Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Smallest of the Small, the Least of the Least: Three Online Quests for a $5 Amazon Gift Card

I've been blogging for 12 years. Like most mid-reach bloggers, I have monetized my blog in several ways: Affiliate links, ad networks, subscriptions and buying goods and services directly. Like most mid-reach bloggers, I'd better not quit my day job.

My affiliate links help pay for the materials I review. (I rarely accept review items, prefering to remain an independent voice in the field.) Amazon is, for better or worse, pretty decent to bloggers. Depending on how active I am in blogging, the level of relevance the materials I review are and how flush my readers are, I get a  trickle of Amazon commissions.

So when Bing started a new search campaign to get people to use their shiny, unused search engine by offering gift cards to things other than Xbox, I decided to see how long it would take me to get a $5 gift card to Amazon.

At about the same time, I suddenly started getting emails again from Empire Avenue (remember them?) They are still around and, as my account was never deleted, people are, apprently, still buying shares in my "stock". I have millions of their fake currency "Eaves", but I noticed that they've devalued Eaves and are now selling - for real money - Vees. With Vees, you can get real-world items like $5 gift cards!

So, I thought I'd compare these three systems and see which makes the best sense in terms of time and money to get $5 off on Amazon.

The quest: $5 Amazon Gift card on Bing

After a quarter century as an Information Professional, I am now a Gold-level searcher on Bing. Aren't you impressed? Probably not, and you really shouldn't be, because being "Gold: level on Bing doesn't mean you have searching skills, it means you have free time.

To join Bing's searching rewards program, you need to have a MSN account. Not a problem, I have several Hotmail addresses I still use. (Laugh if you will, I have multiple active addresses on Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, work mail and other services. I've been online for a long time.)

Every day, one gets a single point in reward for every 2 searches at Silver level and every 3 searches at Gold. This is a tad penurious on their part, but a quick run-through of the News, Weather, and a few pre-programmed "interest" searches and I have my points. A scratch-off game also gives me the opportunity to win more points but, like the searches, the rewards are parsimonious. 50 points is all I've won in a month of digital scratching. Bing suggests searches on things for extra points and contests to enter for an extra few points a day. An app to add in mobile searches increases your points, as well.

Commitment: Takes me about 10 minutes every morning, 15 if I play the scratch and win. There is no cost.

ROI: I have my gift card in a month at Silver level and 2.5 weeks at Gold. (Of course, doing this regularly mean you'll move up to Gold status, which also drops the "price" of the card from 525 credits to 475.  With increased ability to gain credits, and a lower price, a Gold level member could get a $5 Amazon Card just about every 2 weeks.

The quest: $5 Amazon Gift Certificate through Amazon Affiliate links

I blog anywhere from 4-7 days a week on my primary blog. Each blog post takes anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on the content. 

Affiliate links work best when the item is 1) new and 2) affordable. A $250 premium item will get a lot of clicks, but few purchases, where a $10 just-released book will get more purchases. Obviously. As with Bing, the more purchases, the more the affiliate rate goes up, so a good month gets better disproportionately.

Affiliate payments are paid out more than a month later, and an affiliate has to hit a certain level of $/month before a payment will be made. If I'm posting more about online media, large-ticket or overseas items, I might not get a payout for a few months.  OTOH, a good month can be extremely good.  Pre-holiday and post-holiday months are usually significant, but they can't be counted on for consistency,

Commitment: Averaging 90 minutes a day, and waiting more than 30 days for that GC. 

ROI: When it's good, it's excellent, but for mid-reach bloggers who are not drawing in a salary's worth of readers, its neither consistent, nor always predictable.

The quest: $5 Amazon Gift card on Empire Avenue

You register an account and start to "purchase" "stocks" from people who think "Buy My Stock!" is a good promotion. They buy shares in you. You amass "Eaves" and quickly realize that if you are not active on EA at all, your stock will still go up if you do actual social media elsewhere. So you leave. "Eaves" have no worth, no value at all. It's strictly a score. You are worth XYZ score, your shares are sold at ABC score.

But Vees, well they have value. You can buy them for real money and cash them in for real things, like gift cards. And you can earn them, by completing "Missions" on the site.

1000 Vees cost $25, and it cost 650 Vees to get a $5 Amazon Gift Card. For the same $25 I can just get 5 $5 GCs, so this seems like a silly deal on the face of it. But what about earning Vees? I go over to the Mission tab and even when I filter only for Vee-earning missions, I see mostly Eaves. I complete a mission or two on every visit where Vees are to be earned (mostly in the form of clicking a link to visit someone's site.) The "missions" are valueless At least on Bing I'm reading today's headlines, checking the price of yen and the weather. On EA, I don't even have to look at the link I click, if the person creating the mission isn't sophisticated enough to require me to comment or share.

Commitment: 5 minutes a day, tops, clicking a button or two, but...

ROI: After about a month or so, I have amassed 231 of the required 650 Vees. And there are hardly any Vee-earning missions posted at any given time. I'll be doing this for a long time before I get $5 off on Amazon from Empire Avenue.

Triple Quest Conclusion

I'm not quitting blogging anytime soon, but I have to say, in my quest for this smallest, least of useful rewards, Bing wins. 

Is Your Business Truly "Social"?

by Rodney Noran
There is so much being said about Social Media and Social Media Platforms that it often seems that there's nothing left to be said. But for every viral social campaign there are hundreds of companies and individuals struggling with the reality of using Social to make a real impact on their business.

There are two questions you can ask yourself to understand if your business is truly Social:

What do you want to accomplish?

If you want to sell more products and that's it, you want advertising, not Social.
If you want to run a sale, you want promotion, not Social
If you want to know what your competitors are doing, you want Business Intelligence.

If you want to talk with your consumers and get them to talk with one another - you want Social.

How are you going to measure it?

Having a Facebook page is not "Social Media." Getting Likes is not "Social Media." Facebook is a platform on which you can engage your audience and turn them into a market. Any platform - Pinterest, Google+, a corporate website, can do this.

ROI requires I. Invest Time and/or Money to have a base measurement. What is a "Like" worth? Probably not all that much if it goes no further. Knowing when a "Like" turns into a sale and getting your consumers from Point A to Point B is not just a critical sales skill, it's an important Key Performance Indicator for your Social Media Strategy. Your ROI should not be your strategy.

On Being Social

Even more importantly, your Social Strategy should be about getting your consumers to Point C - where they cheerfully promote your business for you and tell their network about your promotions. Point C should be your goal.  When you reach your goal, you'll know that your business is truly Social.

Creating a Sustainable Blog Subscription Model With Patreon

This year makes 12 years since I began a blog.
In the summer of 2002, the fans of the genre of animation and comics I was chronicling numbered in the dozens, perhaps hundreds. I began a blog, called Okazu, using a niche tool to discuss a niche form of entertainment.  It wasn't, I thought, going to have more than a few readers.
12 years later, it's been a heck of a ride. Okau gets about 2500 readers a day, I've published books, lectured around the world, interviewed stars in the field, written thousands of reviews, fielded tens of thousands of comments, met many amazing people and built a whole family of reviewers, readers and creators.
The one thing we've never managed is to create a sustainable business model. It's all well and fine being a completely unique information source on the Internet, it's an entirely different thing to maintain a consistent pace of content creation without selling out to advertisers and ad networks. To make matter worse, some of the content on the blog is adult in nature, because the creators, writers and readers are adults, but the ad networks are not. There is nothing explicit on our blog, but even a hint of skin on the cover of a review item was cause for alarm at most ad networks.
Affiliate links work great when you're selling weight loss products or have a readership of millions. Okazu makes use of affiliate links, of course, and they are a nice way to supplement the purchases of the items we review, but again, not a sustainable business model.
Well, how about crowdfunding? This is an exciting new field and is being used successfully by a number of creators.  There's one real downside to crowdfunding - most crowdfunding sites are project-based. This is terrific when you're working on a book, or a movie, or an art exhibit, but when the premiums are shipped and the book is done, it's back to the drawing board. A few creators have used the established systems to try and raise money to support themselves while they do their work, but these campaigns have not been successful - and they raise the ire of other creators and potential patrons for not being centered around a specific project.
Over the years at Okazu, I've done a few game theory-inspired forms of engagement-raising. People sponsoring reviews, for instance, receive a badge to show their level of support, and they are listed on the Home Page under our Hero Roll. When I rolled out the Hero badges program, it took off so quickly that we had to hustle to find items to put on the blog Wish Lists. This campaign allowed engaged readers to be more involved than just read. We also provide special badges to people who send in news items for our weekly news roundup. 
The blog was less like a single project, however, and more like a magazine, with 3-5 review articles and one news report posted per week. Content is constantly renewed and we have special features like InterviewsEvent News and ReportsHistorical analysis and Opinion pieces. Would people subscribe to a blog as they did to a magazine?
Enter Patreon. "Patreon enables fans to give ongoing support to their favorite creators." Readers become patrons through a subscription-like model, paid monthly. Creators can look at their work as an on-going project, with goals to attain, as well as rewards to provide patrons. And so, I launched the Okazu Campaign on Patreon.
 For rewards, I went with what worked - we offered the Hero and Superhero levels we'd already been using and added a new level for the campaign. Long time readers who have been able to enjoy the content for more than a decade could pledge whatever they could to help the blog grow.
The readership of my blog will never be in the millions. But my highly engaged readers - the readers that make up the Okazu family - jumped at the chance to support the blog.
Patreon's system is simple to use. It's easy to communicate with patrons, upload videos, provide updates and new content on a regular basis. Payment is monthly, minus reasonable fees. More importantly, your patrons aren't supporting a work, they support the work of creating content.
Patreon might be the sustainable business model we've all been waiting for. Here's to another 12 years.

Project Wonderful