Tags: small business blog

Holiday Customers Don’t Believe E-tailers Can Deliver on Time

Holiday Customers Don’t Believe E-tailers Can Deliver on Time

Beyond • December 9, 2011

We all know that shopping online has become almost as common as shopping out in the real world, but there is research suggesting that consumers do not have the same faith in e-tailers as they do traditional retailers. According to the Christmas 2011 Retail Experience Study, a research initiative conducted by European software maker Eptica, 46% of 1,000 consumers in the UK plan to do their holiday shopping at the last minute, even though more than half do not believe online retailers will deliver their items in a timely fashion. The same study showed that only 33% anticipate that their holiday orders will arrive on time. 40% said while they do not believe online companies will deliver on time, they were still willing to take the gamble. While it is interesting to see that some UK consumers will shop online no matter when their items arrive, there is other research that bears some potentially disturbing news for e-tailers. According to a study conducted by Econsultancy and UK research firm Toluna, 28% of consumers said they would not shop with an online retailer again if their items did not arrive on time. Many of the respondents surveyed in these studies clearly lost faith in e-tailers, and past experiences appear to be the factor that drove them to their conclusions. Aside from highlighting the importance of prompt delivery, the numbers also stress the importance of trust in the relationship between the marketer and consumer. Fortunately, getting the consumer to trust you is fairly easy when you know what steps to take. Be Honest and Ethical There are several things an e-tailer can do to cause customers to lose faith in their business. A classic example would be trying to mislead or flat out deceive them. You don’t want either of these words associated with your brand, so you obviously want to remain honest and ethical in your approach. This can be done through actions such as permission-based email marketing, and making sure business practices in general are fair to the consumer. On the issue of holiday delivery, if you cannot get items to your customers in time, be honest and let them know instead of getting their hopes up for the sake of a quick sale. It may mean the difference between a single sale now and multiple sales in the coming year. Keep Your Message Crystal Clear When it comes to gaining the trust of your audience, a little transparency can go a long way. In simple terms, you want to ensure that your message is clear and straightforward. Don’t hide behind corporate policies. Whether it is terms and conditions, rebates or product warranties, the information you provide should not only be easy to find, but easy for the consumer to digest. If your message lacks clarity, it could be your credibility that looks questionable in the eyes of your audience members. Control Their Expectations When it comes down to it, getting the consumer to trust you is all about being able to mold and manage their expectations. It sounds tricky, but it’s really as simple as meeting commitments and living up to your word. And since there may be no pleasing everyone all the time, be honest with yourself by only making the commitments you can really keep. The last thing you want to do is start ruining that trust by failing to live up to expectations. Once you do, regaining it can be a long, grueling road. Building trust is not only crucial for capitalizing on holiday shopping opportunities, but for enjoying long-term success as a business. E-tailers haven’t made it easy by providing less than stellar customer service, so you may have your work cut out for you. The good thing is that you can get there over time by having a plan, and sticking to it. While you’re putting together your ad campaigns for this holiday season, download Benchmark Email’s free Online Marketing Manual for the Holidays. It’s full of great tips and includes a section on the wide variety of cultural and religious celebrations during this time of year.


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Beyond Benchmark Email: Social Media Today & American Express

Beyond Benchmark Email: Social Media Today & American Express

Beyond • December 9, 2011

Have you planned out your marketing for 2012, or are you still stuck without a plan? Our COO Denise Keller and word guru Hal Licino have you covered, and they spent November writing smart, practical blog posts on holiday email marketing, social media and even Facebook Timeline. Missed ‘em? Here’s a breakdown. Denise Keller on Social Media Today When Facebook’s Timeline debuted, scores of people wrote it off as something fantastic for personal account holders, but practically useless for business pages and groups. Our COO, Denise Keller, however, is a hands-on social media person, so she dove right into Timeline and immediately saw significant advantages for businesspeople willing to use the feature. Denise’s list of the top 5 advantages of Facebook Timeline made it on ultra-popular site Social Media Today, and made serious rounds in LinkedIn, so hit the link and see the piece in its entirety. Hal Licino on Practical eCommerce If you’re selling stuff online and fantasize about being absolutely buried in customer orders, getting prepped for Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Day is task number one for your email campaigns. Why? Because sending out way more emails than usual and doing the hard sell will not just kill product demand, but get that oh-so-valuable email account banned by the spam police. Don’t take the risk - do things the right way. Read Hal Licino’s blog post at Practical eCommerce for more. Denise Keller on American Express Many businesses engage in social media to sell and promote products and services, but how many actually use it to build trust with customers? As Denise Keller’s American Express OPEN Forum says, social media is no longer about just preaching your message to a passive audience. If you want to gain the real benefits of social media, you need a two-way conversation between you and your clients. Denise Keller offers five valuable tips on building trust, and you can read them at the American Express Website. We have lots of good stuff on the way for December, and a boatload of awesome tips so you can start off 2012 as a marketing pro. Check out our blog in early January and you’ll be armed and ready for the new year ahead.


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Women Face Greater Online Entrepreneurial Challenges than Men

Women Face Greater Online Entrepreneurial Challenges than Men

Beyond • December 8, 2011

The presence of women in the workplace ranges from China and Sweden where nearly 65% of all women participate in the labor force, all the way down to Italy’s mere 38% and India’s regrettable 29%. The truly striking statistic is to be found in the persistence of the glass ceiling in US business. Only 16% of corporate board seats are occupied by women, 14% of executive offices and a lamentable 3% of CEO positions. The wage gap between the genders continues to be a serious handicap to women with equal work being rewarded with 20% higher pay for men in the US and nearly 30% more in Japan. With this rueful lack of integration of female talents and skills in virtually every aspect of corporate life, a growing number of women are establishing their own online businesses. Women Face Greater Entrepreneurial Challenges Some of the most successful and wealthy online entrepreneurs are women. Arianna Huffington who founded and then sold her eponymous Post to AOL; Caterina Fake who co-founded Flicker; Elaine Wherry who co-founded Meebo; and one of the most accomplished female online entrepreneurs anywhere: Tina Brown, the best-selling author and former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Tatler and Talk magazines who founded The Daily Beast. However, for every Tina Brown there are a million female online entrepreneurs who struggle to even barely cover the bills. The current worldwide economy is making entrepreneurial success more difficult by the day, and women can face even greater challenges than men. Women-Owned Business Are Smaller In a perfect world there would be no difference between a business startup helmed by a woman vs. a man, but that is not the case in our current reality. Women generally find seeking sufficient financial support an even greater challenge than men, thus are more often undercapitalized. Female owned businesses also tend to be smaller and hire fewer employees than their male owned counterparts. Thus, the advice of how women can best succeed in online entrepreneurship often becomes equated with the advice conventionally given to the underfunded startups. Secure Capital from Friends & Family Venture capital and bank financing dried up faster than a puddle in Death Valley when the 2008 recession started and there are no signs that credit will be loosening up anytime soon. Women entrepreneurs need to tap whatever resources they can to ensure that their startups are sufficiently funded and in most cases it comes down to friends and family. Individuals you already know can be a reasonable source of venture capital, but it is imperative that they be treated like formal investors, rather than a family member or friend spotting you $100 ‘til payday. They should be presented with a full and accurate business plan that outlines exactly what you’re going to do with their money, when they can expect to get paid back and what additional profit or dividend they can look forward to. Display Your Emotional Involvement Women have a tendency to become more emotionally involved in their business and that can make for a more successful funding pitch, whether it is in front of a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, or Aunt Gladys and Uncle Milton. A prospective investor wants to see that you display passion in your pursuit of your business’ goals and aren’t going to just fold up the tent and walk away at the first sign of trouble. They are counting on you to safeguard their investment and if a presentation is performed in the soulless, facts and figures manner adopted by a considerable number of male pitchers, the investors may debate your level of commitment. Balance is important in any funding approach as you don’t want to come off as overly emotional, insistent or shrill. Startup success can be a hard slog, regardless of gender, but many women have to fight even harder than men. Firmly committing to your project and believing wholeheartedly in your success is the best advice for any female entrepreneur in the currently difficult startup environment.


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Self-Publishing to Get You Noticed and Build Your Brand

Self-Publishing to Get You Noticed and Build Your Brand

Beyond • December 7, 2011

These days, it’s rare for authors to get published unless they have a web presence. Literary agents and publishers want to see an online following via a blog, social media and more. So what do aspiring authors do? They create one. They start blogging and getting on board with social media to share their expertise or interests, and they realize that with consistency and quality they can creat a clout of followers that have begun turning to them for answers, for inspiration and as an industry authority. When an author with a strong online audience starts publishing a book, they’ve got a fan base that not only ensures their success but that helps propel it forward. So what’s it got to do with those without aspirations about become the next great American novelist? It’s simple. Apply the same strategy to your business and you’ve got two things…a golden formula for branding and a way to generate additional income. How Self-Publishing Factors into Marketing If you’ve published a book, you’ve become an authority. Not many people ask you “well how many books have you actually sold?” People don’t really think that way. Just knowing you’ve got a book out there gives consumers a sense of confidence in your abilities. Having published a successfully-selling book on the other hand, opens more business opportunities, be it speaking engagements, panel talks or serving as a consultant. Big dollar businesses are looking for reliability and know how. Having a book they can read to really get to know what you’re all about offers them security in knowing that hiring you as a consultant or contractor won’t be a waste of time. Self-publishing also offers you control. Get a standard publisher and your work turns from a Proust into a Patterson – it’s barely recognizable anymore and not authentic to your voice. Authenticity sells and self-publishing lets you do that. Going it on your own also halts the lengthy process from finding an agent to a publisher to the endless drafts and then finally to the product. If you’re writing about anything digital or trending, you need to publish quickly so you can stay on top of the conversation. Getting Started Don’t thrust yourself into a five-hundred page book. Start small with white papers that will do four things: 1) help you learn how to write effectively, 2) create an audience that now knows you can do more than just blog tidbits but also produce real content, 3) it will help you gauge what kind of readership you’re getting for larger content production and 4) it will help you determine which subjects and styles are most popular amongst your audience. This is a key marketing tool that helps you get to the next book-publishing stage as a better prepared marketer and writer. Once you’re ready to publish, you can obtain a number of self-publishing tools. I recommend using Amazon.com’s new self-publishing tool, which will also allow readers to download your work onto their Kindles. Amazon is without doubt a juggernaut book seller and with their new self-publishing service, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Don’t waste your time with anyone else – rather go to the biggest vendor out there that can help you reach the highest number of people and make the process easier for them too. The downside with writing a book is obviously the time it takes. You can take an easy route by turning all your blog posts into a book. If you’re looking to write something original then you really need to break down your time. Allot something as little as an hour a day (realistically 2 hours) toward your book. Also remember that no one really cares about longer works; it doesn’t have to be 100+ pages when something like 50-70 pages will work just as well. Plus you can sell that for a smaller amount and reap in the volume over cost formula that’s always done well for other people. And Check Out Benchmark\'s Writer\'s Manual! Benchmark Email highly recommends our free PDF, Online Marketing for Writers & Authors, which takes you step by step through the process of building that internet following that will lead to recognition and success.


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Why Video Is Dominating the Market and How You Can Get in on It

Why Video Is Dominating the Market and How You Can Get in on It

Beyond • December 6, 2011

If content is king, then video is queen…and anyone knows that a queen always trumps a king. So it comes as no surprise to see video content take a giant surge when it comes to successful multimedia marketing that gets results. From small time bloggers’ reviews of hauls that have magnetized a growing cult-like audience, to giant e-commerces, it’s clear that video is where it’s at. Take e-commerce giant Zappos, which was one of the pioneers a few years back in sourcing great original videos that both highlighted their news-worthy company culture and previewed their products with SEO rich keywords. In 2010, the company created over 60K product videos, with numbers expecting to reach 100K by the end of this year. So why does video work? Think of the Home Shopping Network…those late night infomercials that have you hooked. The power of video lies in that you can “see” what you’re being offered. There’s an appeal of not relying on static graphics and descriptions; rather, you’re as good as there. There’s also a sensory appeal. Your eyes and ears are filled with changing visuals and sounds, keeping you hooked, keeping you entertained and curious. But videos aren’t just for e-commerce based businesses. Videos are really the one tool that translates to success across ANY business. Whether you’re doing a product video, showing service results, interviewing customer reviews or offering tips or a personal introduction. You simply cannot go wrong with video…if you do it right. Tips for Best Videos Content – Just like with text content, video content needs to have some sort of scheme. Start off by creating an editorial calendar for your video content just as you should be doing for your text content. Keep in mind that producing an entire video from start to finish is a more consuming process that involves at least a small team, as opposed to just one person writing content. With that in mind, pace your content schedule out accordingly, especially if you’re a smaller team that has other priorities. For this type of team, one video every week is ideal; a video every two weeks is realistic, and a video every month should be the minimum. Each video should start with a script. What are you going to say and how are you going to say it? Do a competitor analysis to see what others are doing. Pick up on their successes and avoid their mistakes as you watch other videos as a consumer would. Technical Style – You can create a video without equipment and you can’t create a good video without good equipment. If you’re serious about videos, you absolutely have to invest in the equipment. You’ll need a good camera, lighting props, reflectors and video editing equipment, including a program and preferably an Apple computer (which includes a wonderful iMac movie editing program). If you’re on a smaller budget but can afford to splurge a little per video, hire a college student to edit the videos. I’ve seen the difference an amateur edit offers versus someone who knows what they’re doing. Trust me when I say it’s worth the investment. Going back to style, a video should never just be a straight shot. Consider angles, background, lighting, voice overs, themes, etc. The more dynamic, the more successful your video will be. All videos should range between 1-3 minutes. Anything more and you’ve likely lost your audience. How to Distribute Your Videos Aside from posting your newest videos up on your homepage (not any subpages), you should be marketing all video content across social media channels and plugging it in your email marketing campaigns and press kits. Tip: Scan the Competition with Redux, a curated content platform for videos. Use Redux to see what’s out there in your field and gauge your competition. See what’s being done right, what’s attracting a crowd and comments, and what turns people away…and then apply the strategy to your own video marketing efforts.


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The Internet Industry Opposes SOPA: Is It Too Late?

The Internet Industry Opposes SOPA: Is It Too Late?

Beyond • December 2, 2011

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is House Bill number 3261 and is unquestionably one of the most misguided and potentially dangerous pieces of internet legislation ever proposed by the US Congress. SOPA’s aims are to force ISPs, search engines, payment processors and ad networks to block access to any website deemed by any judge to be a “rogue.” Unfortunately, many judges have shown an appalling ignorance of the most basic functions of the internet. If Supreme Court Justice John Roberts can ask “what is the difference between email and a pager?” then the legislation is up for overwhelming misinterpretation and heavy-handed enforcement by a gaggle of lower judges in any given district in America. The leading hardware and software corporations have finally taken a stand against SOPA, but their prolonged dawdling may have rendered their opposition futile. Unintended Consequences The Business Software Alliance (BSA), which counts among its heavyweight members companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Adobe, recently issued a statement opposing SOPA in its current form, stating that it “needs work” before it should be implemented as the law of the land. Warning that the legislation “as it now stands… could sweep in more than just truly egregious actors,” the BSA went on to state that “the bill would have to balance key innovation, privacy and security considerations with the need to thwart the threat rogue websites pose,” as current “SOPA provisions might have unintended consequences.” The tone adopted by the BSA was in stark contrast to statements of just a week earlier when the Alliance offered support to the Act. The Current Copyright-Violating Web Is Untenable The vast majority of sober and level-headed internet observers have to admit that the current situation where movies, TV shows, music albums and other copyrighted content becomes freely available within nanoseconds of their release is untenable. Entertainment content is produced at high expense with an expectation that the venture will produce a profit, and it is simply not feasible to spend $100 million-plus on a media production just to give it away for free. However, the BSA is finally realizing that the impact of SOPA is too draconian to contemplate. Croon Elvis & Commit a Felony Let’s assume in a SOPA universe that your garage band creates a YouTube video where you’re playing an Elvis, Beatles or Lady Gaga tune. Congratulations, you have just committed a felony. We’re not discussing a slap-on-the-hand simple fine situation but a crime comparable to arson, robbery, or burglary. This is not for playing a copyrighted video clip from the original artist, but just strumming out their chords on your $50 guitar while crooning the lyrics! The liability is not limited to criminal charges against your band alone, as SOPA levies responsibility against the carrier of the copyright-infringing content, so YouTube can legitimately be blocked from all US access. Given that if all the copyright infringing videos on YouTube were removed there might be nothing left there but “awwww” videos of kittens, puppies and babies, it is clear that the internet industry needs to take a strong stance against this clear and present danger. Impossible Copyright Determinations SOPA’s limits are unknown and at least at this juncture, effectively unknowable. Is the use of a trademark word a SOPA violation? Would posting the statement “Let every Champion Pledge at this Time to be United in Joy and Cheer” be seen as violating six trademarks? Would every website that allows public posting be responsible for policing every element to ensure copyright adherence prior to making the content public? Although it’s obvious that the post of a full rip of the Puss In Boots movie is a copyright violation, how can anyone determine whether the soft music playing in the background of a video clip is under the jurisdiction of the RIAA or a tune the video creator composed and played? SOPA attempts to perform microsurgery with a sledgehammer, and the BSA’s previous support was nothing short of baffling. It seems that the internet industry has finally woken up to the threat posed by this Act… but it might be too little too late.


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PearlTrees and Curated.by Help with Research and Market Analysis

PearlTrees and Curated.by Help with Research and Market Analysis

Beyond • December 1, 2011

Market research and analysis these days is mostly conducted off the web. The internet is more efficient, more cost effective and more readily updated. Whether you’re a novice or a pro in internet research data and analysis, chances are you’re going to suffer from information overload in different ways. Beginners struggle with too much data; they don’t know where to start and how to filter “junk” info from relevant data. Pros struggle with too much worthwhile data, which leads to new problems with organizing, prioritizing and accessing that data. Free to use, Pearltrees comes along and offers a solution for just these problems. Though it was perhaps not designed for marketing research and analysis, it is perhaps a perfect tool that might as well have been designed for just that. It lets you share just about anything you find on the web, organize it in place, access it from anywhere, use a simple interface for quick access and use the already sourced data from more than 200K Pearltrees users. The platform also makes it easy to collaborate on team projects, especially market research projects. Because Pearltrees is designed for the individual user to first set up his own network and data structure, and then for multiple users to share that data together, it becomes a great tool to share information and bounce ideas off each other. For example, user “Vasilis” has a tree called “Marketing Research Companies,” and each “pearl” on the tree is a part of the overall subject. (Note: make sure you opt out of the iPad app download to be directed to the page). Whether Vasilis is on your team, in your company or not, he’s already done a lot of the work. You can save time by using the information he’s already sourced, build on it and share it with others. Imagine if your tree was networked with more “pearls,” you could guide other team members to it and allow them to access your data. Curated.by works differently but has the same benefit to the research-oriented user. The site lets you “collect and organize topics based on content (including media, links, tweets) into bundles.” Each bundled is defined by a keyword, like \"marketing\" or \"social media.\" The site is as personalized (work alone or with a team) and as broad (either way, see what other people are sourcing) as you’d like it to be. A standard curated.by user homepage gives you a good idea of how the website functions. You can source topics by either searching for bundles, see a newsfeed of what like-minded people are stumbling across, and you can browse through popular topics based on your interests. Some people are saying Curated.by is a lot like Delicious, but Delicious is a sunken ship, albeit one of the pioneers of content curating. Still, it wasn’t adaptive nor did it evolve in the way that curated.by has to offer its growing user group a way to engage with both content and users. Content curation is the new trend in web and information analysis, and especially content marketing. Just like any other platform, its use can be tailored intelligently to meet your marketing needs. And just like any other good idea that pops up in the digital sphere, you can be sure that plenty of copycats pop up in its trail – some good, some useless. Our journey in exploring content curation and its possible applications for your marketing goals is just about midway through. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for a spotlight on the brightest stars in content curation and how you can use them to give your business a competitive edge in the upcoming new year.


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Landing Pages Explained: What, Why and How

Landing Pages Explained: What, Why and How

Beyond • November 30, 2011

Scenario A: A political group was relaunching their website and one of their primary aims was to have that site help the group generate money. After months of back and forth discussion between group members, one ace politician known for generating money strongly recommended they optimize their landing page. “What’s a landing page?” they asked. Scenario B: A giant Los Angeles based PR company needed to increase their client’s mailing list. They kept scratching their heads about it, wondering what would work best. The fact remains that while their team was highly intelligent, neither they nor the client was web savvy. They also didn’t know what a landing page was, why it mattered or how it could transform their campaign. For a political organization that survives on donations, it’s critical for them to use every tool possible to allow the widest monetary stream. A PR company needs to know marketing inside and out. The success of their client’s mailing list signup depends on how easy it is for site visitors to navigate to a signup form. So What Exactly Is a “Landing Page”? A landing page is essentially what page a person “docks” at when visiting your site. It’s the final page that requires a call to action. It’s often only associated with e-commerce sites, but every single company that has a web presence and hopes to attract customers needs to understand the blueprint of a landing page. When you’re in a physical establishment, there are signs and guides everywhere to help direct you where you need to go. In a digital world, it’s a lot more confusing, and well-drafted landing pages used strategically through email marketing, social media or home pages act as “guides” to get your customers where YOU want them to go. Once there, a landing page needs to be simple to understand with a clear call to action. It has to still “sell,” so you can’t get lazy when designing one. You have to utilize strategic marketing ideas, market research…in essence you have to understand your audience, what they want and what drives them, in order to get what you want from them. Whether it’s the sale or a mailing list sign up, you have to make it simple and worth their time to give you want you want. How Should I Design My Landing Page? Follow these tips to ensure you boost your landing page for maximum performance. Focus on one thing at a time – You may have a great product or service, but tooting all your offers at once only distracts and confuses your customers. The more time they have to weigh the options, the less likely they’ll pick one. Try focusing on just one thing at a time. Stay on point – Just like you shouldn’t be offering too many things at once, you also shouldn’t be filling your landing page visitor with too many details about you or your company. Again, be very specific. Don’t create a series of directions by linking them to other areas of interest. It’s a crumb trail they’re likely to follow, leaving the landing page offer completely forgotten about. Refer to point 1 here and focus on one campaign at a time. Remind them of the benefit – What is your customer going to get out of the transaction? What does signing up get them? Perhaps you can offer a free PDF, a discount or some other benefit or access that offers value in exchange for the sell or sign up. Make it easy for them to act – Respect that your end user is busy and doesn’t have time to sign up or hunt for the transaction point. Make it easy for them by being very clear where they have to sign up or how they can make a purchase. The more they have to look, the more steps they have to go through, the higher the chances that your campaign will suffer and likely fail. Keep graphics simple and in step with the tone of your site and service/product. Too many graphics are distracting. The wrong kinds of graphics or “boring” graphics don’t entice customers to bite, and too few graphics doesn’t inspire confidence or a sense of vision for where you’re going or what you want them to feel from the transaction.


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Estonian Hackers Perpetrate Massive Botnet Scam

Estonian Hackers Perpetrate Massive Botnet Scam

Beyond • November 30, 2011

We hear it all the time: “Beware. The internet is a dangerous place.” We often blow it off as an afterthought until hearing through the grapevine how someone caught a virus and had to wipe their hard drive clean to get rid of it. Or in this case, how a cyber crime ring took control of millions of computers and thieved millions of dollars in profits. The FBI recently published a press release detailing what looks to be one of the most intricate hacking attacks in history. Seven people, six from Estonia and one from Russia, were indicted in a Manhattan court for allegedly pulling off a massive scheme that involved hijacking more than 4 million computers worldwide and using them to swindle millions of dollars in advertising revenue. The scam victimized machines in more than 100 countries, with at least 500,000 of them in the United States. Hijacked computers in the U.S. belonged to individuals, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and even government agencies like NASA. A Detailed Look at the Alleged Crimes The press release said the seven defendants are accused of utilizing malware to compromise vulnerable systems and literally force them to participate in the scam. The team of hackers are alleged to have committed the following crimes: Internet-Based Fraud Scam According to the indictment papers, the hackers carried out an elaborate scheme that ran from some time in 2007 until October 2011. This was done by purporting to be companies recognized as legitimate publisher networks in the online advertising industry. As publishers networks, they were able to enter agreements with the ad brokers who would pay them each time internet users clicked advertisements on certain websites. With help from third parties who were said to be in on the scam, the hackers used a combination of malware, specifically a Trojan horse program and rogue Domain Name System (DNS) servers to change the DNS settings on compromised machines. This was done to generate the traffic that would drive more than $14 million in fraudulent clicks. Click Hijacking The Trojan program was so vital in the scheme because it left victims vulnerable to the scam by not only altering their settings but also preventing their system and security tools from removing the infection. Once an infected user clicked on a link in the search results, they were redirected to a rogue site set up by the criminals instead of their intended destination. From there, each click the user made added to the big payoff the scam artists received. What is so interesting about all this is that the alleged criminals were getting revenue for unpaid links and other miscellaneous clicks that are essentially worthless as far as an advertising campaign goes. Ad Replacement Fraud To make the rogue sites appear legit to the infected user, the group of ambitious hackers replaced real advertisements with fake ads inserted with the sole purpose of padding their pockets. The example the indictment used was someone on an infected computer visiting the Wall Street Journal’s website and seeing a fraudulent advertisement for “Fashion Girl L.A.” in place of a legitimate ad for “American Express.” With this level of intricacy involved, it is safe to say that most users had no idea their machines were infected, nor that they were playing an active role in the scam. Don’t Sleep on Security The fact that the alleged hackers hijacked the computers of entities ranging from everyday Joes to corporations and government parties is another reminder that any system can be compromised. This particular group of criminals is likely going down, but we will surely see crimes similar to the ones they are said to have committed again. When the cyber attacks are launched, will your security system be strong enough to keep you protected?


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TellTale Games the Online Rating System, Users Retaliate

TellTale Games the Online Rating System, Users Retaliate

Beyond • November 30, 2011

In an online world where it seems that users are asked to review and rate everything from the latest movies and albums to diet programs and cleaning products, it was inevitable that some marketers might want to “game the rating system” by skewing review counts in their favor. One of the most egregious attempts was conducted by Telltale Games, which had employees post glowing reviews of their new Jurassic Park video game on the Metacritic site. Even though the reviews were identified as being written by Telltale personnel, their contribution of high approval scores served to skew the overall average. The inevitable backlash of “Revenge Zeros” proved how counterproductive the entire strategy was in the first place and the game now sits at a meager 2.8 out of 10, considerably lower than it likely would have been had Telltale employees stayed out of the fray. Zero Bombing Online marketers everywhere can learn from Telltale’s failure to “game their game” and avoid attempts to slant social ratings in their favor, as those schemes are invariably setups for failure. At the slightest hint of subterfuge, online communities often resort to bombing the review site with negative ratings, not only wiping out any temporary advantage the false positives would have given the product, but generally dropping it well down into unfavorable status. It might seem that companies might want to retreat to the more traditional safe-havens of professional reviewers who at least can be counted on to base their reviews on supportable facts, but that strategy may no longer be as effective as it once was. Cousin Mildred > Roger Ebert The tide may be turning from the time when marketers chased the approval of so-called professional critics such as John Dvorak (computers), Roger Ebert (movies) or Gael Greene (restaurants). In the upside down world of social media, a recommendation from a peer (family, friend, co-worker) can carry considerably more weight than one from a world-renowned critic. If cousin Mildred in Humptulips, Washington recommends the latest Stephen King or Clive Cussler book, that single endorsement can have a much greater impact on the individual reader than an enthusiastic review by the New York Times’ Dwight Garner. Vast Gulf between Reviewers & Viewers Yet another obstacle is that reliance on the pro critics can be just as problematic as the vagaries of the public ratings. The Willem Dafoe movie vehicle The Boondock Saints is a blood spattered vigilante fantasy that was largely panned by the critics, earning a mere 17% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review site. However, out of 291,056 viewers who rated the movie on the site, an overwhelming 93% were in favor, demonstrating that the gulf between “regular” viewers and “professional” reviewers is uncomfortably vast. Even the critic from the famed industry publication Variety crucified the movie, but that did not seem to faze the audience, which largely loved it. While nearly 300,000 reviews are next to impossible to fake, many small and mid-sized entertainment producers such as the lower echelon of video game companies can deem their latest release successful if they receive a mere handful of positive reviews. Therefore the stakes are considerably higher when every review counts. The Best Strategy: Release Good Products Google’s stubborn insistence on blocking every imaginable SEO ploy has left the web world with only one successful strategy: “post good content.” Similarly, in the light of the devaluation of professional critics and the prospect of massive public retributions for any attempts at chicanery, the only real way to be assured of largely positive customer reviews online is to “release good products.”


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