CISPA Roundup

Heads up everyone: the government is at it again. Remember SOPA and PIPA? Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) has proposed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA) and if it, coupled with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s SECURE IT Act, pass a vote later this month, there will be “almost no restrictions on what information can be spied upon and how it can be used”, according to the EFF. That link will take you to a succinct description of exactly what the problem is with CISPA. Techdirt has a more expanded explanation, and includes this awesome nugget:

…in an attempt to address some of the key concerns, the bill’s authors, representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, hosted a conference call specifically geared at digital reporters. The invitation was for “Cyber Media and Cyber Bloggers” (seriously) and took place at 7am Silicon Valley time—thus demonstrating that they are totally in touch with the tech community.

There is also coverage at boingboing and TNW, which includes probably the most important observation of this bill and those that came before it:

Much like SOPA, it’s not the things that are spelled out directly in the act that scare people, it’s the doors that something like this could open, taking advantage of the broadness of the proposal.

Through a comment from Michael Vagnetti on the TNW article, I found popvox, a tool constituents to learn about and weigh in on bills on the floor of Congress, and to learn how their representatives view the bills. You can also check the bill out on OpenCongress, which is a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation (one of my favorite organizations).

This is a law our government is interested in passing that will dramatically, and negatively, affect our daily lives and the way we conduct business over the internet. This isn’t even about privacy, really; it’s about making sure your Constitutional rights are protected even online. Tell your Representatives (and Senators) what you think.

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Groupon + Loopt

This was finally the week. The week of the unsubscribe. I’d spent months checking my email compulsively throughout the day to purge my inbox of newsletters I’d signed up for, advertising deals at my favorite stores, travel sites, and through club deal sites like zulily. I like to have a tidy inbox – my inbox is almost always empty and, though I tolerate a little bit of a to-do list quality for my personal email, it should still be organized. But this week, I said to myself, no more. And I unsubscribed from almost every newsletter I receive. I think Travelzoo’s weekly Top 20 deal email survived the purge, and my zulily email (since I’m still totally overwhelmed by the thought of buying baby stuff).

Again, there was no real reason for this massacre. I was simply sick of getting emails for deals I didn’t need and having to delete them. I delted my Groupon email a long time again because I was sick of saying no to stuff I wasn’t remotely interested in but was receiving just because some business in he greater Boston area had decided to have a promotion.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to read this gossip on RWW: that Groupon’s rate of redemption by email is “shockingly, abysmally low”. Of course it is. It sounds like a good idea at the time – free stuff and outrageous discounts and you don’t even need to search for them! – but after a few weeks, you realize like I did that those deals are only marginally targeted for you.

But Groupon hooking up with Loopt is a phenomenal idea. Now, as you go about your life, you’ll be able to access deals relevant to where you are and what you’re doing. If you can turn off alerts to them and just have access when you’re sitting around with friends at a restaurant, bored, wondering if there’s something good to do around town, all the better.

I’m skeptical of location-based apps like Loopt and Foursquare (which I use occasionally but has largely lost its appeal as well) because it seems they can very easily fall into the trap of “this is cool because its new”. Groupon and other email deal sites like it teeter on that fine line too. You need layers of usefulness to survive.

What’s the relevance for small businesses? Location-based apps are part of the same phenomenon I mentioned the other day: driving business down to the local level. Small business need to take advantage of that. And the same rules apply. Just like it’s easier for the Gap to sell products to me because I’ve opted in to their marketing strategy, it’s easier for local businesses to engage with customers who are already nearby and interested in looking to try something new.

The key is balance. Groupon’s partnership with Loopt will be a great thing IF it’s not the only layer of usefulness the two apps can come up with AND if they don’t over do it. Long term customers require more than just a barrage of unappetizing options.


Leading Locally

On Monday, Econsultancy released its latest UK Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Report which surveyed more than 600 client-side digital marketers and agencies and found out lots of them are focusing, or planning to focus, on locally targeted paid search and mobile search for their marketing plans. The highlights are here, and you should read them. It doesn’t matter if you’re what kind of business you are or how national, or global, your reach is. Local marketing is going to be important to you.

There are some types of businesses who should take advantage of this technology as a matter of course: retailers, entertainment venues like restaurants or clubs, and real estate are some examples. But what about something like an investment firm?

Think this one out: someone is sitting in a restaurant talking and thinking about switching investment firms. She takes out her iPad while she waits for her food to come and searches for investment companies. The search engine already ranks her results based on her preferences, including her location, so when it delivers a list of firms, it also delivers a map of her city with the locations of offices that have paid to be highlighted. Maybe one of those locations is two blocks from where she’s sitting, and she realizes it would be on her way home from work every day. Now that firm has a huge advantage.

The internet has already pushed everything down to the local level, but that pressure is only going to increase. That pressure has already, and will continue, to also wreak havoc in an industry near and dear to my heart: news. Last week, Google launched News Near You, that ReadWriteWeb said could potentially wipe out the exploding hyperlocal news segment (think Patch from AOL). SearchEngineLand reported that Google wasn’t the first to break into this segment – and might not even have the best product (yet) – but I’m confident that the most widely used search engine will become one of the most widely used resources for local news in the near future.

And perhaps the most widely used resource by consumers looking for places to spend their money.


Social Searching

People, your customers, already go to Google first to learn more about you. Part of learning more about you will be learning what other people have to say about you, especially what people they know personally where that’s applicable. Google is helping them do that. Social media was already helping them do that, but Google is gathering all that information and displaying it on one page instantly, so people, your customers, are going to form a 5-second impression of you, and decide if they want to do business with you, based on what people are saying about you.

Scary? For some. But not for business that people are saying good things about. So how do you get to be one of those businesses?

You need to be using an effective, dynamic web marketing strategy. That means you’re giving them a forum to talk about your company and your products. You’re answering questions, addressing their complaints, thanking them for their business. But as you’re doing all of those wonderful things, you still can’t control the conversation anymore. People will say bad things about your company or your products if they want to. Sometimes they won’t have any good reason for it. Customers can have bad days and be upset about things that are outside your control.

But more often they have a good reason to complain. That’s why marketing is so hard. Marketers can push out any message you want, but if it’s not true, the Internet will find out. So while you’re creating a web marketing strategy, you need to be looking within. Are the things you’re doing – selling, servicing customers, producing products – making your customers happy every day?