for mail order Cialis or Eastern European porn sites. But more often than not, comments on my blog postings are Trojan horse-type sentences like “Great post—thanks for writing!” and “Wow, I never thought of it like this before!” designed only to acquire free linkbacks from my site. (See Screen Shot Below—Click to Enlarge: If you’re going to try and steal a linkback from a blogger, PLEASE try to be more creative than this.)
Unfortunately, the misuse of automated comment posting technology fills blogs with tens of thousands of meaningless, poorly written and un-heart felt comments per day. And sadly, it’s not just the amateurs who are at fault. The worst offender on my blog was a guy named Bill Bartmann, who literally spammed my blog every day for two months straight, until I finally emailed him directly and asked him to stop. Important to note here is not only the fact that Bill is stinking rich, but has appeared on CNBC’s “Big Idea” with Donny Deutsch, and with Neil Cavuto on FoxNews. Come on, Bill, you’re better than that.
Technology #4: Affiliate Advertising
For this technology, I need to clarify something before I continue: most bloggers and website owners have earned the right to make a few bucks. Web hosting costs money, the tools we use aren’t free, and eventually, most of us would like to get paid a little something for our time. That said, ethical affiliate advertisers are being painted in a negative light by the underhanded ones who regularly practice techniques like link disguising, direct link tweeting, and outright click baiting.
Another major issue surrounding affiliate advertising is something I like to call ad saturation. Case in point: Darren Rowse, owner of problogger.net and arguably the most famous blogger on the planet, has over 20 revenue-generating links—just on his home page. This morning I noted 13 image ads and at least 9 paid links listed as ‘resources’ or ‘recommendations’ in his footer. Today, navigating a website or blog without clicking on an ad requires the forethought of a chess Grand Master, the alertness of an MMA fighter, and the steady hand of a heart surgeon. This is hardly the Internet we all envisioned for ourselves ten years ago.
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