Affiliate Marketing, WOMM, Buzz Marketing & Full Disclosure?

Oh now things are getting interesting as the net is maturing: New FTC Position May Force Changes For PayPerPost and Affiliate Marketers:

The FTC issued an official opinion stating that people who endorse of a products, and who are compensated for their efforts, must disclose the nature of that relationship to their “customers”. While its not a law per se (as far as I can determine), sometime in the future, persons or companies in violation of this position might be the target of cease and desist orders or civil fines in the order of millions of dollars.

There’s a Washington Post article that started this flury of concern: FTC Moves to Unmask Word-of-Mouth Marketing

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.

Another quote:

In October 2005, Commercial Alert, an advertising and marketing watchdog group in Portland, Ore., petitioned the FTC to consider taking action against word-of-mouth marketers. The group called for the FTC to issue guidelines requiring paid agents to disclose their relationship to the company whose product they are promoting, including any compensation.

The language used is: WOMM (Word of Mouth Marketing) and the question on everyone’s mind is–does affiliate marketing fall under the WOMM umbrella? No definite answers, but I think absolutely it does. And hell-to-the-no, I’m not interested in going up against the FTC to question that.

What are my intentions? Well I’m a Canadian, not an American. But I do host through plenty of U.S. based hosting companies, and I do target U.S. customers for the most part, and I do work mainly with U.S. affiliate merchants/networks. Why not throw a disclosure blurb up on my terms or about pages?

My question is: do we really want to see transparency on the web? And how transparent does one need to be? It could shake things up right to the core IMO.

An example situation: I’ve talked before about ‘big personalities’ pushing google kool-aid. While they’re pouring the kool-aid, should they reveal that they’re big investors of Google stock and have a financial interest in goog’s success?

Or reveal that they’re heavy players in the adsense game while they’re poo-pooing all the ‘hysteria’ about clickfraud?

What about relationships that don’t exchange money, but do exchange ‘perks’? One example: Online links and chatter are worth more than a mere $25 cash exchange. Should ‘buzz backscratchers’ (you buzz me, I buzz you) disclose what’s going on even if no “cash” is being exchanged–or suffer legal consequences?

Or what about paid bloggers? Where people are paid to write blog posts for a share of revenue (not product/service reviews per se, but content writers). “My posts here are financially motivated. I earn a share of $1,000 a month for writing posts on this blog and that money comes from paid advertising and adsense clicks“.

Lots of questions, interesting kettle of fish. It would implode the blogosphere and social net as we know it!! 😆

I think that this FTC “WOMM” policy will grow to cover self-interested kool-aid pushing and buzz playpals. And it could be a good thing. But…I think we’re a long way away from any serious repercussions.

As an affiliate marketer–I’m not too worried about this. I will set something up to disclose my interests, and move along.

You can read the FTC position here (pdf file).

Focus: Value First – And Then Money. Whaaaa?

I seem to have stumbled across a kindred spirit on my prowls through the blogosphere: Enough With The Adsense!

I really really don’t see the allure of Adsense. Aside from a few of the most popular blogs, I doubt many of you are making very much from it, probably not even enough to pay for your webhosting, assuming you even *need* to pay for webhosting. Who actually clicks on the ads? Several web browsers come with a plugin where you can turn off third-party scripts, and that includes Adsense, of course. Most of the bloggers who post their monthly Adsense revenues earn less than $20/month. Some people seem to think that more ads = more money, and one can scarcely find their content for all the ads, reminiscent of an about.com page.

I LOL’d at the about.com page reference. Really Loud. Cause it’s so damn true :lol:.

I’m not a superfan of Adsense. Anyone who’s followed SuperAff for any length of time knows that. But I don’t begrudge anyone trying to earn a buck or two or million for themselves online. If someone feels Adsense is their Holy Answer, rock on.

However if Adsense isn’t used respectfully and a webmaster or blogger insists on shoving the ads in my face for their better return rather than my better experience–I just don’t come back. I view adsense as an updated version of the popup ad when it’s done In-Your-Face style. And I think if blog readers and visitors feel the same way I do, they really need to back out and not revisit. That’s the only way the silliness stops. Hurt the wallets.

But this post isn’t going to be about all that–I’m interested in a juicy reference she pointed to: On greed and speed from the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog. At first I thought it was going to be some lame internet marketing super guru type blog. And how refreshing and suprising that it isn’t like that at all! It’s an AWESOME blog! Added to my feed reader ;).

Here’s a pattern I see a lot:

1. Somebody launches something
2. He tries to make money
3. Then he tries to make it valuable and useful

What a funny way of doing things.

I don’t think he’s talking about the typical bait & switch technique (fill a site with value–then drown with monetization once it takes off). But Ramit is saying something we forget about sometimes:

Focus On Providing Value–NOT Making Money

Everybody seems to be in a big fat hurry to make money. I call this greedy, but not in the traditional sense of the word. It’s greedy because I don’t think it should be the first thing on anybody’s mind. This kind of thinking is short-sighted, often self-defeating, and ultimately results in less money.

Hmmm. That’s a bit contrary to what a lot of the pros and gurus advice is saying (and selling) isn’t it. He discusses Adsense and blogging:

Second, I knew that once I put ads up, I’d focus on optimizing the ads rather than creating content. In other words, I’d focus more on trying to make money than actually improving the site.

Nails it IMO.

(Incidentally, the dirty secret of bloggers and AdSense (or other ad solutions) is that most bloggers are making very, very little.)

And then:

Make the right long-term decisions, not the ones that give you $10 and some gummi bears
Next time you have some opportunity, STOP THINKING ABOUT HOW TO MAKE MONEY OFF IT IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!

Actually I could c&p his entire post. How about you check it out yourself: On greed and speed – I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Think Long Term: Adding Value to the Web. Am I doing that and how can I do it?

Interesting concept isn’t it ;).

Goal Reconnection – Build A Residual Income

I’m looking at my numbers for this month and I can’t help but be reminded of what’s so gosh darn awesome about building a presence for yourself online.

For me it started out with Affiliate Marketing–building a website that I would earn commissions from. Although I have a somewhat unique offline background, I still find myself mainly thinking in terms of: Work => Produce Cash. Work 10 hours => Get Paid For 10 Hours. Don’t Work => Don’t Get Paid.

When you start building an income online, you eventually realize that Work 10 hours => Get Paid Month after Month. I have put so *little little* time and effort in my affiliate sites the past several months…and yet…the money is still coming. I’m continuing to benefit or reap from the efforts of years and months ago. It’s sick. But hot damn it’s awesome!

It doesn’t always work out that way, some sites don’t produce an income or take forever to draw an income. Or online efforts aren’t set up as a residual cash system (think one hit wonders from ppc or list attacks). But when it does work out, chances are you’ll be plucking cash from a site for many months and years ahead.

That’s if you’re tuned into building a residual income ;).

Affiliates: Heads Up on Mashups

Playing around with APIs and building mashups is becoming quite a popular online sport for webmasters and techies. Mixing products easily and seamlessly from places like eBay, Amazon, Yahoo! and Commission Junction merchants all together in one site–that’s mighty powerful stuff.

Looking at the Commission Junction API info provided on ProgrammableWeb:

Advertisers can now offer publishers enhanced access to their product catalog data feeds, enabling publishers to present the most up-to-date product information to their visitors in the most desirable manner. In addition, advertisers benefit from the ability to customize affiliate program sign-up and login areas, allowing for the creation of a truly branded experience for the publishers in their affiliate marketing programs. Publisher functionality includes direct access to advertisers Product Catalog data in real-time and the ability to perform searches based on keyword, UPC, manufacturer, model number, advertiser, SKU and more.

Appealing, yes?

So what exactly is a mashup:

A mashup is a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience. Mashup (web application hybrid)

Take a look at some shopping mashup examples:

Shopping Mashups

Inspired yet? That’s some crazy stuff!

Great mashup ideas can be followed at sites like Mashable.com, Programmableweb.com and Webmashup.com.

Nice list of tutorials:

How To Make Your Own Web Mashup

API List:

ProgrammableWeb API List

The technical side to this is above my capabilities atm, but I can definitely see what an important tool this can be for Affiliate Marketers.

Any bets as to how long before the $97 Affiliate Marketers Mashup guru ebook or $500 cd training package comes out? 😆

Affiliate Marketing Blogs Are Hot

Affiliate Marketing blogs seem to be hot lately. Scott Jangro is looking for your affiliate marketing blog to add to his Google Reader: Have You Got an Affiliate Marketing Blog? and Affoogle.com is building a search engine with them! See the list of current blogs here: Affoogle Listed Sites. And I have to mention my little list I put together last month too: Affiliate Marketing Blogs List.

Scott’s going to have a kickin’ list, mine needs more work, but Affoogle is what has my interest peaked. It’s an Affiliate Classroom project and I like the info those guys provide. I never applied to Affoogle (at least I don’t remember doing so) but somehow SuperAff was accepted on the list (love that!) and Number 2–It looks *really really interesting*. I think it’s going to be a killer resource. It’s using Google Co-op, that’s a hot idea itself.

Get your feed readers fired up folks, looks like a tonne more great blogs to subscribe to ;).

The Poor Man’s eBay RSS to WordPress Hack

Because I’m not a coder, I have to dig around looking for tools and tweaks that are publicly available and then bend & twist them to my will.

Here’s an eBay workaround I’ve found that helps make affiliate life a little easier:

Install and activate the firstRSS WordPress Plugin. This will allow you to display RSS feeds within your WordPress posts.

  • Tip #1: Open the firstRSS.php file and change the cache_time to something like 30 minutes so that your eBay listings will always be fresh. Also change the items_limit to a reasonable amount–eBay’s lowest search results option is 25. I don’t know about you, but a blog post with 25 auction items displayed isn’t all that appealing.
  • Tip #2: You can choose to display both pictures & auction titles/information or just the auction titles.

eBay RSS Feed Generator: Generate the rss feed for the items you want to display within your WordPress posts.

  • Tip: Because the feed isn’t going to refresh every second, set the listings to end in more than 1 hour (found in eBay’s advanced search area) so your visitors will always view live auctions from your blog.

When you’re wanting to display auction results within a post, simply insert [rsspara:URL] or [rsslist:URL] within your blog post where you want the ebay auction results to display. Replace the URL with the ebay rss feed url. To display all the auction info, use rsspara, rsslist displays the titles only.

Benefits: Highly targeted ebay items are displayed within your blog posts since you can get very specific with your search terms. This method also keeps your juicy data private since you’re not using a third party feed display setup.

Drawback: It takes time to go to eBay, make your search & create your rss feed. Not much time, but it still has a lot of room for more automation.

Solution: I created my own WordPress Quicktag for eBay RSS results (read here how to do that). Now all I have to do is click my eBay quicktag when writing a blog post and simply edit the search phrase to what I want.

If you’d like to grab my copy of the quicktag hack, here’s the file: eBay Quicktag. Just save it as quicktags.js and upload to wp-includes/js folder.

Important: Make sure to change the afcj=12345 to your Commission Junction affiliate PID to afcj=yournumber.

The eBay quicktag displays in front of the “more” quicktag. You can move that wherever you want.

When writing a post, simply click the eBay quicktag to insert the rss ebay code. Change “insert+keywords+here” to whatever auction search results you want displayed (remember to use + between each word).

Customization Tip: You can create a special div to wrap around the rss code. For example: Have an ad box that aligns to the right of the page within the post that just lists the auction headings. Have the background a different shade than the rest of the blog post. The sky’s the limit ;). Simply include the <div=xxx></div> in the quicktag info so that it’s automatically included and add the div to your CSS file.

Easy!