TradeMe: now with Spam

Hey, look, it’s the newish incarnation of eBuzz from Marketing Week, and it’s a weekly melange of digital marketing news that will be of interest and relevance to Kiwis.

  • Facebook, Twitter, TradeMe and the Anti-Spam Law: what’s the dilly?
  • Social media: called to account
  • Google gets buzzed
  • Where do Kiwis shop online?

Facebook, Twitter and the Anti-Spam LawIn recognition of the fast-growing power of Facebook in particular, TradeMe last week added social sharing links to all auction listings, enabling visitors to share any listing on either Facebook or Twitter. The move raises an interesting question: does using Twitter and Facebook to pass on commercial messages contravene the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act?

When New Zealand’s anti-spam legislation came into effect in September 2007, it had at least one unintended consequence on otherwise-legitimate New Zealand marketers: the previously popular device of Friend Get Friend (FGF), encouraging consumers to tell their friends about the sponsor’s fine products, suddenly fell into a very grey area.

Given the provisions of the Act, was FGF now illegal (as seemed to be the case)? The question was of especial importance to Trade Me, who had previously provided easy email facilities for members to email auction details to their friends. It was a great method of helping unusual auctions to go viral. Was the party now over?

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act was intended to stamp out spammers, not hinder legitimate Kiwi businesses just trying to market their wares effectively. Would the Act kill “advertiser-assisted” viral marketing? You’ll be relieved to learn that, after a time of wonder, a reasonable interpretation of the Act led to the following advice being given by the Department of Internal Affairs (who administer the Act):

FGF campaigns, or ‘viral marketing’, usually encourage subscribers to provide the name and email address of a friend who is then sent a commercial electronic message and emailed by the company or promoter encouraging them to opt in/register. An electronic message such as this would be unsolicited because the friend has not consented to receiving the message from the company or promoter. Consequently if the message was commercial (i.e. marketing or promoting goods, services, land, a business or investment opportunity) it would be considered spam. However, if the companies’ email is forwarded by the recipient to a friend(s) this is usually okay.
For example: A and B are good friends, and send each other emails on a routine basis. Company C has an express consent from A to send commercial emails to them. A then decides to forward to B commercial emails he received from company C. If it can be assumed from the relationship that B is happy to receive the commercial emails forwarded by A, consent could reasonably be inferred.
That consent, however, will not exist between the company and B. If the company only had A’s consent, it cannot assume B has consented to receive its commercial emails. In most cases, the relationship between A and B is not likely to be of interest to the Anti-Spam Unit, unless B complained about A’s emails. In that case, the onus will be on A to show that inferred consent existed.

In other words, if marketers solicit friends’ email addresses and then send out commercial entreaties, that’s spam. But if marketers merely provide the tools for consumers to use, that should typically be a permitted arrangement under the Act. Skip ahead a couple of years, however, and now there’s Twitter and Facebook being used in a FGF capacity – not just by Trade Me, of course, but their example started us thinking about those services and marketers’ increasing attempts to harness the power of the social networks for commercial gain.

No social networking service is specifically mentioned in the Act, but the carefully-constructed legislation catches them anyway. The Act governs the sending of Unsolicited Electronic Messages to electronic addresses, and defines the latter thus:

electronic address means an address used in connection with—

  1. an email account; or
  2. an instant messaging account; or
  3. a telephone account; or
  4. a similar account

In other words, Twitter and Facebook (and other digital distractions not yet born) are caught in the Act (under ‘d’) in the same way as email et al.

Friend tweet friend?

You’d have to say that a whole lot of the birdseed spread through the twitterverse would indeed attract a “Caution—may contain spam” label. Of course, if you sign up to follow a Twitterer, you are effectively giving permission to them to send you stuff—and if they’re a commercial enterprise, then clearly you can expect to receive commercial messages. But what if you follow an individual, who typically shares his/her transient living habits. Suddenly, you receive a tweet about an auction, a new CD, or whatever. Spam? Back to that grey area.

In your Facebook

Same scenario, different planet. Your Facebook Newsfeed, usually so trivial/personal, is suddenly polluted by a commercially corrupted, soon-to-be-un-friend. Spam too? Looks that way, especially if there’s a marketer lurking in the wings fanning the friendly flames of ‘Free! Buy now!’

We should also be conscious of the need for transparency in the online space (as demanded by the US Federal Trade Commission and its October 2009 Guidelines requiring that that bloggers and other marketers be upfront and honest about endorsements and testimonials, and disclose when promotional commentary has been paid for by the producers of any product or service being endorsed). We may not have legislated for that transparency in NZ yet (except perhaps loosely under the Fair Trading Act), but it’s probably on someone’s agenda for the near future.

Wassup then?

We’re of the view that the Trade Me example—mild encouragement to share socially with friends—is as acceptable under the legislation as was moderate emailing encouragement back in the day (circa 2007).

But we’d certainly warn Kiwi marketers to proceed with caution when inviting consumers to spruik on their behalf in the social sphere. It may be a new frontier but it’s neither unpoliced nor unpunished.

Show Us The Money

84 percent of communications professionals worldwide simply haven’t been measuring the ROI of their social media programs. That’s what they confessed when asked in August 2009 by Mzinga and Babson Executive Education, for their study “Social Software In Business”. And we’re not just talking about chilling on Facebook—the study’s definition of social media included “blogs, chat, discussion boards, microblogs, podcasts, ratings sites, social networks, video-sharing, wikis and the like”.

It was a gloriously giddy time, but now reality is biting. Marketers (or, perhaps worse, their CEOs and CFOs) are starting to demand social metrics. SmartBrief on social media’s mid-August 2009 newsletter posed the question to its readership of social media marketers: what is the most important metric to track in social media?

The results:

  • Virality (the reach of your brand and how much your message is spread), 35 percent
  • Sentiment (positive, negative or indifferent consumer reaction), 32 percent
  • Financials (the effect social media has on your bottom line), 20 percent
  • Volume (number of comments, blog posts, tweets, links, etc. about your brand), 11 percent
  • Other, 2 percent

It’s a conversation that’s beginning to happen in Australia and New Zealand as well, according to Nielsen Online. The market research organisation, whose metrics are “the currency” for traditional media measurement in New Zealand, already provides Word of Mouth listening tools in this region, and is likely to be getting into social media metrics in due course.

We explore the topic in depth in our upcoming series of e-courses we’re calling Marketing Rebooted—the things that marketers need to know to flourish in a digital world. The first Marketing Rebooted e-course starts on March 1, and we’ll share more details next week. We’re keeping the numbers low for this first programme, so if you’re interested, please drop us an email at [email protected].

Google Buzz (no relation)

We note in passing that Google has launched Google Buzz, another front in its assault on Facebook and Twitter. Google Buzz is currently being rolled out globally, and these are what Google considers its key features:

  • No setup needed
  • Automatically follow the people you email and chat with the most in Gmail
  • Share publicly or privately
  • Publish your ideas to the world or just to your closest friends.
  • Inbox integration
  • Comments get sent right to your inbox so it’s easy to keep the conversation going.
  • Photo friendly
  • See thumbnails with each post, and browse full-screen photos from popular sites.
  • Connect sites you already use
  • Import your stuff from Twitter, Picasa, Flickr, and Google Reader
  • See updates in real time
  • New posts and comments pop in as they happen. No refresh required.
  • Just the good stuff
  • Buzz recommends interesting posts and weeds out ones you’re likely to skip
  • Buzz from your phone
  • See buzz around you and tag posts with your location.

We’re assuming Google Buzz must be good—both Microsoft and Yahoo have already lashed out at the offering. If you want a helicopter overview of Google Buzz, watch the video below:
Youtube Video

Hot eStats of the Week

Where do Kiwis go online to shop? According to Hitwise, these websites for the industry ‘Shopping and Classifieds’, attracted the most visits by New Zealanders for the week ending 6 February 2010.

Rank Website Share of Visits
1 Trade Me 50.31%
2 1-Day 3.15%
3 eBay 1.79%
4 Amazon.com 1.56%
5 SmileCity 0.78%
6 Dick Smith 0.69%
7 Sella 0.67%
8 TaoBao 0.67%
9 The Warehouse 0.62%
10 PriceSpy 0.59%

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