Gossip Drama Soup: The Sins of Internet Marketing

Sep 04

Gossip Drama Soup! Now playing on Channels 5, 6, And Infinity!
So, the other day I wrote a post about the Dunford-Droid-NavarroFamily mess, henceforth known as Gossip Drama Soup.  The pot is coming to a boil, and honestly, I’m still not really not certain of all the ingredients that add to its… erm…  distinctive aroma.

Whew, that is one stinky soup.

But among the personal drama about mortal sins and mouthy broads and failed businesses? There’s a whole other topic that isn’t being discussed much yet, and it’s the one that might actually be sort of relevant  here on the Circus:

<cue over-dramatic music>

The Sins!
of Internet Marketing!

One of the major chefs cooking up the Soup is  an anti-scam blogger with a sort of Perez Hilton vibe.  His sights are currently set on the Internet Marketing world in general, and more specifically, most of the big meta-blogging /info marketing names.  (I think he’d agree with that’s a fair assessment.)

Mind you, Internet Marketing is a broad term. No, I don’t mean broad as in “mouthy broads” (hush, you!). I mean that the term covers a lot of ground, has multiple meanings, and the distinctions between those meanings aren’t always clear.

Here’s the break down:

On one hand, Internet Marketing is any sort of promotional marketing done via the internet. It includes things like advertising banners, direct emails, newsletters, authority blogging, search engine optimization, promotional webinars, teleseminars, blah yadda blah blah. It’s perfectly legit part of doing business and it is done by everyone from Amazon.com to Presidential Campaigns.

On the other hand, Internet Marketing often refers to a very specific niche of online marketing – a niche that has an ickiness factor falling somewhere between ads in the backs of comic books and those late night infomercials for colon cleansers.  That’s who we’re going to focus on for a little bit, ok?

Much of the bad reputation of that niche?
It’s well deserved.

Many of the self proclaimed “break out experts” of Internet Marketing (especially in the early days) touted some pretty questionable tactics. They promised quick and easy fortunes, with l ittle to no effort invested. They cheated their way into search engine rankings, created fake sites for reviews and backlinks, bought email address lists, hired people to leave fake blog & forums comments, used deceptive keyword practices, hijacked browsers, scraped content from other blogs,  paid people to click their ads, and used whatever hard sell tactics they could dream up at the expense of both their customers and their less sleezy competition.

These days, they’ve upped their game to include charming things like buying Facebook fans and Twitter followers.  Yes, they’re still around in large numbers, but they’re no longer the dominant force on the web.

The info products the Icky IMers sell?
They rarely write them.

Their usual practice is to outsource projects to virtual sweat shops, where a ghost writer making pennies an hour researches a topic on the web, and “spins” existing articles by replacing words into “new” content. (There’s software that does this for you, by the way).

No Ghosts Allowed! When the ghost writers are finished, they regurgitate the info into an ebook, and send it back to the marketer.  The marketer claims authorship, and not only sells the ebook, but the licensing rights to the ebook, licensing that allows their customers to rebrand it yet again – sometimes claiming *they* are the author. I know, gross, right?

Some of their customers? They send it back out for a new spin with the sweatshop ghostwriters. Some of them just put it back up online, as is, with only the author’s name changed. The result is a whole bunch of watered down content that all says the exact same thing, being sold by a dozen different people at different prices.

And a lot of the content they spin and sell? It’s get-rich-quick-working-from-home schemes, teaching you to  charge absurd amounts of money to people want to learn how to charge absurd amounts of money teaching people to charge absurd amounts of money. (Yes, I got a little dizzy writing that.)

It all has a lot in common with the old “work from home stuffing envelopes” scams that appear in classified sections, and it’s fair to call many of the practices in the Icky Internet Marketing world fraudulent. (Though some of it isn’t legally fraud, it’s just icky)

Clearly, that’s pretty sleezy. But equally clearly,
not all Internet Marketing  is that sleezy.

Ok, the marketing for presidential campaigns is often sleezy, I’ll give you that… but there are a lot of online marketing campaigns that are totally above board, upfront, honest and legit.

And yet, to be honest?

All marketing, even the best of it (especially the best of it) does have a certain sleeze factor – because bottom line? Marketing is manipulation.

Let me repeat that, with my usual flourishes:

It's A Flourish!
Marketing Is Manipulation.

It's Another Flourish!

Marketing – all of it –  is an attempt to get you to do something, something you might not (ok, probably wouldn’t) do otherwise.

And when you intentionally shape your brand, your logo, your website,  when you pretty up your display tables so that it creates a certain effect? Those things are all part of  marketing, and when you do them? You’re manipulating people’s perceptions.

You’re manipulating people’s perceptions so that you and your offerings strike the right note, a note that hopefully gets people to act on whatever it is you’re offering.  You might be manipulating perceptions to be sure they see the actual (high) value of your offer, or you might be manipulating perceptions to make sure they don’t see the actual (low) value of your offer, but either way, it’s still manipulation.

That manipulation thing? It’s why a lot of creative types  struggle with the whole idea of marketing ourselves or our products or services.  Consciously or unconsciously, we know that marketing is manipulation, and we’re not comfortable with that.  We’ve been taught, all of our lives, that manipulation is wrong, sleezy, and creepy.

But not all manipulation is bad.
Really. It’s not.

Here’s the relevant definition from Dictionary.com:

Manipulate: to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skillfully, or deviously.

Ok, controlling or influencing someone deviously? That’s bad – I’m not a big fan of underhanded anything except for stage magic.

But what about skillfully influencing someone, if it’s in a positive way? Is that always bad?

How about when you promise your kids a treat if they clean their rooms?  That’s manipulation.  When a company offers a bonus to their top performing sales people? Manipulation. When the grocery store puts up a sign that says 3 for $3?  Manipulation.  Running commercials about the dangers of smoking? Manipulation.

A confession: as an artist and writer, and yes, and when I monkey around with web design, too, I am shamelessly manipulative.

This website?  It’s specifically designed to create an effect while you’re reading, to set a mood before you’ve even started reading.  My very best works of art? They blatantly manipulate the viewer emotionally.  My very best writing? It leads the reader step by step, exactly to the conclusion I want them to reach. (This post, by the way, is not my best writing. But yes, I’m leading you to a conclusion, even if it’s not particularly skillful.)

But anyway.  Once I started to understand the persuasive/manipulative elements in my chosen forms of expression, I casually started studying marketing techniques.

And by casually,
I mean do mean casually.

I picked up used books here and there, searched out information on the internet, and informally studied what various advertisers and marketers did.  Don’t quiz me, because my goal wasn’t to pass a test, or be able to hold a cohesive conversation with industry experts –  it was more to grok the core concepts that would shape my own work.

I was especially interested in online marketing as it developed, both because I wanted to learn to actually sell the things I created (writing, art, advice) online, and because it’s just easier to research online marketing. Yes, I’m guilty of being a bit lazy.

But I was frustrated in my casual studies. See, when I started? The only sources of info online seemed to be either the Icky Internet Marketers, or really high dollar consultants, who used some of the less obnoxious but still Icky IM tactics themselves. There just wasn’t much good information out there that I could relate to.

Then, slowly, a new model
for marketing developed.

It was at partially a response to the emergence of blogging as a shiny new platform, and it was largely driven by the ideas of Seth Godin.  The core concept? Instead of pushing products at an unwilling, captive audience (as with tv and radio), marketing needed to shift it’s approach to permission-based approaches. On the internet, the captive-audience push of traditional advertising just wasn’t working well, because people weren’t captive – they simply clicked away from ads.

The “clicking away” reminds me of my grandfather, who would actually get up and stand in front of the TV when commercials were on, because he thought they were manipulative. Yes, I got really early lessons about this stuff. And yes, his standing in front of the TV every 10 minutes or so was *really* annoying. But the way web pages are delivered? It makes ” standing in front of the TV” during commercials really easy.

To stop the epidemic of advertiser-click-aways? The newer marketing models suggested that companies and individual entrepreneurs need to provide remarkable, valuable offerings, and they need to build trust and authority to attract and retain customers.  Instead of pushing products, the marketing is meant to attract customers, pulling them to the products and ads… There are good examples of it on many company Facebook pages, but when I first ran across it? It was being used and discussed on the then fledgeling pro-blogs.

The ideas of remarkability, authority, and authenticity was a refreshing contrast to the previous blatant tactics of spam, squeeze-pages, and big red flashing fonts.

It was also a big relief to a lot of people who wanted to learn to sell their stuff online, but who couldn’t stomach a lot of yellow highlighter or spammy emails.

New & Improved Soup, Now With Added Tentacles!

Many of the early adopters
and promoters of this approach?

The bloggers and Internet Marketers who introduced me to the ideas in the new, less icky models?  They’re some of the same folks who are either directly or tangentially connected to our Internet Marketing Drama Soup, part of the supposed circle of fraud being exposed through all of this.

That’s why I find all of this so very strange.  Maybe it’s a case of “the sins of the father” and everyone is being unfairly slimed because of the historical view of Internet Marketing.  Maybe there are actual elements of ick that have been inherited. Maybe someone was frightened by an Internet Marketer as a small child, and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress as a result.

Maybe it’s all just misplaced drama – I certainly don’t claim to understand it.

But however the Gossip Drama Soup plays out, whoever gets drug into it, whatever any of us decide to believe, whoever we decide we do or don’t trust?

Please remember this:

Internet Marketing is not inherently icky, deceitful, or intended to mislead people.  Not everyone writing or teaching Internet Marketing or Meta-Blogging or anything else is involved in a sort of pyramid scheme or the fraudulent hawking of impossible dreams.  Not everyone who is learning about Internet Marketing or Pro-Blogging is a sheep being led to the sheering pen.

Yes, marketing *is* manipulation, and done skillfully, it’s a powerful tool – a tool that can be used for positive, benign, and malignant purposes.  But marketing is not inherently evil,  dirty,  scammy or scummy.

It is ok to want to earn a living doing something you’re passionate about, and it is ok to learn about effective marketing techniques, either as part of building a business, or just because it fascinates you.

image

Ok, lecture over.

This post? It’s mostly
just rambling background info.

Because I’m going make my real point a bit later.

But be warned, there won’t be any dirty details of affairs, death threats, bloody sharks or evil spiders in it, so enjoy the soup while you can, ok?

P.S.  I wanted to draw the shark and the spider as though they were on the cover of a bodice-ripper, because I thought that would be cool. But the shark complained that the corset was just more evidence of the paternalistic sexist society, and so the spider refused to pull the laces any tighter.  I’m still not sure why they’re working together on this, but, hey, art and blogging makes for strange bedfellows.

P.P.S. Yes, it’s ok to giggle at the pictures, even if you’re a visitor from the SD site. There’s no hidden slime in them, promise. They’re just meant to be fun.

P.P.P.S. Well, there might be some slime in the soup.  I’m not tasting it to find out, though.

It's Another Flourish!

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  1. Gossip Drama Soup: Running A Business Ain’t A Pipe Dream, Dammit.
  2. Gossip Drama Soup: Resources For Reputations
  3. Gossip Drama Soup Illustrated: The Sheep Edition

13 comments

  1. Jade Craven /

    This whole situation is pissing me off because two people made a bunch of mistakes that created interest in the industry. Now everyone who has talked about them, is talking about them or has used their products OR even guest posted/been mentioned on the blogs that SD dislikes are under scrutiny.

    I believe that what certain people have done is immoral and bad. I believe bringing everyone else into the debate as example of bad marketing will just make the site look less credible.

    Thank gosh I don’t have any products for sale, or have any heavy form of marketing on my site. Thank gosh I dropped out of the scene and am currently broke. That’s the whole reason I haven’t been torn apart so far.

    and the thing is I can’t even market myself now lest people get stabby at me, so it’s even harder to get out of that debt.

    Yeah. This is the other side of gossip and internet drama.

    (I may be stabby today)

  2. on Twitter

    I’m finding this whole thing very peculiar. Especially since I spent much of last year avidly consuming info products to get what I refer to as ‘an internet MBA’.

    If someone knows about something, why shouldn’t I pay them to teach me? What’s wrong with teaching as long as it’s honest? I came out of art college not understanding how business worked AT ALL and I needed to know. But standard business books bored me senseless and made me feel a bit nauseous to boot. People like Naomi, who spoke my language, made me feel that I actually COULD run my own business. That was earth-shattering to me.

    Did every single thing I read work for me? Of course not. Sometimes the information didn’t fit with what I believe. Sometimes I wasn’t at that level yet, so I got daunted & overwhelmed. Sometimes the person’s teaching style didn’t engage me.

    But the exact same thing could be said for every bit of OFFLINE education I’ve ever had – every book I’ve ever read, every documentary I’ve watched, every course I’ve ever done. Education of any description is an ongoing process and sometimes it hits you right and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes the penny drops much later or you go back to the material and it makes sense because you’re further along the track.

    I don’t feel scammed, I feel educated.

    • Jade Craven /

      With everything that is being said, it’s all about the framing of the situation AND the place it’s being said.

      Perception 1: Naomi has done bad things. Therefore, everything she does is bad.

      Perception 2: Naomi has done said some bad things, but she has also helped us in a way that ‘free’ information hasn’t.

      Both perceptions are correct depending on where it’s being said.

      What’s shitting me is that due to some bad things, a whole industry (which includes so many of my friends) are being called scammers, because of a few damning things Naomi has done. Anyone who points out that they’ve had financial success due to the information from either party get torn apart in the comments.

      This whole situation is stupid. We do people to deliver information products in a way that 1) filters the information for our needs and 2) presents the information in a way that we can relate to.

      I think that we should reassess many things about the industry, but selling information online isn’t inherently bad.

      • Tori Deaux /

        on Twitter

        I agree that a lot of things need to be reassessed, but from here, having watched the industry develop from the outside? Most of the issues it has are the result of the Internet’s astounding growth as both a media and business platform. It’s such a rapidly evolving field, and some of the problems come from just having tried to keep up with the demands for information. I know that even among my little circle, we’d already been discussing necessary changes in how things work, so I’m assuming that those discussions were already going on in a lot of other places, too.

        Does that fit with what you’ve seen happening, Jade?

      • Jade Craven /

        The industry is evolving and changing – especially in relation to self publishing. So many facets of internet marketing and content creation are changing so of course there are going to be screw ups.

        People are now reconsidering whether they really want to sell information products, as they now want to make doubly sure that anything they create is useful. People are assessing whether they are providing enough value to their community. People are reassessing their marketing messages.

        I can give specific examples, not naming names, if that helps. Basically, people are now wanting to fix any of the oversights they’ve had in their business.

      • Tori Deaux /

        on Twitter

        Thanks, Jade – that’s pretty much in line with what I thought. Specific examples aren’t necessary, unless you think it’d be helpful.

        Here’s part of the shift I see: Blogs, advertising, affiliates, forums, ebooks, courses, seo, social media, etc have each had time in the spotlight as “the next big way to monetize stuff on the internet!” followed by pronouncements of each as “dead”.

        Now that the ‘nets have had time to growing up a bit, there’s been a little time to think. Hopefully, we can all sit back, and see those things as information mediums, rather than ends in and of themselves. In the long run, it’s the information that matters, not the format.

        A lot of folks forget how young this whole internet thing is, as a serious medium. Yes, there have been missteps and oversights, but most of them look to me like the result of an industry growing faster than anyone would have anticipated, and problems with advice/approaches that didn’t scale necessarily with the audience, rather than any sort of ill-intent.

    • Tori Deaux /

      on Twitter

      Kirsty, thank you for bringing up that point :)
      How many people wind up working successfully in the fields they paid tens of thousands of dollars for a degree in?

      • Exactly. Believe me, I spent WAY more on my art degree than I ever will on a few e-books or online courses. And most of the stuff I’ve paid for online has been incredibly useful to me.

        I can only think of one course that was totally wrong for me and that was my own damn fault for not researching it well enough. I fell for that yellow highlighter urgency shit back when I was new to online learning. But hey, I consider it just as much of an education as the stuff I bought that resonated. It taught me to be more careful about what I buy and not fall for forced scarcity and that’s an important life lesson.

        I think that you’re right and people do forget how very experimental all this stuff still is. We are all making it up as we go along: we are still in the stage of trying stuff out and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

  3. Ali Mac /

    In answer to Jade up above, I suspect the Salty Droid debacle really has very little to do with Naomi or Dave themselves – in his recent targeting he seems to be veering around in readiness to attack a bunch of people from the same broad category. The story, scandal, whatever, just provided the final rationale to go in all guns blazing.

    I find myself reading that damn site and thinking, ooh I’m sure I could convince them that some internet marketers are lovely, if I just laid out my arguments correctly. (Also, if they didn’t ridicule everything I said, tell me I’m stupid, make comments ‘disappear’ and make vaguely threatening remarks about targeting my business next, then I might actually leave a comment under a false name via an anonymous link…but I’m digressing). But yes, the larger point is that Mr Droid and his supporters do see the world very differently.

    At best it’s a bit of a wake-up call. But mostly I think it’s a successful way of controlling the conversation through hazing.

    Thanks so much for writing about this.

    • Tori Deaux /

      on Twitter

      Hey Ali,

      That’s why I’m not commenting over there, not even to ask questions and better understand the actual accusations – There’s no interest in any discussion that doesn’t completely fit the Droid’s storyline. Love the “hazing” description – that certainly does feel like part of it.

      And you’re welcome :)

  4. This is a fascinating post, exposing so much of the history of IM that I was unaware of.

    I wrote a comment over at SD that was highlighted in the latest post, basically saying that I am still so confused by this whole situation. Not sure if I’ve been scammed or not scammed, or what.

    All I know is that my trust has been damaged, either way.

    • Tori Deaux /

      on Twitter

      @hrmmm I hope this post helped at least a little bit.

      It is a very messy, many layered situation, with so many allegations floating around it’s really impossible to process them all.

      I just feel sorry for whoever has to wash out that big nasty soupbowl when this is over with 😉

    • I used to work for Dave and know a lot of people in that industry. I no long have any paid alliances.

      I’d be happy to talk to you about products. I don’t feel that Dave has scammed anybody, and personally found several of his products to be quite helpful. The same with several other people being mentioned.

      I believe that the internet lifestyle dream is being misrepresented in a lot of places, but people like Dave and Darren Rowse always highlight the hard work that needs to happen before you can become successful.

Speak up!