An experiment in crowd-sourcing

This blog references a tweet I sent out today (Feb. 10, 2010) asking for help on a crowd-sourcing experiment.  Here’s the skinny:

I will open a voice and web meeting today at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time as an experiment to “crowd-source” a brainstorming session. To attend this meeting, all you have to do is click this link: 

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/join/710449008 

You can use your computer microphone or call in at  312-878-0206      ( Access code: 710-449-008) 

If you plan to attend, please link in at least five minutes early to assure your computer is on the Citrix meeting app. 

Here is the purpose of this meeting: 

  • My client is a company that installs, services and maintains business voice and data systems in the Southeast U.S.
  • The 30th anniversary of the company is April 1.
  • The founder of the company is still active as CEO
  • They do not currently have a high public profile. In fact, brand awareness is a very big problem.
  • With a budget of $5,000 or less, what creative PR activities could mark this milestone anniversary?

Hope to see you at 4 … Trying something new — we’ll see what happens! 

 Mark

Twitter’s Biggest Scams, Part 3: Building Wealth Through Twitter Followers

Part 3 of a series

“EXTREME traffic and EXTREME income!”  the tweets scream at you. How is anybody making money off of this ridiculous offer?  Let’s investigate the “Build Twitter Followers” scam:

There are many sites dedicated to this scheme, but the one I investigated was The MLM Mastermind System.

After submitting your name, email address, and phone number (we used fakes), you are redirected to one of the longest, strangest web pages I have ever seen. It goes on for miles! There are dozens of testimonials, anecdotes, and metaphors to explain why it’s imperative for you to expand your network, create new leads, and brand yourself to start earning money.

The spam-meisters explain that if you use their system, you can do all of these things on “COMPLETE AUTOPILOT” and start raking in the cash for free, with zero effort.  As you work your way through the page, there is not a single mention of a product of any kind. You grow your business by suckering other people into growing their business, which is growing more people to grow their business, ad infinitum.

There are all the telltale signs of a pyramid scheme—promises of get rich quick, low risk, high gain, work from home, etc. The system they describe for building this network consists of software tools that will perpetuate the type of spam Twitter messages we frequently receive. These are the terms to buy into the system:

“So here’s the thing, After your 7 day trial period for only $1, the ENTIRE system is still only a measly $49.77 a month. And you don’t even have to pay that until you’ve already started USING the system, and seeing how profitable it really is. After that, for literally a buck and a half a day you will be at THE cutting edge of this industry, and using technology to build your business easier than most could imagine.”

Unwilling to surrender my credit card or Twitter account information, I can only guess at what happens next. There are volumes of reports across the web about how companies like this use your information — charging exorbitant fees, signing you up for other similar services, and other types unsavory exploitation.

Since it’s all automated, as their network expands, they can tweet these messages every few seconds, and only a very small fraction of the people that receive the messages need to click through and sign up for it to become profitable very quickly. As it grows it creates a large, viral, financial ecosystem of its own.

Tomorrow: The Trump Network.

Part 1 in the series: Multi-level marketing

Part 2:  The teeth whiteners

Part 4: The Trump Network

Part 5: What to do about Twitter scams

Twitter’s Biggest Scams Part 2: The Teeth Whiteners

Part 2 in a series

One of the most seemingly ludicrous, annoying, and pervasive Twitter scams is the promise of free teeth whitening.  So, what is this all about?

The teeth whitening scams work by creating fake websites that appear to be blogs with personal testimonials. An example would be www.karensteeth.com.  These sites advertise a “special combination” of two separate products, and give instructions for signing up for free trials. The combination of two products makes it seem less like advertising and more like an economical way to “beat the system,” but the products are almost always fake. Usually these fake blogs appear to have been created by an “ordinary mom” to provide an aura of home-spun credibility.

A Twitter search for “teeth whitening” delivers hundreds of tweets, all linking to similar  types of “mom blogs.” Cross-checking the link stats through bit.ly show that most of them get at least a few clicks.

The product websites purport to offer you a trial of the whitening treatment for the cost of shipping only, but they typically also charge mysterious, non-refundable fees without ever shipping any product. The web is filled with complaints from consumers who sent in money and received nothing in return.

Here’s what the Better Business Bureau says about this scam:

“Complaintants report being billed as much as $79 for the free trial and are charged for several other services—such as a weight loss program.”

These teeth-whitening spam sites frequently carry “endorsements” from ABC, CNN, FOX, USA TODAY at the tops of their websites.  But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that the actual testimonials are quotes touting the ease/benefits of teeth whitening treatments in general, not the specific products advertised. Often, these websites simply use these media logos without any testimonial at all.

It’s important to note that it’s always just the logos of these companies that appear, never the name of ABC, CNN, etc. in plain text. This would make it searchable, and these media outlets could find them to pursue legal action.

The Twitter accounts posting this scam update several times a minute, often using trending topic  hashtags or specific usernames to lure more interest.

Bottom line, there does not seem to be anything legitimate about this scheme at all.  If you see anyone perpetuating this Twitter scam, my recommendation is to block and report as spam.

Tomorrow the series continues with spammers claiming to help you find “Extreme Wealth Through Twitter Followers!”

Part 1 in the series of Twitter’s Biggest Scams: Multi-level marketing

Part 3: Building wealth through Twitter follower lists

Part 4: The Trump Network

Part 5: What to do about Twitter scams

Twitter’s Biggest Scams Part 1: MLM

Article one of a five-part series

Have you ever wondered about those annoying followers you get on Twitter promising to whiten your teeth for free, make you rich in the Trump network, or help you attract thousands of followers?  I’ve been curious about these folks and how they could possibly make money off these spurious claims.

So, I figured if I was wondering, you might be wondering too.   Over the next few blog posts, I’ll try to lift the veil of mystery surrounding these business models. To understand many of these scams, you need to start with the basics of …

Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

First let me be clear that there are many successful and legitimate “real-world” MLM businesses like Mary Kay, Discovery Toys, and Pampered Chef.  These business models rely on independent distributors to sell directly to their friends and families. The distributors profit from the sale of real products and from commissions for recruiting new distributors — so the more “levels,” the more profitable they are.

However, Internet MLM schemes seldom rely on the sale of a physical product or legitmate service.  Instead, the Twitter-variety MLM’s primary objective is to recruit new members, with revenue generated from the start-up and “maintenance” costs paid by new members to take part in this “can’t miss” route to riches.  The MLM pyramid scheme takes your money and then uses you to recruit other suckers distributors to send their money.

Does it work?  Obviously data on a shadowy industry like MLM is difficult to obtain, but an article from wikipedia.org opines:

“The vast majority of MLM’s are recruiting MLM’s, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLM’s is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company.”

Telltale signs of an MLM pyramid scheme:

1) Requirement to “invest” a large amount of money up front to become a distributor.

2) Upfront costs to buy “inventory.”

3) No mention of an actual product or service.

4) Plan designed so that you make money by recruiting new members rather than through your own sales efforts.

Another difference between these web-based pyramid schemes and the traditional Mary Kay-style MLM is that a great deal of it has become automated, which accounts for the sheer volume of annoying tweets we suffer through.   The automation tools (or “bots”)  they employ make it easier to spread their links more quickly.

In fact, there are lots of websites and even huge conventions dedicated to helping these MLM spammers find new spam-generating automation tricks for clicks.

And here’s a surprise …

People actually do click on the links.  URL services like bit.ly allow you to track the clicks of links hosted there, and if you take a look at any one of these spam messages, people are actually clicking on them. Whether they make appeals to the rough economic times or high unemployment, teeth whitening, weight loss, or whatever, there are lots of people who click, even if you and I wouldn’t.

Like you, I get strange Twitter followers almost daily wanting me to sign up for EXTREME WEALTH!  In an effort to provide a balanced report, I contacted more than a dozen of these MLM marketers for their perspective, but none of them responded to my requests.

Part 2 of this series on Twitter’s Biggest Scams:   The teeth whiteners

Part 3: Building wealth through Twitter follower lists

Part 4: The Trump Network

Part 5: What to do about Twitter scams

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