Avoid the Blog Drivel

I degraded myself as a content publisher twice last week. In both cases, after reviewing my Google Alerts and picking the day’s hot news item, I wrote a blog entry that included a quote, a few inane comments about the topic and a link back to the original post.

It’s a technique commonly used by bloggers to drive traffic to their sites through backlinks. Indeed, some bloggers use this pseudo-journalistic technique to play follow-the-leader every day, while others re-post scraped blog content exclusively – without added commentary.

Goodness knows that it would take a partial lobotomy to make me descend to that level, but how much further could I go? Would my compulsion to beat the competition to the punch with a you-heard-it-here second post turn me into yet another crap contributor? Could I sell my soul for a few blessed backlinks? Would I go so far as to risk my reputation in exchange for traffic?

Bar the notion! However, a quick check of my traffic and subscriber stats revealed that I was already sliding down that slippery slope. Although the backlink had produced some modest traffic, a few readers had taken exception to my “Blah, blah, BLAAAAAAH!” and unsubscribed from my feed.

Who could blame them? Just as I do my best to avoid those whose constant chatter gives me nothing but a headache, my now ex-readers clearly expressed what they thought of my drivel. I was grateful to them, actually. The experience reminded me that my success as a publisher depends not on getting eyeballs to the page, but on my ability to reach the hearts and minds of my visitors.

If I kept this up, those “Your conversion rates were through the roof on that latest promo, and you always convert five to 10 times better than our second-best-producing affiliate” notes from affiliate managers would disappear as surely as my commissions.

No longer would I be able to respond “Yes, the site does have a nice following,” and “Nice following” is an understatement. It doesn’t tell of long-term readers who eagerly await each blog post or check in personally when the newsletter doesn’t arrive on schedule. It also avoids speaking to the commitment professed by loyal readers who have “cancelled all but your newsletter” in a particular niche or those who wait to buy a new-to-market product until they’ve read your review.

As a shy person, I sweat great drops of blood while agonizing over every word to connect with those readers – until I realized that all they wanted was help from a real person who understood their problems. Now I was letting them down and ruining my business in the process. Aaargh!

So to help you to turn your visitors into faithful fans (and as a reminder to myself to avoid drivel), keep the following suggestions in mind when you write your blog posts and articles.

Give generously. Create good will by sharing your expertise freely. Give solutions to specific problems or offer a free e-book for download without expecting anything in return. That means posting information that doesn’t contain an affiliate link, a link to a product endorsement elsewhere on your site or requiring an email address in exchange. The only incentive you should have in mind is building loyalty that follows generous advice.

Affiliates who monetize their blogs only with AdSense or other navbar advertising thrive on this model. However, those that promote a variety of products will need to strike a balance between posting information versus promotional messages that keep their readers happy and away from the Unsubscribe button.

Be empathetic. People generally arrive at our sites with questions. When we immediately bowl them over with a laundry list of answers, they may find a solution to their problem, but it’s doubtful that the reader will feel connected to us.

Because we tend to bristle at those who “know it all” and tell us what we should do, it’s important to approach readers in a way that shows you understand and identify with their situation, feelings and motives. To show you clearly understand what it feels like to be in your readers’ shoes and foster a deeper connection, use words that evoke vivid mental images and strong emotions.

For example, “It was me, the cat and Dick Clark AGAIN”” is a better preface to an article about being single at New Year’s than “Here are 10 things you can do to feel less lonely.”

Be yourself. Don’t fake your persona or try to portray yourself as Mr. or Ms. Perfect, because readers won’t be fooled. If you’re Condoleezza Rice and you try to come across like Ellen DeGeneres, you’ll sound phony. Readers follow certain blogs not only because they enjoy the topic, but the blogger’s personality.

Let your readers know that you’re a real person with a family, friends, interests and hobbies off-line. Weave your life experience into your articles where relevant and don’t be afraid to share your joys and frustrations.

For example, after a tractor trailer rammed into a rental car that I was driving last summer, I used the experience to post to my business and travel blogs about bad customer service, a surprisingly great credit card company and an ergonomic chair that helped me cope with my injuries and speed my recovery. What hastened my recovery more however was the care and concern expressed by my wonderful readers.

Post your real photo. Sure, it might be tempting to paste your head shot on a Victoria’s Secret or GQ model’s body, or create a completely different (more favorable) public image of yourself. But do resist the urge, because when you become a famous blogger and get invited to speak at BlogWorld, it might be just a tad embarrassing to explain that the 24-year-old blond bombshell they expected is in fact a pleasantly plump 46-year old matronly mama.

Give hope. To get past the intimidation most people feel around highly successful people, share stories about your failures as well as your success. Exposing your shortcomings makes you “real” and therefore much more approachable. Moreover, talking about how you overcame certain obstacles gives people hope that they too can attain success, and makes them more likely to seek your advice.

Respect your readers’ time. Just because you can write a 3,000-word essay on a topic, doesn’t mean you should. Get to the point and then quit while you’re ahead. Some readers don’t have time or the patience to read lengthy entries, and splitting up a post gives you more fodder for the engines.

Invite reader participation. Allowing users to provide comments at the end of blog entries encourages discussion and helps build site content. If you are worried about inappropriate comments, be sure to moderate for relevancy and spam. But don’t cut out some comments just because they are critical. When you rise respectfully to a debate, or show that you’ve gained a broader perspective on an issue, your readers will respect you even more.

Return the love. Your regular readers will support you through thick and thin, so acknowledge and show your appreciation for their patronage. Where relevant, quote their comments in your posts and link back to articles on their sites. Your gesture might give someone a confidence boost and make their day, or tip the scales just enough to make their business fly ” and what could be more gratifying?

Here’s the bottom line: Treat your readers as you would your friends – with kindness, caring and respect, and they’ll show their appreciation in kind. And, the most important point to remember – no drivel, ever.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliate-Handbook.com.

Late for a Date

This column was supposed to be the last in our series on redesigning SostreAssoc.com, the website for my design firm Sostre & Associates. I even said in my last article that, “By the time you read this article, the new design will be live on our site and we’ll have started crunching the analytics data.” Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Due to various setbacks, the new site still hasn’t gone live (at least not at the time of this writing). What’s even more unfortunate is that this situation isn’t uncommon in the online world. Because we’re a Web design firm, we have control over the process and made a conscious decision to delay the site launch. But I’ve seen many scenarios where site launches are delayed for months on end, leaving website owners feeling helpless.

The truth is, sometimes delays are unavoidable. Maybe the CEO decided to change plans at the last minute – or perhaps there are some technical barriers that weren’t anticipated in the planning stages. Whatever the cause, there are some ways to get back on track, and avoid additional delays.

Here are some tips for an ontime launch:

Don’t be a perfectionist. Your website should be a living, ever-changing environment. Unlike printed collateral which you’re stuck with until your printed copies run out, you can continually tweak and improve your website. This means it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect on launch day. Make it a point to get the site online, even if there are some loose ends.

Do a phased launch. You do more harm than good when you delay an entire site launch to wait for every single new feature to be ready. Decide which elements are most important for your business and prioritize those as a phase 1 site launch. Lessimportant sections or features should then be scheduled for future phase 2 or even phase 3 projects.

Review progress regularly. If you wait until the day before launch to take your first look at the site, you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Try to review progress at regular intervals – weekly or sooner – to make sure things are looking good and provide any feedback as needed. If you’re working with an outside vendor to create your site, they should be able to provide a development URL where you can see how things are coming along.

Set a clear drop-dead launch date. A drop-dead launch date sets a lastdelay date. In other words, you may plan to launch by October 15, but you absolutely must launch by November 30, i.e., your drop-dead date.

Some situations demand a dropdead launch date. For example, a retailer who needs to get online in time for the holidays; a tax site that needs to be live before tax season; or a website that is going to be featured in a scheduled press release or news story.

Because the new Sostre & Associates website is an internal project, we never bothered to set a drop-dead launch date. Then again, that lackadaisical attitude is why we’re writing about website delays and not reviewing the statistics from our great new website, right? In short, if you want your site launched by a certain date, set a drop dead-date that your employees and vendors understand and agree with.

So with all this talk about how to launch on time, you may be wondering if there are ever good reasons to delay a site launch. Well, there most certainly are. If you’re not sure whether your site is ready for prime time, review this checklist.

Broken Images. Never launch a site with broken images. Many users will immediately leave upon seeing a broken image, and they call into question the integrity of the site. Also, they are generally very simple to fix.

Broken Links. Run your site through a link checker application like Xenu’s popular and free Link Sleuth (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html), and make sure there are no broken links. If there are links that are broken, get them fixed before you go live.

Too many ‘Coming Soon’ sections. Sometimes you can’t get a section completed – that’s fine. It’s OK to have one or two areas that aren’t quite finished. But I’ve seen sites that have more ‘Coming Soon’ sections than actual content. That’s bad. If you do have lots of areas that aren’t complete – try to hide any links to those areas entirely so users just don’t see them.

Browser Incompatibilities. If I hear about another Web browser hitting the market, I’m going to start plucking the keys out of my keyboard. I can barely keep up with all the options available. Luckily, there are only a few browsers that your site absolutely must be functional in. Those are: Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Firefox and Safari. Any serious incompatibilities such as navigation or ordering process not working for any of these browsers is good enough reason to push back the launch until they do.

Getting a new website or a significant redesign off the ground can be an exciting process, but it can also get out of control very quickly. Hopefully, these tips will help avoid some headaches. Now, let me take some of my own advice and get this new site launched!

Remember, it’s never too late to put in your two cents. I personally read every email I get from Revenue magazine readers, and I love to hear feedback on the new design we’ve chosen. Send me (pedro@sostreassoc.com) your thoughts.

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

Pedro Sostre is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.

Video + Twitter = Seesmic

I recently had to stop Twittering. It was awful. The doctors said I would go blind.

Seriously folks, even for as big of an Internet geek as I am, I was completely overwhelmed by the massive flood of 140-character messages from friends and colleagues that bombarded me 24 hours a day. So at the time of this writing, I’m off the Twitter-pipe, for now.

But just when I thought I was out, my friendly editor/publisher of this very magazine suggests that I do my next Innovations piece on another new, hot social tool, called Seesmic. So much for cutting down on my information load.

Talk about brand new – Seesmic only recently opened its doors around the end of November 2007 and proceeded to only invite about 300 users. Luckily, I know people (plus I know how to beg), so I was able to get my hands on an exclusive “pre-alpha” invitation code.

You’re probably wondering what Seesmic even is at this point, and why you should care.

Allen Stern of CenterNetworks. com sums it up nicely: “Seesmic is a video -sharing service just like YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, etc. The difference is that Seesmic has stripped away much of the ‘extras’ that come with the other services.”

That’s a good start, but I think the best way to describe it is “Twitter plus video.” So instead of writing short text posts about anything you want and sharing it with your friends and followers, you instantly and easily record short videos, which are then shared with the community.

Imagine picking up the phone (you remember those days?) and calling one of your friends with a short thought about something on your mind. Seesmic lets you do that (sans phone), using your webcam, and gives you the option to share that short video message around the globe with your friends and colleagues, in an instant, all at once.

Getting started is easy. If you have an invitation code, you can register and immediately begin recording and sharing videos. You will have to have a webcam attached to your computer, of course. Once your video is recorded, you add a title and description and publish it to the community.

Now your video post is shown to the public, or you can choose to have it just sent to friends. Once published, other users can watch your video and they can reply to your video with their own, and so on “

Browsing the Seesmic site as it stands during pre-alpha is not so great. The Ajax-style community scroller area which shows each user’s video entries is slow and cumbersome at best. However, as mentioned earlier, they are in pre-alpha, so by the time this piece is published it will hopefully be more usable.

Your first video post is up; now what? That’s where the social aspect comes into place. Just like Facebook or MySpace or Twitter, you can choose to “follow” or “friend” other users. By doing so, you’ll be able to “watch” their Seesmic streams specifically.

To explain to you why this is innovative, I asked the exclusive base of testers for Seesmic what they thought. In my first- ever video on Seesmic, I asked the question, “What do you like about Seesmic?”

I recorded the short video (no script) asking for video responses and sat back and waited. A few minutes later, the answers started to pour in. Here are some of them. (Note: These are transcribed from videos in Seesmic.)

“I like Seesmic because it’s an unedited stream of consciousness for people. You get to know the real person.”

“Seesmic is the first application I’ve found that makes video blogging easy. I never really got into video blogging until Seesmic came around; I’m a podcaster.”

“Seesmic is like getting a book from a library with notes from other readers in it. It’s collaborative learning.”

“The reason I like Seesmic is because I don’t have to send you an email. I can send a video reply.”

“I am finding that I am getting to know people better and more quickly. It’s not just me jabbering into the camera. It’s me interacting and listening to others in video form.”

“I’m not sure I love Seesmic. I definitely fancy it. I would definitely sleep with it.”

Although I love to try out new social media technologies and I’m not married to any one, I certainly do enjoy the dating phase. And right now I’m anxious to see where my relationship with Seesmic goes.

Jim Kukral is an online marketing veteran whose most recent project, Scratchback.com, brings the fun back into making money online. Read Jim’s blog at www.jimkukral.com.

Winning With Authority

It’s all good – from online advertising being up 25 percent, according to the IAB; to online commerce on the rise 23 percent, according to comScore; to Google search queries that are up 41 percent, per Nielsen//NetRatings. It’s clear that online marketing grew strongly through the first three quarters of 2007.

However, as industries grow, so does the attention paid by state and federal legislators, regulatory bodies and enforcement agencies. From the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to Congress, to state attorneys general, to the courts, those empowered to oversee online marketing took a more active role in 2007. While the focus was more on enforcing existing laws to protect privacy and eliminate fraud than expanding authority, the active deliberations over the government’s role in guiding online marketing indicate that more rules could be on the way. Here is a rundown of the key governmental activities and what they mean to your future.

Targeting the Targeters

Behavioral targeting, which delivers relevant ads based on consumer interests as determined by prior online activities, is growing in popularity with online marketers, but privacy advocates are calling for government intervention. Marketers’ ability to more closely track – and share – information about likes and purchases will likely lead to a showdown in the courts or the halls of Congress.

Privacy groups prompted the FTC – for the first time in seven years – to hold a “town hall meeting” to discuss behavioral targeting and consumer protection. More than a dozen privacy groups either spoke at the November event or issued statements calling for greater FTC oversight of behavioral targeting.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum (WPF), says more government intervention is needed because the industry has been unwilling to self-regulate, and because it must be made simpler for individuals to prevent their online activities from being tracked. “The oversight has not been there,” Dixon says.

Opting out of cookie tracking through a Web browser doesn’t guard against other technologies used in tracking, Dixon notes. The current system for allowing consumers to opt out of being tracked isn’t working. Her organization issued a report criticizing the National Advertising Initiative (NAI) – a group that was formed after the last FTC meeting on targeting – as ineffectual because technology has far surpassed its requirements.

NAI has been criticized because of a lack of publicity and public awareness, and because many marketing organizations have not joined the voluntary effort. Advertising.com, DoubleClick.com, Revenue Science.com and Yahoo are current NAI members, and Microsoft and Google submitted applications to join late in 2007.

Dixon says technologies such as Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight have grown well beyond the narrow definition of tracking by cookies as originally set up by the NAI. Deleting cookies and configuring a browser to protect against tracking are too cumbersome for most consumers, she says. According to the WPF report ” … the opt-out is counterintuitive, difficult to accomplish, easily deleted by consumers, and easily circumvented.”

The WPF and eight other organizations are calling for the FTC to set up a national “Do Not Track” list, where consumers could opt out of being tracked. The proposed system would require marketers to comply regardless of the technology being used. “It has to be a one-stop shop for consumers … they should not have to opt out individually to different types of ads,” according to Dixon.

Alissa Cooper, policy analyst at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, which joined in the request for a Do Not Track list, says legislative action might also be necessary to create and enforce the list. To make consumers more aware of how they are being tracked, Cooper suggests making the privacy controls in Web browsers more accessible to consumers, and to code information into the ads themselves about the tracking techniques. For example, right-clicking on an ad could provide details about the tracking mechanism and how to opt out, she says.

Cooper says marketers have a “tremendous amount of interest in behavioral targeting,” but “it remains to be seen if the cost of building behavioral programs is worth it in the end.”

Just days after the FTC meeting took place, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint with the FTC asking for more involvement in regulating behavioral marketing activities. New marketing technologies “have sharpened the precision with which Internet users are tracked and targeted,” including “schemes on the part of both Facebook and MySpace, that make clear the advertising industry’s intentions to move full-speed ahead without regard to ensuring consumers are protected,” according to a letter from the groups to the FTC.

Mike Zaneis, the vice president of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, says a Do Not Track list is unnecessary and would be overly complicated to administer. Zaneis says the online marketing industry is “in near unanimity in opposition,” to the government overseeing a Do Not Track website.

Government-imposed protections could “block large swathes of the Internet,” Zaneis says. Sites that personalize e-commerce options or that customize content might be blacklisted under such a system.

What Consumers Want

Unlike the Do Not Call list, which was set up by the government because of frustrations with telemarketers, Zaneis says there is “not the same outcry from consumers.” Research conducted by the IAB indicates that consumers would be willing to pay to receive more relevant ads, according to Zaneis.

One member of the U.S. House of Representatives believes more oversight is needed. Representative Edward J. Markey, a democrat from Massachusetts, urged the Federal Trade Commission to look into targeting practices. “The Federal Trade Commission should promptly investigate the privacy impacts of Internet tracking and targeting techniques to ensure that loss of privacy is not the price consumers must pay to realize the benefits of online commerce,” according to a statement by Markey.

IAB’s Zaneis believes that Congress should not draft new privacy laws, as the FTC currently has sufficient authority to enforce existing laws. “The FTC has enough precedent … in defining the rules of the road.”

Within days of the FTC meeting, social networks Facebook and MySpace unveiled plans for intertwining data about individuals and their purchases with online advertising that could prompt congressional action or litigation.

Facebook’s “Beacon” program was altered in December after an outcry from users. The program originally alerted all of a member’s online friends when a purchase, such as books, CDs or tickets, were made on a partner site. This feature was changed to an opt-in. Similarly, Facebook’s Social Ads puts ads for related products near member’s activities, such as when they rate or purchase music.

Some Facebook members have complained that delivering information to friends about purchases has interfered with gift giving, as significant others prematurely found out about holiday and birthday gifts.

Political action group MoveOn.org is using the social networking tools of Facebook to protest the behavioral program. MoveOn.org, which has successfully organized members to communicate en masse with their congressional representatives, has formed a Facebook group to petition the behavioral programs for what the group sees as an invasion of privacy.

Competing social network MySpace expanded its behavioral targeting program to search member pages for words indicating interest in specific categories (such as music or travel) and enables marketers to target the audience that will see its ads.

The European Union is also investigating behavioral targeting practices, and new rules there could ripple across to practices in the U.S. The Article 29 Working Party is considering whether culling data about buying habits and Web-surfing history violates consumer privacy. While U.S.-based sites may not be directly affected, changes in targeting policies could be enacted globally to provide consistent experience to consumers.

Government Becoming Adware-Aware

The FTC also clamped down on propagators of adware for failing to disclose the less-than-noble intentions of their software. In March, the FTC settled a case against software company DirectRevenue for using unfair and deceptive methods to get consumers to download adware and for obstructing its removal. As part of the agreement, DirectRevenue forfeited $1.5 million in “ill-gotten gains” from adware distribution and agreed to cease and desist from distributing same.

As part of the government’s increasing prosecution of adware peddlers, the FBI and the Department of Justice cracked down on a major distributor who was hijacking computers to generate spurious ad revenue. John Schiefer, a former security consultant, pleaded guilty in November to masterminding the installation of adware on 137,000 computers.

Schiefer installed the software onto a network of unwitting individuals’ PCs to create a botnet that generated ad revenue and also stole PayPal and bank account information. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office of central California, this was the first prosecution for using a botnet in violation of federal wiretapping laws. The software generated more than $19,000 in revenue from a Dutch advertising company, which had to be refunded as part of Schiefer’s plea bargain agreement.

Adware proponents were on the losing end of a significant court battle. In September, software distributor Zango (which the previous year settled an adware case with the FTC) was unsuccessful in arguments before a district court in Washington to prevent software tools company Kaspersky Lab from classifying Zango’s software as posing a potential risk to a person’s computer.

“Zango lost big,” says Ben Edelman, a spyware expert and assistant professor at Harvard Business School. Based on the ruling, Edelman says software tool vendors are “inherently protected” from liability in their efforts to protect consumers from adware, spyware and other malicious software.

Despite these prosecutions for distributing adware, deceptive advertising software is still abundant, according to Edelman. A suit filed in California in 2006 against Yahoo alleges that the search company distributed popups that were bundled with spyware software, generating allegedly bogus ads, says Edelman, who is co-counsel in the case. The ads were also placed on “parked” domains – websites created by scripts that did meet the criteria of quality content that Yahoo promised its advertisers. A trial date has not been set.

Congress Eyes Spyware Legislation

While legislators on Capitol Hill did not take action on many of the online marketing and privacy issues that were investigated by governmental agencies or decided in the courts in 2007, two competing anti-spyware bills passed the House of Representatives.

In May, the House passed the Internet Spyware Prevention Act of 2007, which focuses on providing funding to the Department of Justice for enforcing laws against spyware and the practice of phishing (fooling consumers into revealing personal data). Less than a month later, the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY ACT) was passed, which gives greater authority to the FTC to seek larger fines, and more broadly defines acts that surreptitiously collect personal information.

The IAB’s Zaneis says his organization supports the SPY ACT because it emphasizes greater enforcement of existing laws. The IAB testified in Congress against passage of the SPY ACT because it overemphasizes the requirement for consumer consent and could stifle innovation, according to Zaneis. He says that the Senate has not moved toward developing similar legislation to either House bill, and is unlikely to do so anytime soon.

Affiliate marketing expert and blogger Shawn Collins is wary of any spyware legislation that Congress would craft. “My fear is about some comprehensive anti-spyware law that includes harmless cookies,” Collins says. He is concerned about elected officials’ lack of knowledge of online marketing, worrying about laws “written by bureaucrats who never touch a computer.”

Spammers Put in the Can

No legislation or regulatory action in 2007 addressed the continuing problem of spam, but the existing laws are being enforced more vigorously. The CAN SPAM Act of 2003 was used in the prosecution of “Spam King” Robert Soloway, who was arrested in May for sending billions of spam emails. Also getting busted for spamming were Jeffrey Kilbride of Venice, Calif., and James Schaffer of Paradise Valley, Ariz., who will each spend more than five years in prison. The pair was sentenced in October for spamming AOL customers and others and was asked to return more than $1.1 million.

IAB’s Zaneis says he doesn’t expect any legislation in the near future regarding spam because the existing laws are sufficient. “The industry must keep doing what they are doing … now it’s an enforcement issue,” he says. The industry has “stepped up,” and an FTC spam summit meeting in July provided the necessary feedback about what was working and the latest authentication tools that could block spam, according to Zaneis.

Florida Takes on Lead Generation

An investigation into ringtone sales in Florida could affect affiliates’ lead generation practices across the country. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office’s investigation of “unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding online ringtone” sales by AzoogleAds resulted in a $1 million settlement from the company and an agreement to change the wording of its advertisements.

Ringtones previously described as free, though they required a monthly subscription fee, will have to include language describing the applicable fees, according to the agreement with AzoogleAds. Collins says that due to the lack of self-regulation among affiliates, “it was a positive for Florida to get involved.” Ideally affiliates would set up their own rules regarding lead generation practices, but Collins says no one in the industry has volunteered to fill that role.

The FTC is also investigating lead generation practices, with network ValueClick in its crosshairs. John Ardis, vice president of corporate strategy at ValueClick, says the FTC began looking into lead generation in the spring, but only ValueClick’s name was made known because it was the sole public company being investigated.

“Lead generation has become big enough in the last year for the FTC to review it, as it should,” according to Ardis. He says that the investigation has “put a cloud over lead generation,” but he hopes that the resulting clear rules from the FTC that will improve consumer confidence and allow lead generation to become “bigger and better.”

Ad-Supported Nation

There’s no doubt that popular websites such as video clip destination Metacafe continue to be strong players because visitors know that when they come back again and again, they can be treated to fresh content to inform them and tickle their funny bone. They can play the short clips over and over again and send the links to friends without having to pay for visiting the site. Every page of Metacafe has a small, unobtrusive ad that helps support the site financially.

This is nothing new. In a world where Google’s Ad- Sense text ads can be added to any kind of website, the idea of monetizing any and every site on the Internet is a foregone conclusion. What media companies have come to realize is that in the fragile Web environment, your popular digital destination today can be a retread tomorrow if the revenue streams become too thin. Metacafe has to compete with the 800-pound gorilla YouTube, as well as Revver, LiveLeak.com, Dailymotion and a variety of other free video sites.

When AdSense can only do so much in terms of monetization, the notion of seeing, hearing or downloading an advertisement to view free content is gaining incredible momentum. Once afraid of ad backlash before they had even thought of trading ads for content, media companies, artists and even software developers are jumping on the ad-supported bandwagon. So many different kinds of online media and marketing efforts are dipping an ad-supported toe in the water, that it begs the question: Will everything eventually be ad-supported?

The Ad Landscape

In 2007, marketers spent more than they ever had on TV, radio, print, outdoor, movie theater and Internet ads – $175 billion, according to ZenithOptimedia. That number is up 5 percent from 2005. If you add direct mail and other direct-response-type ads into the mix, that’s $269 billion. Also in 2007, companies spent $13 billion on Internet classified, search and display ads, and that is expected to double to $26 billion by 2011.

“In mass media history and as media fragments, the ad model will continue to be popular for eons,” says Jack Smith, senior vice president of strategy at 24/7 Real Media. “Consumers really like free content – they will pay for HBO, but mostly they like free stuff. Bigger media is always ready to play. There’s plenty of supply right now, and demand will have to catch up.” 24/7 Real Media recently integrated its search marketing efforts with Baidu.com, China’s most popular search engine. It specializes in targeted Web advertising globally, with a strong mobile capability.

Smith says that as emerging countries keep seeing an increase in Web users, there will be ad-supported Web services opportunities, especially in places like China, where PCs are not pervasive in the home. Microsoft has made a bid to enter that game by introducing two ad-supported Web services – its popular Windows Live and Office Live. The applications and surrounding services are available from the Web, without having to download the applications themselves.

Microsoft’s plan has both free and paid versions of Windows Live and Office Live with ad-supported basic services. The company then tries to sell add-on services. The ads are served up through its recently developed AdCenter advertising system. Some experts speculate that a completely ad-supported Windows-based operating system that would live on the Web and not on your computer is not that far off from becoming a reality.

In the ad-supported software category, it’s been argued that the first wholesale successes were email-based programs – such as Hotmail and Gmail – that used ads to completely cover the cost of the free, Web-based programs where none of the information, email files or address books are housed on your computer. In the world of systems management, even, there are companies such as Spiceworks, which is a free, ad-supported network monitoring software for network management for small businesses.

“But small businesses should read the fine print,” says Jay Hallberg, co-founder and vice president of marketing at Spiceworks. “The free use of the application is usually a hook to get people to buy,” adding that these are usually “sales gimmicks” and not truly free applications.

Big companies are also experimenting with ads for content. AT&T is testing its “1-800-YellowPages” service in Bakersfield, Calif., Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio. It provides free directory assistance for callers who listen to short audio ads. The ads are targeted by the category of the number being asked for. Its technology provider Apptera will do the targeting and ad serving.

In the video category, viewers have already said they will definitely watch an ad to get to the good stuff. A recent survey by the Associated Press and AOL said that 71 percent prefer to watch an ad for free video. Only 23 percent said they would pay a fee for ad-free video. Currently though, demand for ad-supported video has not provided enough inventory. “As we get more and more people finding video through AOL, we’ll create more inventory through that process,” VP of AOL Video, Fred McIntyre, said to ClickZ News. YouTube is still testing small ad bricks that scroll or pop up over the lower portion of the video window.

Ad Overload?

Worrisome to some big media marketers is that the barrier to creating and posting ad-supported Web content is so low, the ensuing glut will bring down online ad rates and spoil profit margins, leading to the demise of struggling Web ventures. “Free media is a good thing,” offers Dave Morgan, chairman of target marketing firm TACODA Systems. “With off-line media, distribution is expensive – think papers and trucks and postal costs. ” It was a nice model for the media companies, but not for the consumers. Web and Internet distribution of ad-supported publishing means much more free content and more diversity of content for many more people. That is good, not bad.”

Music companies and ventures that offer digital music and ringtones have discovered the benefit of ad-supported freebies. MySpace, for example, as it starts to lose market share, is pushing its music-sharing deals and shifting to free, ad-supported downloads in conjunction with more than a few major recording labels.

Other major music companies that launched ad-supported streaming music recently include Sony BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI. All three use San Francisco’s imeem as their streaming service, which plans to share revenue with the labels. “The music industry needs big ideas because small incremental improvements won’t change anything. For example, nobody has tried some of the crazy revenue shares we are trying on imeem,” says Dalton Caldwell, founder and CEO of imeem.

File-sharing companies that traffic in a good deal of music are trying to monetize their networks by running ad-supported versions. Atlanta company Intent Mediaworks says that 60 percent of its users are willing to endure pop-up ads. Intent Mediaworks has technology that adds advertising to streaming music on file-sharing programs. Other companies such as Qtrax and Nettwerk also aid in the streaming of ad-supported music downloads.

Some critical opinions doubt the ad-supported model will pay for website operations, let alone see profits. “I have yet to see the model that makes me feel good they’ll get enough money out of advertising. The question is, can they get enough mass to lower the royalty?” says David Card, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch. Allan Klepfisz, CEO of Qtrax, says the challenge is to “demonstrate that ad-supported peer-to-peer is lucrative enough that everyone is going to be happy. The real issue for the industry is that right now there are all these people paying nothing for music.”

The artists themselves are getting in the game, not to be left out of the loop by their labels. RCRD LBL, a network of ad-supported online labels, deals in independent bands unaffiliated with the big record labels. Their downloaded MP3s and streaming music both carry ads. Like David Bowie before him, who was early in his use of interactivity and the Web in the ’90s, rock star Peter Gabriel recently launched We7, a free ad-supported music download service. Ads are sent to users based on demographic information they provide on the site that allows for better targeting by advertisers. The ads are heard at the beginning of songs and albums.

Ads on the Move

Mobile marketers are also showing a huge attraction to an ad-supported model. Avot Media launched its mV mobile video service that promises better video quality in conjunction with viewing an ad. Rhythm NewMedia cut a deal with Vodafone in Spain to send ad-supported video to its more than 4 million handset subscribers. Interspot has an SMS service that will provide free text messaging. The text messages come with ads that can be geo-targeted. Mobile coupons will also be offered as part of the service. Start-up Blyk will offer free calling in European countries by listening to ads first. Though Finland-based, the service will start in Britain and spread out to other European countries from there.

CBS television said it will launch a high-speed wireless network in midtown Manhattan that can be connected to by cell phones, laptops and other personal devices by going through the CBS ad-supported landing page. The program also allows voice over the Internet (VoIP) calls. The ad-supported page will include content such as breaking local news and national news. Broadband hotspot platform AnchorFree is just one of the wireless providers that are offering free broadband connections by viewing an ad.

Not to be excluded, the world of gaming upgrades to a mobile platform through Hovr, which is an ad-supported free mobile gaming community. Through the service, consumer websites, mobile portals and carriers can offer users hundreds of free mobile games. The games can be wrapped around a specific brand and still carry Hovr’s ads.

MySpace isn’t going to be left out of the mobile surge either. It has launched a free, ad-supported cell-phone-ready version as its parent, News Corp., rolls out mobile versions of FoxSports.com, gaming site IGN, AskMen and local TV affiliates – most in ad-supported environments.

Instead of being annoyed by the flood of advertising rising from the ad-supported mobile programs, people are proving to have an open mind. “If you ask mobile users if they want ads on phones, 78 percent will say, ‘Not really.’ But if the ad comes with something for free, the survey result flips the other way,” says Brian Suthoff, senior director of business development at Third Screen Media.

Also in gaming, video gaming network G4 is testing video ads in their games. The video ads are delivered by YuMe Networks, specializing in IP-based video ads. YuMe executives have said that the company expects to do more business as user-targeted video ads employed by sites such as BitTorrent sign more “deals with publishers that want to experiment with ad-supported downloads.”

Even in the off-line world, seeing an ad can lead to your daily coffee fix. A company in Japan markets an ad-supported coffee vending machine. If the buyer watches a 30-second ad, he gets a free cup of joe. The cup it comes in has an ad as well.

24/7 Real Media’s Smith believes “we will better understand the consumer with more ad-supported companies.” He says the “gold standard is seeing the measurement that comes in that environment. We will value it more.”

As the final piece of evidence that the ad-supported model may indeed be ubiquitous, Freeload Press has made a deal to send out ad-supported electronic textbooks to students at 38 universities. Perhaps the age of the highlighter pen is truly over.

Looking for a Few Good Affiliates

Linda Woods, CEO of PartnerCentric, an outsourced affiliate program management group, says that affiliate recruitment is the hardest thing affiliate managers have to do.

“There is no software that spits the names of affiliates out,” she says, adding that there is no easy way around the arduous process of finding, meeting and building a relationship with the appropriate affiliates.

The process is time-consuming and multifaceted, and the AffStat 2007 Report confirms that recruiting is definitely an issue for affiliate managers. Nearly one-third of respondents said their biggest challenge is recruiting new affiliates. And even when affiliate managers do find the right affiliates, it does not mean they will join or implement the program actively.

When researching affiliates for their programs, managers should apply common sense regarding the products’ audience and industry. For example, Woods says that an affiliate manager for a high-fashion merchant should not look for coupon or discount affiliates (because they can cheapen the brand). Instead she suggests they look to loyalty/incentive sites, such as MyPoints or UPromise, which do well with big brands.

However, loyalty affiliates are a hotly debated topic in the industry. While some affiliate managers find them useful in helping with repeat customers, others question some of their practices. Many claim they often override or subvert other affiliates’ IDs, which results in affiliates not being credited for sales, commissions and leads.

The conventional wisdom behind recruiting affiliates has been that merchants should focus on the top-performing affiliates that fall within three concentrated categories: incentive/loyalty shopping, coupon/deal sites and search. For this reason, there are top-heavy programs, with a small group of affiliates representing a huge majority of traffic.

Unconventional Wisdom

But David Delisle, principal of The Partner Maker, a contact management and recruitment system developed specifically for the online marketing community, believes the “focus on the top affiliates” approach has done more harm than good for affiliate marketing. That’s because top producers are continuing to break away from being compensated as CPA affiliates (on pure revenue share). These affiliates are compensated for access to their audience, which consists mostly of repeat customers.

The result is that affiliates like eBates, Upromise and MyPoints look and act more like media companies than affiliates, Delisle explains. If merchants are interested in new-customer acquisition, they should be weary of these types of affiliates.

Delisle points out that when merchants focus only on the top-producing affiliates, they are ignoring the rest of the Web, and recommends marketers shift gears and pursue smaller affiliates in order to tap into the long tail.

The amount of smaller affiliates is positioned to grow, because today virtually anyone who uses the Web has a means to become an affiliate, with tools like PopShops – a product catalog “research tool” where affiliates can find relevant products to their niche. It allows an element of discovery based more on relevant inventory to an affiliate’s niche and less on criteria such as commission structure.

Angel Djambazov, marketing and business development manager of PopShops, says that an affiliate manager can use their PopShops product catalog as a recruitment tool to gain new niche affiliates by seeing the activity within the tool set among certain products.

The emergence of social networks offers another way for affiliate managers to recruit affiliates who are ambassadors of their brand. CEO of Molander & Associates Jeff Molander says This- Next and Stylehive are social networks that focus on the discovery and sharing of new items and offer marketers an upside that is “tremendous and untapped.”

Molander says marketers need to understand some products work better than others for social media strategies because they are natural fits for the “word of mouth” or “wisdom of crowds” models. For example, Wine.com’s community site works well because people buy wine using recommendations, and Patagonia’s community site is effective for its “highly conscious” consumers. But for a retailer like Gap, a social networking model could be less compelling, Molander explains.

Networks as Necessity

Another way to find affiliates for a program is through networks such as Commission Junction, LinkShare and ShareASale, because the networks can offer exposure to lots of affiliates and provide a wide reach.

But PartnerCentric’s Woods points out that “reach” is a misleading word – “what they have is a pool of affiliates, which is better than nothing.” Woods says most inexperienced managers rely on networks to find affiliates, but there are problems with this strategy. For one, some networks only promote new programs in front of affiliates one time, such as in a newsletter mention. The rest of the time the program is simply listed as a text link within a category.

Another problem is that networks list programs by performance – so a new program is ranked at the bottom because there is no performance data, such as the earnings per click (EPC), until the data shows up, which can take up to three months. If an affiliate is choosing a new program from a category, they will select the one that offers the most potential.

Linda Buquet, president of 5 Star Affiliates, an affiliate marketing consultancy, says another consideration is the 95/5 rule, which means that only 5 percent of the affiliates pulled from a network will be productive and active. And once these affiliates are recruited, to a large degree, they still require hands-on personal contact.

Affiliate managers cannot be dependent on networks, and Molander warns that affiliate managers cannot recruit affiliates by plugging into a network and walking away, because that strategy leaves money (affiliates) on the table.

Although networks are not in Roger Snow’s top three ways to go about finding affiliates, the director of marketing at Snow Consulting, says there are advantages. Networks are beneficial because they allow managers to use keywords to target specific affiliates as well as for starting programs because they announce the program to all affiliates.

Once affiliate managers launch their programs, they have the challenge of proactively building and retaining their publisher base. Networks can help affiliate managers who do not possess the business development and affiliate marketing skills necessary with these early recruitment tasks.

Depending on their vertical and brand, merchants must understand the overall online marketing landscape and whether or not a performance-based relationship will result in sales/leads. Kerri Pollard, general manager of Commission Junction, explains that Commission Junction has built a successful publisher sales team and sales engine that helps with this time-consuming work.

Another reason to work with networks is they can provide an affiliate manager with background regarding the ranking and quality assessment of a publisher. Pollard explains that Commission Junction designates qualified top performers as CJ Performers – noting that such insight isn’t available when managing an in-house program.

Most of the networks hold events with the core objective of getting merchants and affiliates together so productive networking can occur. LinkShare has its Partnership Summit and Symposium; ShareASale’s annual meeting is ThinkTank; DoubleClick Performics has its annual Client Summit; and Commission Junction puts on its annual Commission Junction University (CJU).

Research and Relationships

For finding affiliates, there is also good old-fashioned search engine research. A good way to find potential affiliates is to type the keywords pertaining to a product into Google and check out the results on the first few pages of natural search results. Snow says one of the ways he finds affiliates for his client, DiscountWatch- Store, is to Google terms like “watch review sites” to fi nd highly ranked and highly trafficked sites regarding watches.

Snow also looks for affiliates who use PPC as means to drive targeted traffic to their site because it shows they are actively marketing their site.

Woods agrees managers need to look for sites that come up in a search for particular keywords – “if they are advertising your competitors, reach out with your affiliate plan.” Woods also recommends finding affiliates through software tools such as Syntryx, which show sites that are linked to your competition.

But the easiest way for managers to recruit affiliates is to tap into the relationships that they already have established. Woods explains it’s important to have an experienced full-time manager who knows people in the industry because affiliates enjoy working with people they know. To foster the relationship, managers need to recognize affiliates who do well by giving them kudos, like financial rewards or tickets to a sporting event.

According to Snow, one of the ways affiliate managers can get to know affiliates is to join communities where the best players are – and recommends that managers become vocal participants in a large online marketing forum such as ABestWeb.com, where lots of savvy affiliates participate in discussions.

Affi liates are more eager to join programs they trust, according to Haiko de Poel, Jr., president of online affiliate marketing forum ABestWeb.com, which has more than 39,000 members.

de Poel says ABestWeb is an excellent recruiting medium because it is in almost real time and there are no spam filters. He also says that trust is a big issue in recruiting and ABestWeb works hard to overcome that challenge. According to de Poel, a couple of years ago some affiliate managers did not give out their real names on ABestWeb and the community reacted negatively. Now affiliate managers post on ABestWeb with their real first and last names. de Poel says that sometimes affiliate managers will come into a forum to ask a question and the community won’t talk to them until they state their real name.

There is an accountability factor when an affiliate manager reveals their name and the company they represent. “There is a trust that is built and affiliates feel like they are partners and not just affiliates,” he says.

Once a user gets involved and posts regularly, others see where that person stands on issues. He says this translates well to the real world because once they meet in person, there is instant credibility and a symbiotic relationship.

Many use forums and blogs to recruit affiliates. Buquet, who was an outsource affiliate manager but now specializes in recruitment and promotion, explains that word of mouth is instrumental to her success for finding affiliates – she recruits through her blog, her forum, her main site and through affiliate and online marketing forums.

By only representing tried-and-proven affiliate programs that have been tested, Buquet says she has earned a loyal following of affiliates and a good reputation. She says she turns down 99 percent of merchants that want her help recruiting affiliates because she’s looking for programs that have high payouts, long cookies, good conversions and high-integrity marketing practices.

There are outsource affiliate program management companies that can offer marketers access to top affiliates – companies like PartnerCentric, GTO Management, NETexponent and AMWSO.

Chris Sanderson, director of AMWSO, uses The Partner Maker, a contact management and recruitment system. He says the system allows him to build his own affiliate base so that when he launches a new program, he can review the affiliates in the system and contact those partners that would be a good fit. And because he can store multiple sites and marketing profiles for each partner, it also means he can contact the correct partner and not send a generic email.

Cold Contacting

The most popular methods for cold-contacting affiliates are email and the telephone.

Snow says he thinks most affiliates don’t want phone calls, and suggests sending emails that won’t be perceived as spam. “Don’t send them 4,000 words – just point out the benefits of the package [like commission, cookie duration, product data feed]. You only have one or two seconds – it’s just like selling door-to-door.”

The AffStat report showed that 30 percent of respondents believe email is the most effective method for recruiting affiliates, and 18 percent believe it is through the phone.

Affiliate Summit co-founder and affiliate program manager Shawn Collins says if sites don’t include an email on their contact page, affiliate managers can get the email addresses by looking up the WHOIS record for the domain.

Top affiliate Scott Hazard says that as a high-profile affiliate, he receives multiple emails per day from affiliate managers who want to recruit him – about half are personalized emails and about half are bulk emails. Hazard says some ask him what it would take to get them into the program – they try to find his pain point.

Make an Impression

To stand out, affiliate manager Collins has found fun items to send affiliates. In the past, he’s mailed postcards and has had good results with “Send a Ball,” which is an alternative to a greeting card. The ball is delivered via the USPS with the address, postage and personalized message right on the ball.

PartnerCentric’s Woods says face-to-face contact is essential for meeting new affiliates. She suggests affiliate managers get out to events and conferences like the two-yearly Affiliate Summit and Webmaster World. “If you sell lawn chairs, you need to go and meet the top home and garden sites,” she says.

When attempting to attract affiliates to a program, most experts agree money is a big motivator, although Woods claims it is not always the most important factor. The commission has to be at least as good as what the competition is offering, but affiliates look for programs that offer a variety of elements.

For one, a program needs to be well-managed because it’s important that affiliates are serviced and have their commissions paid. “The bane of affiliates’ existence is to have to chase down their commissions,” Woods says.

Often affiliates join programs because they trust the manager and they know the program won’t become “stale” – meaning that applications will be approved, new links will be put up and there will be email communication back and forth as needed, according to Snow.

Based on feedback received at ShareASale’s ThinkTank conference in October 2006, shoe retailer Chinese Laundry made changes to its affiliate program, including better ways to link, promotional banners and affiliate specific coupons. Chinese Laundry’s CIO, David Wright, says they starting seeing improvements right away and their conversion rate went up 600 percent – “from a couple of affiliate sales a month to 15 in one day.”

The conversion rate has to be good because many top affiliates are constantly evaluating the real estate on their site. Snow explains “it’s all about conversion,” and top affiliates do a lot of research because it is their livelihood.

Affiliate Hazard is a firm believer in doing extensive research before joining a program. For programs in the ShareASale network, he can look up the EPC and the average commission and then figure out the conversion rates. He also notes that it’s important for affiliates to try out the buying process before they start promoting a program. If the merchants make the buyer enter personal information before they state the shipping charge, if the production descriptions are poor or if things are hard to navigate, the chance of sales abandonment increases, which can ruin affiliates’ commissions and reputation.

To help merchants understand problems with their site from an affiliate perspective, Hazard recently began offering a site evaluation service to merchants. He looks for hiccups in the checkout process and analyzes the commission structure to see if a competitor pays more. When joining a new program, Hazard’s most important criterion is a very unique product line – something not readily available at other sites. He also looks for programs that fit into his themed websites.

With new offerings for connecting affiliates and merchants, and new tools that make it easier for publishers to become affiliates, in some ways affiliate recruitment is becoming easier.

Collins thinks recruitment is easier today than when he started 10 years ago. At that time, every person he approached had to be sold on the overall concept of affiliate marketing. He says, “it’s just a matter of breaking through the clutter and selling the reasons why the affiliate program is best.”

Still, Collins says it’s the activation and retention of affiliates – not the recruitment – that is the hardest part of being an affiliate manager. He says he believes that because most affiliates don’t focus on activation and retention, they “think” recruiting is the hardest task. But according to Collins, once you’ve got the affiliate, you have to know how to keep them and ensure they are productive.

They Can Hear Us Now: Q & A with Laura Marriott

The president of the Mobile Marketing Association says that ads on mobile devices will only get better, more widespread and easier to create and measure.

Laura Marriott is president of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and spearheads efforts to get mobile marketing adopted worldwide. The MMA is a global nonprofit trade association with more than 500 members in 42 countries. It works toward removing obstacles to market development; establishing standards and best practices to sustain growth in mobile marketing; and being an evangelist for the mobile channel. Marriott was previously director of marketing for Intrado, and the director of business development at Cyneta Networks and Cell-Loc Inc./Times- Three Inc. Senior Editor Eric Reyes asked her some pertinent questions about where mobile marketing is going.

ERIC REYES: What is the history of the MMA? When and why was it formed?

LAURA MARIOT: The Mobile Marketing Association was initially formed in 2000 as the Wireless Advertising Association (WAA), a New York-based nonprofit trade association. In 2003, the WAA and the Wireless Marketing Association (WMA), based in Europe, joined to form the Mobile Marketing Association. At that time, the MMA had only 10 member companies, which included companies like m-Qube, Mobliss, The Weather Channel, Carat Fusion and Vindigo. The chairman in Europe at that time was Cyriac Roeding, who is our current global chairman, and in the United States, Jim Manis. The MMA remained around 10 to 20 member companies until 2005. At the same time, mobile marketing, in the United States, began to take off – we had interoperability among the carriers, a short code system for ease of consumer experience and a supportable revenue model. The MMA also established four national chapters in Europe in 2003 to 2005 – Austria, Spain, the U.K. and France.

The key differentiator for the MMA is that we have representation from across the mobile ecosystem – working in a collaborative, trusted manner to educate the marketplace and build guidelines and best practices for the mobile marketing industry. Members include handset manufacturers, wireless operators, technology enablers, aggregators, media companies, brands, agencies, market research companies as well as any organization focused on marketing via the mobile channel.

ER: Last year was supposed to be the year mobile marketing hit critical mass. This year, mobile marketing still seems to be finding its way. What are some of the indicators that mobile marketing is continuing to gain traction?

LM: Absolutely right! The number of campaigns that we see launching has grown into the tens of thousands worldwide. Indicators in the United States include: short codes listed on traditional and digital media as an integrated element of the overall campaign. For example, on billboards, magazines, television, etc.; membership in the MMA doubling year-over-year since 2005; the number of award submissions in the MMA award program growing from just over 100 last year to more than 260 in the 2007 program; brands and agencies establishing mobile divisions and hiring mobile specialists within their organizations; mobile has become a line item in the advertising budgets of many very large brands; mobile is being integrated into not only the verticals that want to be in front of the consumer all of the time, i.e., financial services, travel, entertainment, CPG, QSR and automotive, but we are now seeing mobile move even into durable goods and other segments; the growth of text messaging in the United States, increasing from 7 billion a month in 2005 to over 30 billion a month in June 2007; and an increase in number of short codes – the 5- to 6-digit number which helps to facilitate ease of interaction between brand and consumer – issued on behalf of the CSCA has climbed to over 2,600 in 2007.

ER: What has mobile marketing enabled marketers to do better?

LM: Mobile marketing has enabled the brands to develop a conversation of engagement with their consumer – a dialogue about their products and services and a means to effectively measure and evaluate this dialogue. Mobile also enables brands to target their consumers, anytime and anywhere, through their most personal device: their mobile phone. Consumers are in the driver’s seat on encouraging and defining the interactions with their brand – wherever and whenever.

ER: Some say the real gold mine in mobile is m-commerce (to make purchases directly from your mobile device). What is the MMA doing to enable this ability?

LM: The MMA has established a mobile commerce committee that is working on guidelines for digital and physical goods transactions, mobile couponing/ticketing as well as other issues having an impact on the ecosystem. The goal is to always ensure a positive and consistent experience for the consumer.

ER: What do you do to help brands enter into and perfect their mobile marketing initiatives and campaigns?

LM: Education. The key so far has been helping to educate the brands on the role of mobile in their marketing initiatives – and how to integrate a mobile call to action into the overall integrated marketing campaign. The MMA publishes a broad set of mobile case studies, white papers, glossaries and so on, to help to educate on how to use the channel most effectively and to learn from the experiences of other brands that have tried before them. The MMA also runs Mobile Marketing Forums at www.mobilemarketingforum.com, which is our key event series to educate and evangelize on the mobile channel. These are held in every region around the world, four or five times a year and have become the premier event for mobile marketing.

ER: What do you do to help mobile marketers establish better customer metrics in their mobile efforts?

LM: The MMA has launched a measurement initiative, in June 2007, to define the metrics in a consistent manner for the industry. Measurement will be one of the key issues facing our industry in 2008. The MMA and the GSM Association are working together to ensure consistent measurement and metrics solutions for the industry.

ER: Does the MMA help establish best practices for mobile marketers? What are some of those practices initiated by the MMA?

LM: Yes; this is the foundation for the MMA – and we have been leading in the development of cross-carrier mobile content guidelines and best practices as well as mobile advertising guidelines since 2005. Current best practices/guidelines include: consumer best practices for cross-carrier mobile content services; mobile advertising for mobile Web; and mobile advertising for downloadables. The MMA has also published a number of best practices documents which include mobile couponing, mobile search, mobile promotions and sweepstakes, and so on.

ER: What does the MMA do to help streamline mobile search? Do you suggest standards?

LM: To date, the MMA has not suggested standards for mobile search; however, we have published two thought leadership pieces which include an introduction to mobile search and mobile search use cases, which outline the best practices and options for offering and evaluating a mobile search solution. These are published through the MMA mobile search committee and include the participation of leaders across the mobile ecosystem and our membership.

ER: Do you track innovations in mobile marketing strategies and mobile technology? How is that knowledge integrated into the mission of the MMA?

LM: Yes; the MMA is at the forefront of defining and participating in the initiatives which are helping to shape our industry – and works with our members to ensure we continue to self-regulate industry developments and stay in front of the trends. The MMA is an action-oriented association designed to clear obstacles to market development, to establish standards and best practices for sustainable growth, and to evangelize the mobile channel for use by brands and third-party content providers. The MMA has helped to guide the development of a sustainable ecosystem to ensure consumer privacy and protection is assured.

ER: What does the MMA do to fight mobile spam?

LM: Unsolicited messages, overall, are prohibited according to the MMA guidelines. The MMA guidelines ensure that mobile is always an opt-in experience for the consumer. This means no push-based campaigns – all consumer pull. The MMA also defines rules which prohibit the selling of third-party lists, so that the mobile channel does not experience the issues that we have seen in other digital media types. Our consumer best practices have become the base set of rules for messaging, mobile Web and IVR transactions in the United States, and have been integrated into wireless carrier contractual agreements so that all vendors in the ecosystem adhere to these guidelines. The industry has also launched a monitoring initiative which tests each short code campaign to ensure compliance against the consumer best practices guidelines.

ER: Is it difficult to convince brands of mobile marketing’s viability?

LM: Historically, there has been a belief that mobile is complicated. We encourage brands to first define their strategic objectives for their campaign and then determine which mobile solution will work best to achieve their goals. Once a brand starts their first initiative and sees the results, they generally continue to deepen their experiences with the mobile channel. Success rates in mobile have often been more significant than those you see in other media. The numbers speak for themselves.

ER: Are interactive agencies prepared to scale for mobile campaigns? If not, what do they need to do?

LM: Yes; 2007 saw a significant shift in how agencies are handling mobile. Many agencies have spun out digital divisions, i.e., AKQA Mobile, while others have ramped expertise internally by establishing mobile groups or mobile experts. In the early days, mobile was treated as a portion of the interactive business; for mobile to truly take off, it needs to be treated as its own business and own line item. Mobile is not the Internet. There are five very distinct media types within mobile, which include voice, downloadables, mobile Web, video/television and messaging. Mobile expertise is essential to ensure the media types are integrated effectively into a cross-media initiative. The other trend has been the development of a large number of mobile agencies in that companies are specializing in mobile creative and campaign development. These agencies are having a significant number of successes worldwide. A proof point of that success was Omnicom’s purchase of mobile agency, ipsh!, in 2006.

ER: Is there a difference in best practices standards between the U.S. and the rest of the world? Is there a push to get the whole world to practice the same standards?

LM: Yes; every market has its own regulatory and legal considerations which need to be considered. The goal of the MMA is to develop global guidelines, where possible, regional guidelines where necessary and local as required. A global brand is looking for ease of market entry when they are launching a program, and consistency is key. Many campaigns today already cross regional and local boundaries, so a consistent set of guidelines is ideal. Perhaps the best example is the mobile Web advertising guidelines which have been launched by the MMA. There is consistency in formats and creative across NA and EMEA – and the hope is to bring the APAC guidelines to the same formats by early 2008. The MMA has also published a global code of conduct which protects the consumer’s experience, privacy and protection being paramount.

ER: How is a successful mobile marketing campaign measured?

LM: Today success is generally measured by interactions, but these have varied according to operator and vendor. The MMA has a measurement committee working to define a consistent set of ad currencies, reporting criteria and cross-media effectiveness measurement in order to gain the best insight into mobile.

ER: How is the consumer being enticed to view mobile marketing?

LM: Mobile has become an integrated element of traditional and digital campaigns today. Mobile promotions and sweepstakes have been driving interactions with the consumer particularly through participation TV programs like “Deal or No Deal” or “American Idol.” Providing the consumer with exclusive information, coupons, opportunity to win, etc., have all helped to drive the interactions between brand and device. And, the consumer is receptive.

ER: Do marketers need new models to gain mobile marketing success? How does the MMA help to discover these new models?

LM: Initially, brands were repurposing content from other media for mobile, and while this does work, creative made for mobile content and solutions is key to long-term success. MMA research has shown that consumers are most interested in interactions that deliver information exclusively to them on their device, information that they cannot get through any other channel. The MMA helps brands by sharing case studies of what has worked successfully in markets around the world.

ER: What does the MMA do to help streamline the total mobile Web experience?

LM: Education is key. Reach is currently an issue with the mobile Web, so educating brands and consumers on how to use their mobile device will be critical to long-term success. Operators play a key role in encouraging mobile Web adoption by providing attractive data packages and compelling content to help encourage consumer adoption.

Fracas over Facebook and Trepidation with Twitter

Since Facebook was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine less than a year ago, it’s been called everything from the social platform that would revolutionize marketing forever, to an overblown and overhyped experiment.

Industry watchers say the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Although Facebook certainly offers marketers global reach, desirable demographics and powerful “endorsed by your social graph” capabilities, its recent attempts to transform online advertising have either fallen flat or failed completely.

Facebook’s increasingly worldwide audience is one of its most valuable assets. Its rapid international growth is especially remarkable because the majority of countries – including Turkey and Israel – experiencing speedy expansion do not speak English as their primary language.

More than half of Facebook users are not enrolled in college. The fastest-growing demographic is the over- 25-years-old group. In fact, comScore Media Metrix found that more than 41 percent of all Facebook visitors are 35 years or older.

Facebook has long been considered the social network of choice over MySpace.com for those with higher educations, but recently it overtook MySpace in terms of daily page views and reach, according to Alexa. The boost has been enough to make Facebook the sixth-most-viewed website in the world. Hitwise finds that U.S. traffic to Facebook increased 80 percent from November 2006 to November 2007. However, traffic to MySpace was almost five times greater than to Facebook in November.

Speculating on the valuation of Facebook was an industry pastime this summer until Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in it for $240 million in October, giving Facebook an estimated value of $15 billion.

Critics wonder if Facebook is worth what Microsoft paid for it. Many say there is no way to justify the value unless Facebook can grow into something much more than its current iteration.

But with estimates that spending by advertisers on social networking could almost triple to more than $3.5 billion globally by 2011, it’s not surprising that companies like Microsoft don’t want to miss out on the marketing opportunities.

Many Marketing Methods

Advertisers and marketers have plenty of options when it comes to Facebook. One is “Insight,” which is collected marketing data of social demographics and psychographics that Facebook provides to advertisers in an aggregated, anonymous way.

Another feature is “Pages,” which is the capability of businesses to host pages on Facebook for various brands, products and services. Brands have long attempted to build their own profile pages, with little success of getting past Facebook’s identity moderators.

Advertisers can buy “Ads” that can be targeted based on member profile data such as location, interests and activity. They simply write an ad, decide where they want to drive traffic, choose a target audience and purchase them on a CPC or CPM basis.

“Social Ads” are another option; they pair targeted ads with related actions from a user’s friends – allowing Facebook members to sign up as “fans” of an advertiser and then have their names and profile photos displayed alongside the marketer’s ads on their friends’ Facebook pages.

Online marketing consultant Sam Harrelson says he ran two Social Ad campaigns and spent approximately $500 in all. The return was about $15. He’s disappointed and doesn’t think what Facebook has rolled out so far will ever work or sustain any sort of revenue for advertisers or marketers.

Scott Aikin, president of shopping site Mallicious.com, says that Social Ads are very similar to “Flyers,” Facebook’s original form of ads, which was discontinued in December. The biggest change is that ads now show up in the news feed when attached to a relevant social story, as opposed to only in the left-hand ad space. The news feed, which lets people know what their friends are doing on Facebook and in the real world, is the first page Facebook users see when they log on to the site – making it a key place for ads.

Affiliate Scott Jangro used Flyers to target college-aged women for his Virtual Costume Party app, and says that although the application got tons of page views, they were not highly converting. He thinks it’s possible that Facebook did some analysis on Flyers and slowed down the ones that didn’t have a high CTR, but that’s “just a theory based on that one data point.”

But Aikin says he managed a substantial amount of traffic to his Social Shopping Mall application through Flyers and by advertising on third-party apps. He says that the prices are a little high for the value, but thinks this may change as Facebook brings in more adults.

Accurate Audience

Some think that Facebook’s advertising opportunities are revolutionary. Adware, malware expert and longtime affiliate marketing pundit Wayne Porter wrote a blog on Revenews.com saying that for the first time, advertisers are able to see the interests listed on 50 million Facebook user profiles. “This is groundbreaking if you are a beer marketer, because there are not many places besides Facebook where the average young man writes ‘I like to drink beer’ next to his name.”

Affiliate marketer Carsten Cumbrowski says he believes ad campaigns could be effective for smaller-budget items like ringtones and cell phones because the Facebook crowd skews younger. In general, Cumbrowski thinks Facebook, like most other social networks, “is very limited in terms of the type of ads that work well.”

Others doubt that Facebook is the next advertising gold mine because users don’t have their wallets out on social networks. They are there to socialize. And some think advertisers would have better luck targeting users when they are searching on news or search sites – because it shows intention.

Beaten-Down Beacon

Causing much of a hullabaloo in the news is “Beacon.” It enables the tracking of user activity across a network of external participating sites and then reports that back to Facebook. Activities could appear in the form of “endorsements” (e.g., Harry just bought a book on Amazon), that appear in a Facebook RSS feed area. Facebook said the model was intended to turn millions of Facebook users into a “word-of-mouth promotion” service.

However, in late November, Facebook decided to alter its Beacon feature after attacks from privacy groups and MoveOn.org demanded Facebook stop broadcasting users’ purchases without their consent. The Beacon feature is no longer active for any transaction unless the user clicks “OK” – making it an opt-in, not an opt-out, system.

Consultant Harrelson says Beacon was a horrible idea. “It reminds me of the toolbar apps from 2002.” He believes there were too many concerns over privacy, data ownership and Facebook’s long-term sustainability as a platform “to cause much skirt hiking.”

Another Facebook feature, “Groups,” allows users to organize around a cause or common interest. Groups have several levels of controls associated with them and can be public, private or invite-only, and they can also be hidden from the group directory. Owners can email notifications and communications to all group members.

Jamie Birch, director of affiliate relations for Converseon, a digital Web 2.0 communications agency, says they are looking into having their own group because it would provide an additional venue to communicate with affiliates and educate them on Converseon’s programs.

Facebook Applications

Out of all of Facebook’s offerings, it is the ability to develop applications that is most enticing to affiliates. Launched in May, Facebook Platform allows developers to build third-party applications within Facebook’s user interface. It took off like wildfire because it gives marketers a cheap and effective means of promoting their website to the growing Facebook audience.

As of mid-December 2007, there are more than 10,000 applications, and the most popular apps include Top- Friends, FunWall and iLike when ranked by most engaging as opposed to number of users.

iLike, a music-sharing social network, allows users to list favorite songs and bands on their profiles. It makes money by facilitating purchases of music through iTunes and Amazon. During its first nine months on the Web, iLike attracted 3.5 million users, but on Facebook it added 5 million in just 60 days – proving to advertisers that people are interested in what their friends like.

But the viral success of iLike is not the norm. The dynamic of Facebook’s application marketing has changed because the marketplace has become saturated. Users frequently uninstall applications, and the release of each new application means more applications must fight for attention.

Michael Allen, president of ShoppingBargains. com, a source of coupon codes, released his application for Facebook at the end of September 2007. He says he wishes he had launched it a month earlier during the zenith of user installation and when developers could market their app to an unlimited amount of people. In late August, Facebook changed policies and limited marketing to only 20 people per day.

Allen is hoping to expose Shopping Bargains to new users through Facebook. He wanted to make its deals customizable and easily shareable among friends within trusted social circles instead of forcing people to leave that warm environment.

Mallicious’ Aikin developed the Social Shopping Mall app, which allows users to save coupons they find on Facebook to his site. He explains that if a visitor uses a $5 coupon for ShoeMall through his app on Facebook, Aikin gets 100 percent of that affiliate commission.

Aikin claims he’s glad to have developed an app because it was an interesting learning experience and gave him a better understanding of how to monetize social networks.

Users can find Aikin’s app on Facebook in a variety of ways: through ads, via the application directory, in a Facebook search, on profile boxes, using news feed stories, and on ads on apps that are available through third-party advertising networks. But Aikin warns that even with all the marketing tools available, “the success of your app comes down to the value you provide.”

Jangro, the affiliate who developed the Virtual Costume Party app, had a less favorable experience. He launched his app in October and would “not deem it as successful,” suspecting that current users of Facebook are “not in the buying mind-set.” Jangro thinks that if shopping is not fun or useful enough to gain traction on Facebook, “it doesn’t seem advisable for affiliates.”

Still, Jangro says there is an opportunity on Facebook to build brand, and recommends those who are thinking about developing an app should first focus on one that is entertaining and engaging and then worry about how to monetize it. He thinks if an application name is interesting enough, it could garner adds from curious friends who learn about it on the news feed page.

President of SubmitAWebsite.com Joe Griffin points out there are a plethora of opportunities for advertisers. If a marketer of iPhone accessories wants to reach people on Facebook, he could leverage iPhone Groups, check out the fans of the iPhone Page or advertise based on users’ demographic information or listed interests such as “gadgets, technology, Mac users.”

But many advertisers shy away from social networks because there are reports that they can’t trust what users say in their profiles – they fear people lie about their age or interests.

Consultant Harrelson says he likes Facebook as a social network but doesn’t think it’s a good fit for marketing in its current stage of evolution: “” at this point, we’re still too closely linked to off-line models and metrics that break down when you try to translate them to the social networking world.”

Twitter

Another much-buzzed-about application is Twitter, a free social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send text-based posts of up to 140 characters to the Twitter website via short message service, instant messaging, email or an application such as Twitterfic.

Converseon’s Birch says people feel three ways about Twitter: “You like it, you don’t understand it or you can’t stand it.” Regardless, Twitter has been one of the fastest-growing apps in the history of the Internet since it launched in the spring of 2007.

Marketers such as Birch like Twitter because it offers a new way to share information. It is an additional medium for communicating with his affiliates in the way that they want to be reached.

Affiliates vary in how they get their information: Some like phone calls, some want email once a year, some prefer RSS and some want information as frequently as it comes out. Twitter messages can be received a variety of ways: on Internet- capable devices, the Web IM, and phone – which makes it a flexible solution.

Affiliate managers want to offer affiliates the most up-to-date information in the way that is most convenient for them. The more affiliates know about what is going on with a program, the more they can tailor their marketing, and the more they are able to convert their traffic into sales, according to Birch.

So if an affiliate manager receives a new coupon or hot product from a merchant, they can send a tweet to those who are following the account. For example, Birch could Twitter about a promotion for a specific product – with the message that the first person to sell it gets a 12 percent commission. Birch says that he has incentivized people to use Twitter by offering deals available only through it.

Early Adopters

Another advantage of Twitter is that it is useful for reaching early adopters. Birch says they sent out the Twitter invitation to approximately 100 top affiliates in their 11 affiliate programs and about 40 to 50 affiliates are following it.

Some think Twitter is an excellent tool for reaching affluent, well-educated early adopters and influencers, but not the general public. Brands, such as Carnival Cruises and The Wall Street Journal, are experimenting with it but they only have followers in the double digits – more successful experiments have attracted numbers in the thousands, but nothing significant.

Twitter is appealing to marketers because it and other “presence platforms” are an immediate way for people to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Marketers can leverage it by selling to the user directly or by seeing major trends in the millions of daily public posts.

Harrelson says that as a marketing device, Twitter is great for building brand. “It can be a direct-response-type tool (TwitterLit.com comes to mind), but as a platform it’s much better for getting your name/identity/view/message out there.” Harrelson has been using Twitter since November 2006 and says it has been the source for more network connections than any other activity he’s been involved in, including conferences, email or Facebook. Jangro says Twitter is a good promotional tool for individuals but thinks there needs to be a good amount of people reading the updates. “If you can’t get the users, the marketing value is nothing.” For this reason alone, Twitter may not be on the top of the list when it comes to ways that brands can communicate.

Regardless of which social networking platform online marketers opt to leverage, most industry watchers agree that we are just starting to see the marketing possibilities.

Rexanne Mancini: The Free Thinker

Mancini says she thought the Internet was the wave of the future and wanted a way to connect and be part of it. She waited to get on the Internet until after her younger daughter’s third birthday because she had the feeling that once she got on it she would never get off. And she was right.

Although she knew she wanted to sell something online, she had no idea what. She says she just had a feeling that “the Internet was going to be the place to be.”

In the beginning, Mancini wanted to reach out to other parents about her unique parenting philosophy, so she covered topics ranging from spanking to setting limits for children to self-esteem issues. As she built a community with returning visitors, her site gained traffic and she won several awards, including AOL’s Page of the Week.

Early on, she included a link to Amazon as part of their early affiliate program, Amazon Associates, which is how she discovered affiliate marketing. Her first sale was an Amazon book that she recommended, called Parents Please Don’t Sit on Your Kids. Although Amazon helped her figure out the business model of affiliate marketing, her beginning days were filled with trial and error.

She was aware of the wants and needs of parents because she was a stay-at-home mom. Mancini wrote about issues that came up in her day-to-day life and then researched retailers that sold merchandise appropriate to the topic. She tried merchants she thought would make sense for a family-oriented site like hers, such as Disney and Hallmark, but found those did not convert.

“I learned about affiliate marketing by the seat of my pants at first,” Mancini says. She didn’t start to make “real” money until she found and joined the online marketing forum ABestWeb.com. By participating in the various discussions on the forum and reading advice from others, she learned why she wasn’t making money and how “to turn traffic into gold.” In 1998, she built out her website into sections to offer holiday items for Halloween and Christmas.

But then in 2000, Mancini decided to take a full-time job and began working for an online traffic school. After a few months, another Internet company doing online video made her a much better offer. Even though she was managing everything from shipping to customer service, the company allowed her to work from home. That freedom gave her time to build out her own site.

Mancini says that both companies were very successful online, and having the firsthand opportunity to “see the power of Internet marketing from different angles was very exciting.”

Still, Mancini realized if she devoted the huge amount of energy she was putting into the online video company into her own effort, she could really be successful. That’s when she quit her job and jumped into affiliate marketing full time. Leaving her day job wasn’t her goal at the time, but when she began to make more money with affiliate marketing, she knew she had to concentrate on her own business.

Around that time, she decided to get her own domain in order to start a newsletter. Because Mancini had a somewhat unusual first name, she thought that might work well for building a brand. Even though the domain name had nothing in it to indicate that it was a family site, Mancini went with her instincts and bought www.Rexanne.com.

According to Mancini, the newsletter turned out to be an instrumental way for her to build community and keep people coming back. Currently, her site continues to get a surge in traffic when she sends out a newsletter. She says it is a great way to keep her in front of her visitors. One successful tactic she uses is to introduce a theme in the newsletter and then carry that same topic over to the forums on her website for people to debate.

Against the Grain

Not one to shy away from controversy, Mancini writes about topics not typically in line with mainstream thinking, and she’s not afraid to take a strong position on issues. She often ends up being “quite controversial without trying to be.”

When she writes about topics like immunizations, fluoride in toothpaste and talking to your kids about sex, debates among her audience ensue. For example, she was surprised to find out that 64 percent of her audience believes in spanking, because to her it seems so archaic. “It was shocking to be in the minority.”

Mancini also found out that her beliefs about childhood vaccinations and inoculations are the minority. Her father was a holistic doctor who started a movement against the polio vaccine and was instrumental in making sure that parents know their rights regarding mandatory inoculations in schools. She believes that vaccines can damage kids’ immune systems and thinks it’s crazy for infants to be exposed to an onslaught of disease. She feels the same about circumcision – infants should not be exposed to that type of pain when they don’t understand it.

Many of her ideas for what to write about stem from what to her seems like common sense. Mancini says she didn’t know anything about children before having her own – except that she had absolute beliefs about parenting and raising a sane, healthy child. “I found myself wanting to be the type of mother I wish I had had and wanting to protect my kids from a lot of mainstream beliefs and parenting advice that I felt was wrong and dangerous.” Her strongest belief is that children need to be loved and cherished and filled with positive self-images.

La Dolce Vita

Mancini’s own childhood was unique. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and lived there until she was 10 years old when her family moved to Rome, Italy. Mancini stayed in Rome for more than a decade before she returned home to the States at 21. She likes to embrace the spirit of the Roman culture – she loves life and thinks it should be enjoyed. One of Mancini’s mottos is that life is supposed to be fun and she doesn’t like to do something unless it is fun.

Her positive outlook and sunny disposition transcends to all aspects of her life. She lives with her two daughters, Justice, 19 years old, and Liberty, 13; Frankie the dog; and her cats, Holiday and Sage, in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley. She loves living in Los Angeles because of the weather, people and the opportunities that it offers.

Although Mancini loves her affiliate marketing job, she also has a passion for music, and sometimes freelances as a music supervisor for films and television. She’s careful only to take on music jobs that allow her to do some of the work at home so that she can keep up with her sites. It’s the creative process behind fitting the perfect music with a film that she loves and she says her specialty is finding unpublished songs and building a soundtrack of great unknown music. Before she started doing music supervision, she ran a music publishing and production company where she discovered new artists and songs for current recording artists.

In addition, she’s had a small acting role in the 2004 film, “Yard Sale.”

Her love of creativity and freedom makes her well-suited for affiliate marketing. She has also made lots of friends and enjoys the camaraderie of the affiliate marketing community. She’s a vocal and active poster on ABestWeb.com and enjoys friendships with many others involved in the forum. She counts many ABWers as close friends and some she considers her family. She’s also forged relationships through conferences and events like the Affiliate Summit and ShareASale’s annual Think Tank gathering of affiliates and merchants, which she “wouldn’t think about missing.”

Mancini is a big fan of ShareASale because she finds the network to be “honest and honorable.” It doesn’t hurt that ShareASale’s merchants also convert well on her site. She really noticed the difference in her traffic when she switched to ShareASale. Mancini doesn’t work much with LinkShare anymore because she claims she did not have much success with the merchants converting for her. AvantLink is her No. 2 choice in networks.

Secret to Her Success

For Mancini, one of the most important traits needed by an affiliate marketer is the ability to write well. Whether it is ad copy or telling a story – she says marketers need to be able to relay information effectively. She’s been successful at starting and growing a parenting site, even though there is so much competition online, because she has a unique voice. That has earned her a loyal audience that continues to come to her site for advice on issues like baby showers, teacher appreciation, how to care for infants, and birthdays. She matches these pages with affiliate links.

She says the products that sell the best for her today are Halloween costumes and holiday items for Christmas. Although she knows that apparel is a big online seller, she has not yet found a niche that works well for her, and she also has not had much success with learning products. Among her best sellers are Barbies, because they never seem to go out of style and girls love them – and grandparents and parents love to buy them.

Rexanne.com has more than 500 pages, and 10,000 visitors per day. The site gets up to 50,000 page views per day during the height of major holidays. Mancini allows advertising on most pages in the form of text links or buttons and banners. Because she has years of experience with affiliate programs, she understands what works and sells on her site and how and when to best reach visitors, and enjoys working with advertisers to help them achieve success on her site.

Because she loves to help people and finds it very satisfying, her site features parenting articles on topics like school overplacement, sex offender laws, and routines and schedules for children. Two years ago, she added forums to her site and found that they are a great way to build community. Topics include family photo albums, humor, prayer requests, and parenting issues like pregnancy and adolescence.

One area of her website she is building out is devoted to raising young ladies, and it focuses on topics such as how to be articulate, and improve appearance, confidence and grooming. However, Mancini points out that she doesn’t recommend any products or services she doesn’t believe in. For example, she will not promote an acne product if she doesn’t think it works.

Her honesty and straightforward attitude is another reason her site is successful, she believes. It’s a comfortable place for parents because she is a real person and not a corporation that is pushing products or an agenda on them.

Despite her Roman upbringing, Mancini is a Buddhist. The Buddhist philosophy plays a big role in her outlook on raising a child with kindness and compassion. Her signature line in forum postings is “loving everyone’s child creates magic.” She is truly caring about the world’s children and believes that adults should be open and honest with them. She sends her kids to private Catholic high school because it is a blue-ribbon school close to where she lives, but talks with them after school regarding what they learn philosophically to make sure it is in step with her beliefs.

In the future, Mancini plans to follow her heart into one of her other passions – and start a separate food and cooking site. She already has a separate section of her site devoted to recipes and gourmet cooking as well as a forum devoted to topics where users can exchange recipes. Enjoying food as well as family is definitely in step with her life philosophy.

Shine a Light

It’s been seven years since interactive agency Razorfish embarrassed itself on national television. When reporter Mike Wallace of CBS’ "60 Minutes" asked the agency’s co-founders what the company does, the answer was none too clear.

Jeff Dachis, co-founder of Razorfish, said to Wallace, "We’ve asked our clients to recontextualize their business." Asked for clarification, he added, "We’ve recontextualized what it is to be a services business." Wallace didn’t understand the answer. "We radically transform businesses to invent and reinvent them," Dachis explained.

Even though Dachis couldn’t seem to come up with an answer to satisfy Wallace, earlier in the program Dachis said of interactive agencies: "This is absolutely real; this is a revolution; we’re packing rifles; and this is going to be something that’s going to change the course of the way the world is functioning."

On that point he seemed to be right.

Razorfish, now known as Avenue A/Razorfish, owned by aQuantive, survived the ensuing dot-com crash and is currently ranked among the top 10 interactive agencies. Avenue A/Razorfish has even flourished, counting a roster of clients that includes Best Buy, Coors, Starwood, Wal-Mart and Weight Watchers. The company has reinvented itself from a Web design firm into a metrics- and response-focused house.

The majority of the top 10 interactive agencies in the U.S. have taken that mantra to heart, spinning out digital firms from their more traditional agency parents and combining Web design with a myriad of client services and metrics-based programs.

While this focus on the end-to-end as well as the most creative solution has indeed changed the way the digital agency functions, there are still lingering questions about who all this change is good for. The two tiers of interactive agencies – the digital arms spun out of traditional Madison Avenue powerhouses and the independent firms that got purely into digital about 10 years ago – are doing fairly well. Still, one faction points to the other a slacking in the forward-thinking bright ideas that will increase innovation and profits in the next phase of Internet advertising, mainly the social Web and search.

"Marketing on the whole still favors the traditional agencies," said Mark Kingdon, CEO of independent agency Organic. "But interactive is coming into its own. How do we work together, is the question." Organic emerged in 1993 as one of the first digital agencies and weathered the dot-com crash to thrive as an agency that specializes in deep customer profiling.

Big vs. Boutique

Organic may call itself an independent, but it is actually owned by giant Omnicom Group, which also owns Agency.com, Tribal DDB and Tequila in the interactive field. WPP owns Grey’s digital marketing arm and Ogilvy Interactive. Interpublic owns MRM Worldwide, R/GA and DraftFCB. The top 10 digital firms earn between $92 million and $235 million annually, according to AdAge. Avenue A/Razorfish leads the interactive pack with revenue of about $235 million in 2006. Omnicom is currently the holding company with the most revenue from its advertising units- about $11.4 billion worldwide in 2006. That’s about $6.2 billion in the U.S. It has also done well on Wall Street. In February of this year, its stock hit $106.90 per share, about 50 cents short of its all-time high in December of 1999.

While Organic is considered a smaller player, with revenue of about $102 million in 2006, Kingdon says that "marketing is under enormous pressure right now." He says that "people want to create a war between traditional and interactive agencies. "War may be a strong word, but the perception is that while independent digital agencies get all the "fun" work, bigger houses spun out of the traditional agency environments are still coming to terms with how to handle search marketing and the impact of social media. Spun-out digital agencies say they are best equipped to scale and meet all the client’s needs, be they digital or older media.

"Traditional agencies started to niche themselves," says Rohit Bhargava, vice president, interactive marketing at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. "They broke themselves into search and email marketing, etc. Now you have social media agencies. But the traditional agency is in real trouble now. With word of mouth, search and social media all coming from interactive agencies, traditional agencies don’t do that well, yet. "

Interactive agencies that came from the ranks of traditional agencies haven’t been hurting. DraftFCB, for example, earns about $95 million a year, and is the fairly recent marriage of FCBi and Draft Digital. FCBi was an outgrowth of traditional agency Foote, Cone & Belding. DraftFCB’s mantra is to stay response-driven but with the added value of more and better data. "In the past decade, the terrain went from silly money to accountability," says Brad Kay, executive vice president, executive director, digital, at DraftFCB. He says that the team has become younger and younger to help stay on top of innovation in thought and technology. The shop also has an elaborate intranet where employees can post "cool" stuff they encounter on the Web. This helps the "stay fresh or die" attitude, Kay says.

The small boutique shops may get a lot of adventurous creative work, but that’s how it was in the purely traditional agency universe in the days before digital. The two-man firms always got the regional business where your ad could feature grandmas in tattoos or precocious babies driving Harleys. "Sure," Kay adds, "some business goes to the boutiques and we’ll just have to get used to it." He says to help win new business they need to take on more people – something they do to stay abreast of innovation and the "hip factor."

The benefit to bigger traditional agencies is their deep pockets. To build a digital house from scratch seems to be a thing of the past. Buying a digital firm is easier. WPP Group has put Schematic, 24/7 RealMedia and Blast Radius in its corral. Publicis back in January doled out $1.3 billion for Digitas and also bought Web agency Business Interactif to bolster its presence in France, Japan and China. Omnicom, as mentioned, owns Agency.com, Tribal DDB and Organic, and continues to grow existing digital assets by taking a 50 percent stake in EVB, based in San Francisco.

Even among some of the independent shops, there is consolidation of the players. The big advertising parent companies now own a mix of big and small digital firms. Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis, to name a few, own big earners who began as offshoots of traditional agencies and smaller companies that started as two guys with a little Web coding experience. "You don’t need to streamline everything across an agency anymore," says Ogilvy’s Bhargava. "We’re going to use JWT for billing and Ogilvy for PR because it is the same parent company."

Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, has said that in a case where Schematic is bought by WPP, the intent is to "help change the DNA of the operating company and make them inherently more digital." He says in the case of his company, "it’s a way of leveraging specialized skills over the entire network. It has been successful because, in the end, it is providing better, more integrated solutions for clients."

The CMO Factor

Chief marketing officers may need some convincing. A recent study done by Sapient said that more than 50 percent of chief marketing officers believe that the traditional, large advertising agency is not prepared to meet their online marketing needs. It said that one in 10 CMOs expected to align with traditional agencies for their online marketing, stating that traditional advertising firms have a hard time thinking beyond traditional print and TV media models.

A report by Forrester done in February 2007 said that "agencies struggle to help clients capitalize on emerging channels and technologies. In the meantime, marketers are diffusing agency power by turning to a portfolio of players in search of specialized expertise. As marketers select new agency partners, they must revise their evaluation criteria to build an integrated marketing team."

And a March 2007 study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council said that 54 percent of marketers surveyed stated they plan to quit one of their agencies this year. The study summed up by saying that "marketing is undergoing substantial changes due to a mandate for CMOs to improve the relevance, accountability and performance of their organizations."

A brand may know what they want but have a hard time finding it. "Most interactive agencies have a hard time getting human resources together," offers Robert Tochterman, interactive brand manager for Ralston Purina. "Some agencies don’t know who’s going to be on an account until the work begins. You’re really buying into the confidence of the people at a director level." Tochterman looks for a team that "has rigorous methods for measuring the impact of a campaign, keeping an eye on return on investment. That’s the kind of discipline we’re looking for. Most agencies don’t talk about that. It’s comforting when they do."

Getting in the Network Game

Some big agencies are attempting to streamline their synergy by creating their own networks. The Omnicom Group, for example, announced it is erecting a "digital creative network" to be called Redurban. The aim is to globalize marketing and creative in an Amsterdam-headquartered endeavor out of recently acquired Redurban agency of the Netherlands. Euro RSCG, owned by Havas, also recently announced that its 4D digital arm would be moving into its New York office, with "integration" as its intent. Publicis, headquartered in France, has taken three of its agencies to create what it calls a "central services operation" named The InsightFactory. Leo Burnett, Starcom MediaVest Group and Digitas will contribute labor and technology to The Insight Factory, making a full-service mix of their media, digital and creative services.

This news comes after Omnicom’s push to integrate TBWA/Worldwide agency and Agency.com failed. TBWA was put in charge of Agency.com in 2005 and they just never made it work, according to news reports. In addition, Agency.com’s Dallas office announced it would close down completely, putting half of its small staff on the streets. Agency.com founder Chan Suh returned to the company in April as chief executive after CEO David Eastman held the top spot for less than a year.

Organic CEO Kingdon still maintains that there are some things the bigger digital companies can’t do that they do – what he calls a "client contact strategy." He says the client wants to know not the "what" of defining the traditional brand but the "how" of the digital approach. "Interactive agencies can handle the pace of innovation," he says, "but digital is always changing, so pure digital agencies know no differently. They were there when HTML first came along and when there was no money and they learned to thrive through Flash and Ajax and all that."

A case in point is the vanishing campaign microsite – websites built around a specific product. When Coca-Cola recently launched a new character for its Sprite drink, it did not launch a microsite, but set up the character on Facebook, complete with videos, music and discussion pages on the profile. Microsites are now seen as the "old model," shifting instead to where younger audiences gather – Facebook, MySpace, widgets and mobile applications. Adam Lavelle, chief strategy officer at iCrossing, points out that campaign sites tied to short-term promotions or products consistently rank low on search engines. "I don’t understand how, long term, a site builds brand equity," he says, "and with search, I don’t see that having long-term visibility."

The quandary for some brands, then, is do they sign up with a hot new interactive agency or do they stick with their shop of record? Ogilvy’s Bhargava believes the "top 10 are taking low-hanging fruit," with the bigger clients getting "a lot of follow-on business from other unit business. It is not cold calling. It is qualified leads." Lavelle says there is no monopoly on the best ideas, a sentiment that seems clear from the success of some independent interactive agencies. He says the "most important thing for marketers to think about is, ‘as I move more money from traditional into digital, does this agency have the capabilities that I want? Are there types of activities online, in mobile devices or other things I could be doing?’"

"You’re in trouble if you’re just building websites," says Bhargava. "We don’t want any one type of thinker," adds DraftFCB’s Kay. "The channel changes on a minute-by-minute basis. "We want to compete with the pure-play and the behemoth."

And Razorfish’s Dachis? Has he recovered from his embarrassment on national TV? After the dot-com crash nearly killed Razorfish, he left the company and formed Bond Art and Science, a consultancy that he says is not in the ad business even though reports seem to indicate it covers at least some of the same ground as Razorfish. Evan Orensten, a partner at Bond, says the company does "experience design," which sounds like an interactive agency.