Advertising and Promoting on the Internet


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Advertising and Promoting on the Internet

by Daniel P. Dern

(c) Copyright 1994, 1997 Daniel P. Dern

This originally appeared as my "PR Tips and Techniques" column in the Computer Media Directory, March 1994. CMD was a quarterly looseleaf of editorial contacts and other info.

"COPYLEFT/COPY'MIDDLE'":

Permission is hereby granted to link to, repost or forward this piece of my copyrighted work to free-for-access Web sites, online discussion groups, Newsgroups, forums, etc., so long as a) My name, copyright information, and this permissions notice are included, and b) No modifications are made to the text without my approval. If possible, I would appreciate being told of any such re-uses in any case.

HOWEVER: If you want to make any use of this piece where you are earning revenue (e.g., on a Web page with banner ads, or a service or site that charges user fees) or where you should be paying me (e.g., in a magazine) or at least obtaining my permission, contact me at ddern@world.std.com.

As I've mentioned in other columns I've written, in addition to my PR hat, I also do a lot of writing and speaking about the Internet (wrote a book, The Internet Guide for New Users for McGraw-Hill, having been founding editor-in-chief of INTERNET WORLD -- the first magazine all about the Internet -- beginning to do the talk show and virtual chicken circuit, etc.).

For this column I'll wear both hats together, and talk about aspects of advertising, PR and marketing on the Internet, and "in cyberspace" in general -- an overview of why and how.

A few quick notes and caveats:

  1. This is hardly the complete word on the subject. There's entire articles, brochures, reports, books and seminars (although I don't necessary agree with everything these all say).
  2. What's here is variously pertinent for press relations (PR) versus customers (marketing/promotion).
  3. Tread carefully; your first tactical error in cyberspace can all too easily be hard-to-undo egg-on-your-face. I'll repeat this caution at the end.

ADVERTISING ON-LINE:

First, advertising and company presence have been a reality on traditional on-line services (America OnLine, CompuServe, Delphi, Prodigy, etc.) for several years now.

However:
a) Many support only ASCII text (although this is changing).
b) The "space" may be constrained, e.g., to short classified-ad equivalents, making it hard to do press release or brochure size objects
c) The available types of space, and allowed types of information, may be narrowly constrained.
d) Pricing is fuzzy to non-existant, making it hard to do comparative pricing and near-impossible to get generic 'rate cards' in many cases. For example, when I called CompuServe some months back for a sense of pricing, their response was "tell us what you'd like to do and we'll give you a price." No general rate card, as far as I could determine. Seemed kinda pricey, though.
e) The info you put up is available only to people with accounts on that service, e.g., only CompuServe users can access information that's on CompuServe.

One reason increasingly that companies are looking at the Internet as an advertising beachhead is that, unlike making information available through specific BBSs or online services, information can be made available to a larger, and more open, set of communities -- any person or organization with Internet access, which, depending on your definition, is anywhere from ten to forty million total people. More to the point, the Internet reaches a wide number of focussed communities.

A QUICK'N'DIRTY HOW-TO: MAKING INFO AVAILABLE

To MAKE INFORMATION AVAILABLE to/via the Internet, you need to
a) select the information
b) get it into digitized form (e.g., ASCII text, or appropriate rich-text/multimedia
c) "mount" these files onto an Internet- accessible/attached computer system
d) "point" the appropriate server programs which 1) people access via the Internet and/or 2) gets delivered to other locations, such as people's sites and/or e-mail accounts, where they can browse and read it locally.

Information can range from press releases and sales sheets to brochures, photos, catalog descriptions, multi-media presentations, even software and documents.

The computer system holding the information can be one within your company, if your company's "on the Internet" or gets connected. Examples of who's doing this: Apple, Digital Equipment, Microsoft, Novell, Sun, to name a few high-tech companies. (There are hundreds of companies already doing this -- more every day, increasingly including publishers, consumer products and services and other non-technical companies.)

Bear in mind that a network connection to the Internet will cost $300 - several thousand per month, separate from the cost of the data-bearing system itself and the concomitant system administration effort. If your company isn't looking for Internet access anyway, this may not be the right solution.

Alternatively -- and even if your company does want to connect to the Internet for other reasons -- you can arrange for one of the growing number of "Internet 3rd-party technical publishers" to do it. For example: Cyberspace Corp. (Boulder CO), Digital Express (Rockville, MD), The Internet Company (Cambridge, MA), Internet Distribution Services (Menlo Park, CA), MSEN (Ann Arbor, MI).

These are companies running managed computers with Internet connectivity -- what you're paying for is not just disk space, but also a 56kbps-T1 pipe between your data and the Internet, running and managing the appropriate software servers and clients, and overall system administration. Other Internet users will be able to browse and retrieve files by whatever mechanisms you decide to pay for, e.g., email, anonymous-FTP, WorldWideWeb, Gopher, and whatever comes along next.

Cost: Varies, expect to pay by some combination of by the megabyte, by #/accesses, and administrative charges. In terms of effort/value, if it's right for your business, it's bound to be a great value.

HOW PEOPLE GET YOUR STUFF:

There are a variety of Internet facilities available that make it possible for people to access, browse, read and download your information, ranging from real-time ASCII or multi-media access, to through e-mail submittal of queries and getting responses.

You've probably heard of some of them, like Gopher, WorldWideWeb, and anonymous-FTP, and possibly of popular "Internet front ends" like MOSAIC and Pipeline. Users can access your information at no additional cost to them (beyond the normal costs of using their account -- which may include the cost of retrieving/storing files, getting e- mail, etc.).

There are 10-20 million Internet users out there able to access these information either in real-time (i.e., from their account access your information that's elsewhere on the network), and as many who can access information via e-mail -- send requests as messages containing commands, and receive choice menus or documents back in return.

Through e-mail, people can even access information from their accounts on America OnLIne, CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy, etc. E-mail access may be slower and more cumbersome than real-time access, but may be good enough for a lot of activities, and is certainly better than either having to get another account just for this, or not being able to get info.

It's also important to remember that only a fraction of these populations currently have full-color graphic workstations and high- enough bandwidth connections to receive more-than-ASCII stuff (images, audio, photos) in a timely way.

GETTING THE WORD OUT:

Whether it's telling people about info you've made available, or simply making announcements about offerings, sales, news, etc., there are several mechanisms within the Internet and Usenet infrastructures for doing this. (However, this is the least well-developed aspect of cyber-marketing.)

One way to send messages is electronic mail. Many companies, for example, send press releases and newsletters to press people. Examples: Marty Winston sends his NewsTips newsletter. Tom Woolf sends releases re a number of his clients.

It's OK -- because in all these cases, I explicitly said, "Yes, please put me on your list and send this stuff." And if I said "stop" they'd stop.

One of the oldest activities in the Internet is electronic mailing lists -- basically, a mechanism for cc'ing a predefined group of thousands of people as a named list, such as lists of journalists, network administrators, librarians, etc. There are five or more thousand such lists in the Internet; many people 'subscribe' -- ask to receive dozens of these lists.

Having told you about these lists, let me now say: DON'T send your messages to these lists until you're familiar enough with Internet 'netiquette' and the specific list to be sure what you're doing will be accepted. Otherwise you've managed to tick off exactly that group you want to reach.

Example: Recently, someone sent messages from their CompuServe account to several well-known Internet mailing lists, offering their $9.95 "Wallpaper for Windows" program -- totally irrelevant to the charters of the mailing lists they picked out.

When I received and read my copy of the message -- within hours after it was sent, as far as I could tell -- I promptly fired off a complaint message back to the sender and to CompuServe's e-mail "Postmaster." A few hours later, I received an automated message from CompuServe telling me my message couldn't be received -- because the user's mailbox was 'full' and incapable of holding any more incoming messages. Guess I wasn't the only person who was annoyed :-).

What folks like Winston and Woolf have done is set up their OWN mailing lists, then asked us journalists if we want to be added. Simple, easy, acceptable and useful.

USENET:

Another way to 'get the word out' is Usenet -- POSTING your messages to APPROPRIATE Usenet Newsgroups.

To continue horribly oversimplifying things, Usenet is the Internet's world-wide 'distributed BBS,' meaning instead of there being one site where all Usenet posts are, the Usenet comprises tens of thousands of BBS sites which more or less "echo" messages sent from one to all others. Usenet users access the most local site to read messages, which are categorized into any of 5-7,000+ topical "Newsgroups" ranging from computer security and OS discussions to folk music, comic books, movies, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and restaurant reviews/discussions.

Each Newsgroup has a specific topical focus and a charter; most Newsgroups' charters rule out commercial and off-topic messages. Another of the quickest ways to get yourself on the Cyberspace Blacklist is to post your commercial messages to inappropriate groups -- especially if you do it to LOTS of them. Even if what you do turns out not to be against the letters of the laws, you'll become visibly unpopular, which isn't good for your overly customer relations -- especially as many journalists today watch Usenet as a source for potential stories.

However, there are some -- an increasing number -- of Newsgroups where commercial notices MAY be posted. Some companies get Newsgroups formed specifically for their messages; e.g., Digital Equipment has several. Each Usenet site can decide whether or not to "carry" -- receive messages for -- a given Newsgroup, giving some degree of local control.

Again, work with an experienced Internet marketing expert.

The vaguest part of the mix is 'advertising your presence.' There is little or no 'peripheral vision' in the Internet's on-line presence -- few places to 'put billboards, tag lines, etc.' (I have seen one Burma- shave type jingle, but that's another story.) This problem has yet, in my opinion, to be well-solved or even poorly-solved. (Stay tuned for further developments.)

IS IT OK TO ADVERTISE ON THE INTERNET?

Here things begin to get complicated (and they don't stop, either). Pay attention; here's where you make or break your reputation and presence in the on-line world. Part of the challenge revolves around the definition of "advertising." Other key issues are how it's done.

Here's some general guidelines:

  • You can MAKE INFORMATION AVAILABLE for people to access, read and retrieve, or request be sent to them -- "mount" it on your own or a third-party Bulletin Board, or on the Internet's equivalents such as things called Gopher and WorldWideWeb.
  • Do NOT send bulk unsolicited e-mail messages -- not to lists of people you put together, not to "e-mail lists," not to lists you put together, not to individuals. Also, do NOT post inappropriate messages to Usenet Newsgroups.

It is against the rules of nearly every Internet service provider and site; you can lose your account for this. You'll also piss off a lot of people, most of whom are in a position to do something about it.

Remember, a) the Usenet and Internet communities are very protective about our 'space' b) we have LOOONGG memories (and can easily add your company to a list of "known offenders").

As important, the on-line world is TWO-WAY. If you do something that the communities don't like, they can easily flood you with "return calls" letting you know their displeasure -- and probably overloading your account or system -- in addition to alerting the community at large.

Get someone who knows what they're doing to advise you, e.g., one of the 3rd-party Internet technical publishers.

SOME MORE FINAL ADVICE:

WARNING: as noted above, there are a combination of policies, rules and extremely strong traditions regarding advertising within the Internet and Usenet -- violate them at your peril! Even if what you do is within the letter of the law, it may well be against the spirit -- and this is a set of communities that have ways to both let members know who's making waves -- and how to push back through the same on-line channels.

And in cyber-space, you may only get one chance -- your first mistake may be enough to put you on the "virtual **** list."

Lastly: e-mail is not "free." It may not cost YOU a noticeable amount of money to SEND a message to thousands, or tens of thousands, of people. But it costs the RECEIVERS money, in the time to read and discard your message, possibly for the cost to have gotten it even before being able to inspect it. And MANY of these people are paying by the minute or even by the byte.

So DON'T view the Internet as a way to send your message to millions of people for "free." It ain't.

But DO view the Internet as a potentially valuable -- and cost- effective -- avenue to make information available to the cyber-savvy. The trick is to identify the correct uses, and the correct approaches.


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Copyright © Daniel P. Dern
Last modified: Tuesday, 16-Oct-2001 11:08:14 EDT