The Tenth Commandment of Ezines: Respect Internet culture

During last month’s “Building a Client Attractive Website” seminar, one of the attendees asked me a question that, coincidentally, tied rather nicely into this month’s commandment.

Briefly, she wanted to know why the copy on the website (which was designed to attract clients for a local business coach) used “I” and “me” rather than referring to the website owner in the third person by her first name or “she.” She felt the approach a bit too casual, not professional enough.

So why did I disagree – with confidence?

Commandment #10: Thou shalt respect Internet culture and its rules.

The Internet truly is a unique environment, and while most of the well-known laws of marketing apply here as they do elsewhere, they usually are applied with a bit of a twist.

A lot of this has to do with the (often unwritten) expectations that have evolved in the Internet community over the past couple of decades. Anyone who’s ever joined a mailing list and posted a message that other list members considered out of bounds has learned this lesson the hard way. People on the Internet expect certain things. They just don’t always tell you up front.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for not running afoul of these expectations:

Talk to rather than at. Here’s the reason I chose the conversational tone that the seminar attendee objected to. It’s pretty common, in hard-copy written marketing materials, to see firms and people refer to themselves in the third person: “Sara Smith is a world-renowned motivational speaker …” And that’s perfectly appropriate – in fact, it’s expected, especially if the product or service being advertised is not particularly personal.

But the Internet community values a more personal touch in marketing, and this should be reflected in the words you use. Address your audience as “you,” as if you’re talking to one person at a time (and, really, you are).

Don’t give a speech – have a conversation.

Share expert knowledge. Internet users have come to expect intellectual generosity online. Forums are filled with people who take precious time out of their busy lives to answer newbies’ questions about all sorts of subjects.

While you don’t have to give away the store, you do need to cultivate an attitude of “share and share alike.” Interestingly, the more you’re willing to share, the more you’ll be seen as an expert in your field and will be sought out for your (paid) expertise.

Respect others’ privacy. Privacy is a big deal on the Internet. So be sure that, if you use personal details (like a customer name in a testimonial or someone’s email address), you have that person’s permission to do so.

If you have a letters column, a regular poll, or other information-gathering activity associated with your ezine, be sure that you either (a) make it clear that submissions may be published or (b) “genericize” or aggregate data to protect privacy.

Don’t cloak your intentions. One thing that will ruin your reputation online in a heartbeat is failing to disclose conflicts of interest.

For example, if you provide a link to a program you’re promoting, don’t try to hide the fact that you profit in some way. One newbie member of a writers’ list I subscribe to violated this rule recently by posting a link to a “friend’s” website where a “free” secret to making tons of money could be found. (It turned out the poster had an affiliate relationship with the “friend” whereby she was credited for each “referral.”)

There’s no shame in developing affiliate or other profitable relationships with other businesses. Many online businesses do that (and create nice secondary streams of income while they’re at it). But be up front about it. The Internet makes it far too easy for people to find out what you’re really up to.

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