Sunday, November 2, 2008

Magpie: monetize your friends and family...

Just ran across an article about Magpie on Mashable today. Magpie is basically a way to sell your friends down the river -- or in more marketing speak: "a way to monetize the popularity of your social network."

Maybe this sounds like a good idea to some bright people in marketing -- after all, it's viral, it has presence and it's easy. But why is a social network so popular to begin with?

What makes a social network work?

Let's start with the most basic social network of all: your family.

Now imagine that you show up to Thanksgiving dinner, but instead of hugging your mom, you tell her that she really should check out [brandname clothing], and that [brandname gravy] is much better than her homemade, and everyone should use [brandname toiletpaper] after the game, (brought to you by [brandname], of course).

By the way, after you tell your family all this, you mention sheepishly that you weren't saying these things because you really cared about them, but because you're getting $0.12 per impression.

Of course, your family (I hope) loves you, so maybe they'll put up with this, like so many families put up with Amway, candy-bar sales, etc. They'll think "oh boy, I hope this is just a fad"... if it continues for a while, you might find yourself getting fewer invitations to Turkey day each year.

What's the lesson?

If you take a shared resource like a popular social network and exploit it, you may end up weakening it or destroying it (i.e. Tragedy of the Commons). This kind of exploitation has already had a chilling effect on e-mail, instant-messaging, and blogging channels.

But there's a better way, if you really understand the value of social networks...

Corporations are already treated by the law as virtual people. Why don't you simply act like virtual people and start your own social networks instead of co-opting ours? If you are really cool/hip/interesting "people", then we will follow you! We'll tell our friends about you and they'll follow you too. You'll have your own community to say anything you want!

And you won't be pretending, faking, or buying your friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The dark side of subscriptions...

I decided to do a little financial house-cleaning today and cancel any services that I don't really use anymore. It's not that they were bad services, or even malware scams, they are legitimate services from Fortune 500 providers... I just don't need them right now.

I signed up for them originally, because it was easy, I could do it online, it was fast, and I wanted that service. But as I found out today, sometimes they are virtually impossible to cancel once you've signed up for them.

Obstacle #1: How do I cancel my service?

Although the subscription buttons are easily accessible, it's hard to find a "Cancel Service" button anywhere on the account pages or in the company support pages. I found a cryptic blurb giving a phone number or an address to send a written request to.

I noticed that the cryptic phone number was different from the main service number. It had different restricted service hours (for example, only 10-4 M-TH, PST only) than the "purchase" side of the business which had 24 hour sales support.

Obstacle #2: Automated Call Centers

Many companies claim to have wonderful customer service records. However, "cancellation" was buried in the voice mail of this company, making it very difficult to navigate to the correct option. I was disconnected repeatedly while trying to cancel their service. Each time, I navigated painstakingly through a slightly different path in the system, was put on hold for 5-10 minutes, sometimes contacted by a service rep who told me I'd be forwarded to the "correct department" and then simply disconnected.

What kind of customer service is this?

Obstacle #3: Customer Service

Finally I got through to someone, who kept me in call no less than 30 minutes. 30 MINUTES! We went through all the options they offered, all my reasons for not continuing the service. I had to repeatedly defend my reasons for wanting to cancel the subscription. Why? Why should they even ask as a condition of "granting" my request?

In the 90's we saw the rise of the corporate-slave worker. Are we now seeing the rise of the corporate-slave customer? Do you have no rights to stop paying for a service you don't use!?

This is ridiculous and it has to stop. So here's my challenge to the industry:

If you make a subscription service easy to join, make it equally easy to cancel.

Otherwise you aren't being honest about your business model, you're not really keeping customers by offering a wonderful service that they use, you're merely keeping them by way of a corporate-protection racket.

Going forward, I refuse to sign up for any more subscription services unless they meet this simple criteria.