Have You Been Plogged?

On Monday, I made one of my frequent visits to Amazon.com. On this particular day, however, I got plogged.

Plogged?

Not to be confused with “project blog,” this is the newest term for personal logs, as defined on Amazon. Think of it as a blog built just for you, personalized with information you might find useful. Problem was, my autogenerated plog ironically featured Alan Schwartz, author of 1998’s “Stopping Spam.” If you’re smiling, it’s because you can see the problem.

To be clear, I love Amazon. I’ve been an active customer and evangelist for the company since it was founded. Remember when Jeff Bezos personally sent coffee mugs each December as a thank you? We have a bunch of them.

My plog was triggered by my purchase of Schwartz’s book, in 1998. As an investor in Amazon, I applaud the fact it recycles old doors and makes its office furniture. But does it recycle its calendars as well? I bought this book over seven years ago, longer even than the IRS requires me to remember stuff. (I worked nights for the IRS to make ends meet when we launched our business in 1994. Trust me on this one: if something isn’t relevant to the IRS, it isn’t relevant to anybody.) Seven years is simply too long to be useful in suggesting what I might be interested in now. What’s more, I’ve purchased dozens of book since then, any of those would have likely made better guides as to what I’m interested in now.

I offer this week’s column in the spirit of good old-fashioned candid reflection and constructive criticism. After all, the people at Amazon are smart enough and deserve full credit for recognizing the way consumers find, process, and use marketing information is changing. Consumers are using blogs, podcasts, and similar forms of media to create and share stories on the Internet. Many of these have marketing implications, something I spoke about at last week’s American Marketing Association (AMA) Ahead of the Curve seminar. To its credit, Amazon is experimenting and sorting through the issues of using social media to better inform its customers and proactively present items they may find interesting.

How could this program be made to work better? Here are my top five items for any social media e-marketing campaign:

  • Make it relevant. Only a small fraction of mass advertising messages will be relevant; that’s the nature of mass advertising. In comparison, messages must be relevant in personalized social media. Seven-year-old data aren’t relevant. By failing on this account, Amazon has effectively said it hasn’t a clue as to who I am. Savvy marketers will take the time and effort to be sure when the opportunity for personalized conversation presents itself they know to whom they are talking.

  • Make it a two-way conversation. Amazon’s plog is a beta program. But how can I tell anyone what I think about it if there isn’t a simple, upfront, connected feedback mechanism? I’m not talking about an off-in-distance “email customer service” link. Someone took the time to put this program together and roll it out to me. Does this person want to know what I think? If so, I can’t figure out how to let her know. If not, it’s not much a of beta program. As marketers, we have the entire blogosphere available for a customer feedback resource. Let’s tap it and get where we want to go more quickly. Enabling a conversation enables a marketer to tap the collective intelligence. That’s huge.
  • Let consumers own it. At this point in Amazon’s plog program, my ability to tune what I see is limited to allowing or blocking authors whose books I have purchased (I’m currently allowing all). Hopefully, the tuning ability will increase. By tuning my settings, I’m conveying very valuable information as to who I really am. And since I’m the one sharing it, it’s OK by default if Amazon uses it to improve this new channel. Ownership is a core aspect of remixability: making a message my own by adapting it to the needs and sensitivities of my personal social circles. Remixing brings social media to life.
  • Make it sharable. I know people who would like Schwartz’s book, but where’s the send-to-a-friend button? How cool would it be if I got something from a trusted friend that introduced me to a neat new Amazon service? Unlike awareness and point-of-purchase advertising, social media is uniquely capable of penetrating social networks, provided consumers can control the message. Once inside, people must find it easy to tell others your message. By encouraging sharing, marketers encourage participation. If there’s a golden key to effective word of mouth, participation is it.
  • Make it scalable. In Amazon’s program, the idea of sharing includes sharing with authors whose books I’ve purchased. Note that I’m allowing all authors to plog me. Of the hundred or so books I’ve purchased, evidently only Shwartz has a blog and participates in this program. A button that says, “Tell others authors whose books you’ve purchased to get with the program” would be helpful, not only to Amazon in its quest to provide a richer experience for me, but also to those authors wanting to sell more books. Isn’t that the basic idea of Amazon in the first place? By making me an evangelist for the program, the program is made scalable. Simply put, tap Metcalfe’s law and get the network to do your distribution for you.

I look forward to the progression of Amazon’s program and in general to the day when well-intentioned experiments like this one are the rule rather than the exception. Kudos to Amazon.

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