Don’t buy the Snake Oil

January 5th, 2007 by Chris

There is something that has been bouncing around inside my head for awhile now, it involves an issue that makes me uncomfortable. I thought I would take this opportunity to get it off of my chest, and to hopefully shed some light on this issue so that all may benefit.

In many ways marketing can be evil, especially when it involves dishonesty, and I am going to talk about one of the more evil forms of marketing, I call it “delayed spam” but there may be a different term.

The most ready example is a forum poster, real or robot, whom posts informative if prepackaged posts without any hint of self promotion included. Only later the posts are edited and a signature is added to fly under the radar of moderators.

However, a far more insidious example of the same sort of thing is a combination of personal self-promotion and artificial reputation generation. In this case someone is working towards selling themselves as a brand or product. Either to boost book, consulting, or other sales involved with their name. The goal with this tactic is to avoid the look of late night infomercials and instead of talking up your success and selling your service or product in the same breath, you space things out so that people are less likely to be skeptical about what you claim as you build your reputation.

There is of course nothing wrong with selling yourself as a brand, while I do not try to do it personally I’m sure that much of the traffic that comes to this site has to do with my reputation.

However, the problem comes from dishonesty. Often the reputation manufacturing will be done via forums and the individual will attempt to be helpful but usually what happens is he or she ends up merely talking up their own success. Either through outright lying, or perhaps by purposely making such an error as reporting gross revenue as net income.

I’ve even seen where the individual may be either hiring others, or masquerading as multiple people, to provide encouragement and praise to himself.

Often the person will not disclose details about their business, which makes it harder for you to catch them in a lie, but even if they do disclose details such as which websites they run that doesn’t mean they are disclosing all information or that they are telling the truth.

Then, down the line, once a positive reputation is built, comes the time to do the selling and soliciting, making it all pay off.

The problem with all this of course is that if people are tricked into believing a false reputation they may put more weight into what an individual says or does that is warranted. Then also a dishonest person will naturally lie more than an honest one, and so people who engage in this activity, even if their book/advice/consulting is great, cannot be trusted. I’ve personally discovered that a fairly popular blogger, one many of you read I’m sure, blatantly lied about a product he recommended to get a favorable deal. I’m not going to point any fingers here, I did not post this to bad mouth any one individual.

The point of this blog post is two fold. Firstly I felt that someone needed to shine a light on this topic and point out that what I described above is a marketing tactic, one that we all should be aware off. Additionally I worry about my own reputation in that I do not want to be associated or thought of in the same group as people who may be doing this. So I wanted to reassure readers that I don’t lie in my blog or anywhere else about my success, and additionally I do not plan to sell you anything.

There is a common phrase: “Those who cannot do, teach.” This site is very much about teaching others, however it is a very small part of my website publishing business because mostly I’m a doer, not a teacher. This is why I’ve never seriously promoted this site and why I’m content to allow it to grow at a natural pace. I may write a book one day, but I never want to make my living through consulting of any sort.

If anything, I usually underestimate my success because the problem of copycats has grown to be so bad. Likewise, I’m more than happy to report when I’ve failed as well, since I’m not trying to build a reputation to market a product. I believe honesty, even brutal honesty, is the best policy.

So, be skeptical out there, and don’t buy the snake oil. You should take everything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt and do not part with your money until you are sure what you are buying. Remember, the Internet may be a new medium, but all the same old scams work. It might be a friendly persona on a forum now though, rather than a guy with a big smile, worn shoes, and an expensive rental car in a hotel lobby, but the scam is the same.

2 Responses to “Don’t buy the Snake Oil”

  1. Alan  Says:

    Come on Chris, name some names ;-)

  2. Andrew Johnson  Says:

    Here is the rule I have always used: does the person’s advice work? Its not foolproof, but it goes a long way in helping you down the right path.

    On my blog, there is a group of people that I regularly link to. These are people whose advice has gotten me to where I am now. Would they all be shining examples of ethics in business? No.

    I think its fine for a blogger to use their position to help promote and launch their own products and services. However, they do so at their own peril. Even when the product or service really is top notch, the mere association raises flags of skepticism to readers.

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