I've received lots of comments and emails regarding my last blog post. Since this evidently touched a nerve with some sellers and site owners, I wanted to clarify and expand on a couple of points.
First, I didn't have any one marketplace in mind when I wrote the post. Sites and services in this industry have varying degrees of aptitude in public relations. Love 'em or hate 'em, eBay excels in the area of leveraging PR. Admittedly, it's harder for smaller marketplaces. They typically don't have dedicated staff to generate a constant flow of interesting content. But it should be standard operating procedure for small marketplaces to bang something out, at least once a week - a sale, a promotion, a new feature, an interesting listing, a new hire - and communicate them beyond their own user base.
The other point I wanted to make was that I was not referring to paid advertising. Ina and I are very aware that most of the alternative marketplaces only have a fraction of the ad budgets that larger, more established sites have. That's why it's even more important for alternative marketplaces to "think outside the box" and why we've created free tools on AuctionBytes for marketplaces, services and sellers to help them get their messages out to an audience. I'll get into more detail at the end of this post.
Although large companies pay for public relations, in the form of a staff or consultant, a little ingenuity can take a company a long way. In fact, some public relations campaigns have been so successful that they are no longer thought of as PR, but more as institutions. Examples? The Pillsbury Bake-off; The FBI 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List; and The Miss America Pageant.
Good, effective PR is invaluable, and if done creatively, can be cost-effective (possibly free!) and can put a person or company on the map. For example, how many people still associate eBay with Pez Collecting? If you've read AuctionBytes long enough, you probably know the real story, but I'm still amazed at the number of people I speak to that repeat the myth back to me: eBay was founded to help Omidyar's fiancée trade Pez candy dispensers.
This was, of course, a public relations ploy, dreamed up eBay Employee #3, to give the site a warm "fuzzy" story that would make eBay appear collector-friendly. In 1997, Mary Lou Song was frustrated that reporters weren't interested in writing about a small online auction site. So she began telling reporters that Pierre Omidyar had created eBay to help his fiancée trade Pez. It worked - reporters loved the story, so she kept telling it, and the rest is history.
It's interesting to note that after leaving eBay, Song started a company called Tokoni, whose tagline is, "Life is full of stories. Tell yours." Meg Whitman has also worked with Tokoni to help her with her campaign for Governor in California. Make of that what you will, but you have to admit that both Song and eBay have gotten a lot of mileage out of that one little candy-coated fib.
Personally, I don't believe that it's necessary for sites to fabricate stories to gain attention. Just use the interesting stories that flow naturally from your site. For example, here's some PR that I thought was great. If you're a fan of the AMC series "Mad Men," you'll know the name Joan Harris (née Holloway). The character is played by actress Christina Hendricks - who also happens to be good friends with a seller on Etsy.com, named Tamara Mello. How great is it that Ms. Hendricks is modeling scarves in her friend's Etsy store? Pretty great, actually. The story was picked up by MSNBC, People Stylewatch, Huffington Post, Gawker…just to name a few. And it likely didn't cost Etsy a dime.
So what stories attract media? Well obviously, the likeness of the Virgin Mary on Toast is a little played out. But if a marketplace has ten thousand active sellers, that's ten thousand sources to draw from. There has got to be at least one interesting story, and I'll bet good money that sellers are more than happy to let you know what they are. Many reporters love the local story angle - newspapers around the country regularly feature interesting artisans in their area who sell their arts and crafts on sites like Etsy.
Here's an article, "Press Releases Drive Traffic to Ecommerce Websites" to give you more ideas. There are plenty of good, free press release sites around the Internet (see this list and this list) in addition to out tools listed below. I've added a couple that sellers can take advantage of too. Why let marketplaces have all the fun?
EveryPlaceISell.com - Add your business to EPIS, a user-generated directory that helps buyers find their favorite sellers. You can search the directory by seller business name or User ID to find the seller with a list of all the places they sell. And merchants can advertise special offers and sales the they may be offering on a particular site, such as free shipping or coupons. Sellers, you may list your business in the directory for free - make sure your customers can always find you. Good SEO for your stores. Has a Google Page Rank of 6.
EcommWire.com - EcommWire is a free newswire service for ecommerce-related news and announcements. Submit your press releases to get the word out to the media, the public, search engines and other Web sites. Don't expect everything you submit to be accepted - the same rules apply for sellers that apply to marketplaces - the press releases must have some substance and have some timely news. But if your PR is accepted, it will be indexed by Google News - and that's a lot of eyeballs.
For Marketplaces and Services:
PR.AuctionBytes.com - The AuctionBytes Press Release Service provides the latest press releases submitted by companies in the ecommerce industry. This service is only for sites and services within the ecommerce industry - PR must be relevant to sellers. AuctionBytes provides this as a service to our readers. Google PR 5. Indexed by Google News and included in the AuctionBytes NewsFlash newsletter (19,000 + subs).
AuctionBytes Charts - These at-a-glance charts give information about services such as Auction Sites, Storefronts, Payment Services, Listing Management Tools, and Email List Hosting. If your marketplace or service fits the following criteria, you can be listed in the AuctionBytes Charts.
- Websites with private domain registration are not accepted. We must be able to verify your information in the WhoIs database.
- Your website must contain contact information, including address.
- Your service must have been in operation a minimum of one year.
- The service or marketplace must be open to third-parties. (Do not list your own online-auction or retail site.)
EcommWire.com - See above.