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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

My partner and I are going online with our T-shirt company. Our age demographic is between 14 and 29. Our products tend to appeal to kids involved in skateboarding, comic books and that type of thing.

We were thinking of posting a marketing survey to related newsgroups, to indirectly promote our company and to feel out our potential customers. We plan to have a giveaway for anyone who fills out our questionnaire.

How can we word our posts so they don't look like spam and so that we get responses to our marketing survey??

Any ideas would be very much appreciated...


Answer from our Guest Expert Jim Chesky of Jim Chesky & Associates, Marketing Communications


I like what you're proposing. An on-line T-shirt company sounds like a tasty endeavor. It's the kind of idea that can do well on the web. Also, I like using newsgroups to promote your biz. It's a great place to do market research. However, this marketing dish can be a sticky wicket. So prepare your postings carefully. Just as all mass, non-requested commercial mailings are called junk mail in the snail-mail world, mass, indiscriminate commercial postings are considered spam online.

No Matter How Mom Cooked It -- It Was Still Spam!

I came from a large family, and my mother needed to make every dollar stretch. So, she bought the canned meat product -- Spam. It was not our favorite thing. And Mom was extra creative in preparing the Spam. She'd mix and mince it, cover it, coat it and cook it a hundred different ways. But in the end, it was still Spam.

Moral of the Story: No matter how you write an intrusive commercial message for a newsgroup, unless the message is germane to the newsgroup discussion, it's spam (the non-meat variety). So here are some tricks of the trade to avoid the spam pitfall.

Send Out An Invitation First and Deliver The Beef!

Make sure your posting is relevant to the newsgroup. There's a way to serve this up without upsetting anybody's stomach -- and maybe even make your website a place for your target market to hang out to boot. Start by inviting people to your website in a manner that's appropriate for the newsgroup.

Let's say the newsgroup is a skateboard group. You could invite readers to vote for their favorite board, skate boarder (male and female), or whatever seems be the hot topic du jour. And mention your offer of prizes for those who vote. Make it worth while for them to visit your site. Place a hot link in your posting (no cookies please) that takes them to a survey page. Add your own questions to the survey.

Now, you have a legitimate reason to re-post. You can then update the newsgroup with the results as they are tallied. This could be done daily if the newsgroup supports that much traffic. Each report on the survey results includes an invitation for the readers to add their vote, and maybe win your prize offerings. Do a different survey page for each newsgroup with hot links to the T-shirt end of your site.

Later, depending on how successful you are and how much money you want to sink into your site, you could add a chat room, with your home page as the portal to the chat room. Each day, the subject is what interests one of the target newsgroups. Again, you have a legitimate reason to post.

Give Them 100% USDA-Approved Meat -- Not Spam!

The key here is to write and send each post individually. Time-consuming, yes, but remember you're trying to cook up a successful web enterprise. Mass, indiscriminate postings to many newsgroups is the same as sending out 10,000 pieces of mail, all addressed to "Occupant."

Good luck with your business, and keep us posted.

Jim Chesky of Jim Chesky & Associates, Marketing Communications

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