Cyber what?

Whereas the Internet continues to provide businesses and consumers with unlimited market opportunities, it has also brought many unfortunate improprieties. These violations of ‘personal property’ are extremely difficult to identify, isolate, and eliminate. Therefore, it is paramount the federal government monitors, regulates, and promulgates cyberspace protective measures.

Cybersquatting is the leading online threat facing the global community today. For those not aware, cybersquatters are individuals who reserve Internet domain names identical or confusingly similar to a legitimate site or trademark. The aim, therefore, of these perpetrators is to extort money from legitimate domain names.

All Internet users and e-commerce participants must familiarize themselves with the scope of intellectual property rights. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Congress are continuously evaluating security measures and enacting legislation in order to bolster industry standards and requirements. However, there are a number of ways that individuals can protect and educate themselves as well –- knowledge, particularly in this case, is key.

Some may pose the question whether or not we should we regulate a medium that does not occupy a given physical space? I would offer absolutely — probably more so than mediums occupying physical spaces. I fully expect these agencies to continue to promulgate stricter standards as loopholes in legislation are exploited. Cyberspace could go from a moderately controlled space to the most scrutinized and regulated (non-physical) space imaginable!



Are you LinkedIn?

Social networking has undoubtedly revolutionized the way in which people interact with each other as well as the manner in which they associate with professional and recreational organizations. Moreover, with the emergence of social networks and online tools, individuals can establish their professional experiences for a much broader audience. The inception of LinkedIn has certainly complemented this new dynamic and provides individuals increased networking opportunities.

LinkedIn is a global network of business professionals and for all intensive purposes, could realistically be considered the Facebook for business professionals. Astonishingly, upwards of 20 million people visit LinkedIn daily to search for job openings as well as connect with professional peers and business associates. Information on this domain is namely categorized by employer or other professional organizations, so searches can be performed with relative ease.

Many people, due to a lack of knowledge and/or interface with specific media networks, create profiles on sites and rarely use them again (seem familiar?). However, with LinkedIn, there are materials available to assist users in maximizing the site’s potential. The book “I’m on LinkedIn, Now What???” walks users through registration procedures, profile creation, and site functionality. In addition, there is a corresponding blog site that supports the book. And, like many blogs, this site provides comprehensive information from users on ‘insider’ information and other ‘tricks to the trade’.

LinkedIn can serve as a powerful tool with great utility. In addition, the augmentation of the LinkedIn book ($17.95 from Amazon) as well as the (free) access to the LinkedIn blog will certainly enhance users’ capabilities with this useful tool.


Measure Twice, Cut once!

Any and all opportunities that brands have to contact consumers are significant. That said, brands today are incorporating mobile media products into their advertising strategies in order to expand reach and frequency. Advertisers, therefore, must incorporate the proper strategies — with appropriate metrics — in order to enable their brands to plan mobile media campaigns effectively and efficiently.

Many advertisers believe today that measuring the impact of mobile advertising is difficult to accomplish. Other brands may not be as savvy to qualify, interpret, and make decisions based on the results yielded from analyses. Subsequently, some brands today are apprehensive to incorporate mobile media into their advertising schemes.

In reality, mobile media metrics are relatively standard to incorporate and can provide brands with invaluable insights on the performance of various media outputs. Furthermore, reliable and accurate measurement of ‘mobile’ consumers will enable advertisers to appropriately evaluate mobile marketing opportunities in order to strategically promote their products and services. In short, the value of mobile media is directly proportional to how well it is measured.


Facebook — The Good, The Bad, and the Good!

Social networking has revolutionized the way people interact with each other as well as the manner in which people associate with professional and recreational organizations. One of the most popular and highly effective social media tools preferred today is Facebook.

The Good: Facebook serves as a highly functional and interactive social networking media. Traditionally referred to as a passive medium, Facebook has the ability to upload photographs, videos, games, and applications to personal profiles. With this capability, Facebook users have the ability to establish, reestablish, and maintain contact with friends, family, and coworkers alike.

Facebook has provided a means for users to connect their Facebook updates to other social media, such as Twitter. Therefore, ‘addicted’ social media users no longer need to log into different accounts to post similar information — information will transfer between the mediums. Moreover, using two media (and essentially others, too) in concert with each other creates a massive communications synergistic effect!

The Bad: Constant unannounced changes to user interface and privacy policies and controls continue to pose a great source of consternation for most users. For example, with the changes effected in May 2010, Facebook discloses information that it sets as ‘visible’ to everyone — users are unable to make it private. This information includes sensitive information like names, profile pictures, gender, and networks. Occasionally, other such changes are discovered by chance and reposted as users’ statuses to alert other members. Although these notifications generally spread very quickly, it does not present the most forthright and professional means of servicing constituents.

The topic of apps presents another security dynamic. Participating companies, such as Foursquare, will offer attractive deals through certain apps that associate location and shopping habits with users on the networks. It is also important to note that these apps can be disabled, but the deals will not be awarded without disclosing the user’s location within the app itself. In short, apps can present some special deals, but users must remain cognizant of how much personal information is disclosed to the public.

The Good: Facebook’s security page provides information regarding suggested privacy settings in addition to general security tips to help protect account holder identities. When in doubt, users can certainly select the “Preview My Profile” option to ascertain what information is being displayed to the public. Facebook also provides some powerful options to help protect its users online, but it’s up to each individual to educate themselves and use them! Additionally, users can always take a proactive security posture by carefully evaluating who is allowed ‘Friend’ status and keeping information disclosed on Facebook pages more general and conservative in nature.

In short, Facebook is a highly functional social media tool. And, with the proper precautions, Facebook can certainly serve as a highly effective networking and communicating instrument.


Company Blog Sites — Complement or Risk?

Some people would argue that the blog realm is one of the most unreliable media environments yet invented. This is inherently due to the absence of rules and regulations in correcting inaccurate information on blog postings as well as a lack of accountability procedures to verify and correct marketplace rumors (unless, of course, the rumors are attributable to a company). Moreover, there is a common false expectation that company-originated blog postings, combined with third-party postings, possess the same degree of accuracy and equality as all blog communications.

Despite this negative chatter, blogs can serve as quite the boisterous ‘down and dirty’ platforms. Many of these forums are professional, informative, and serve vast utility for bloggers and companies alike. For example, companies can use blogs as PR tools, while consumers benefit from the latest news regarding products and services.

Today, some companies have begun incorporating disclaimers, risk disclosures, and cautionary notes regarding forward-looking information into their filings and press releases — could these begin appearing in blogs in the foreseeable future, too? Is it necessary considering the lack of oversight in these domains?


Part II: Search engine advertising — scam or business?

Last week’s topic centered on whether paid placement and paid inclusion were acceptable/ethical forms of marketing to the public. This week, we’ll take a look at the impact of ethical concerns –- click fraud — on online marketing in relation to search engine companies. Click fraud is the intentional clicking on Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertisements and is one of the fastest growing problems on the Internet. Unfortunately, the United States leads the globe in this category and the schemes supporting these illegal schemes continually grow more complex as each day passes.

Traditionally, click fraud falls into two categories: clicking on competitors’ advertisements and network fraud. Clicking on competitors’ advertisements is self-explanatory; it occurs when a company purposely clicks on a competitor’s advertisement, which subsequently costs the company owning the advertisement money. As a result, this eats away at the company’s daily budget and alienates them from bidding any further. In contrast, network fraud occurs when Web site owners click on their own banner advertisements in order to generate revenue from the search engine that is displaying the banner advertisement.

Since advertisement ‘clicking’ is easy and lucrative, an increasing number of perpetrators are committing these violations. And, as stated earlier, once search engine companies exhaust their bidding fees, they can no longer support their operations. As a result, the industry turns on itself as advertisers pursue the prosecution of search engine companies for fraud. Therefore, the potential exists for the industry to implode should there be a mass amount of fraudulent clicks. Although the majority of those committing PPC fraud are common criminals, professionals do exist. Both the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigate allegations of cybercrime. Additionally, security and loss prevention companies specializing in information safeguarding and assurance are refining software to interdict fraudulent clicking. Finally, major search engine companies such as Yahoo do not charge its clients for clicks believed to be fraudulent. When an opportunity exists for money to be made, gaps will be exploited and the propensity for fraud will increase as well.


Part I: Search engine advertising — an unfair practice?

Greetings IMC fans:

I have never really pondered the topic, but it makes sense that search engine companies like Google and Yahoo would make a profit through advertising for numerous companies — namely, through paid advertisements and paid inclusion tactics. Moreover, when nearly 15% of search engine queries are commercial in nature and approximately 33% are shopping related, why wouldn’t marketers work with search engine companies and take advantage of these opportunities? However, are the processes transparent to the common Web user?

Please refer to the snapshots below demonstrating search results for a solar shower from Google and Dogpile, respectively. The search results for Google are clearly delineated by shading, location, and labeling.

Conversely, other search engine sites such as Dogpile integrate paid placement results directly with legitimate results as demonstrated below. The resorts in paid advertisements being placed at the top of the results list page.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains some cognizance over search engine companies, so there is some fidelity in the process. The FTC has further directed that paid placements should be clearly and conspicuously distinguished from actual or legitimate search results. As an alternative, a Web user may always decide to use another search engine if the incorporation of paid programs for placement and inclusion is particularly offensive. Certainly, sifting through search results can be very frustrating and time consuming for anyone, but especially from a professional perspective with regard to the costly allocation of human resources.