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Thursday, July 05, 2007

New models + old principles = new ways to make a difference

DneerologoWhen Joe Reger, Jr. of dNeero contacted me on Monday to discuss his company's "social survey" offering I immediately shot back with "If this is a way for me to monetize my readers, you really got the wrong girl."

I'm not saying bloggers shouldn't be afforded ways to monetize their blogs...it's just that I'm not the target audience for such an offering. In my case I value readers' time and trust and get really funny about risking that...and when earnings enter the equation it can call credibility--or the motivation behind the post--into question.

But Joe is a reader of mine and truly wanted my feedback because he respects my opinions and teachings. Moreover, Joe was open to having a conversation and hearing me out (I wrote on the positive experience here, but didn't name dNeero as I didn't want to promote them until I was comfortable with their offering).

Let me first explain their model: through dNeero's service, bloggers make money by filling-out quick social surveys and then posting the answers to their blogs as a way to stir-up conversations on subjects--subjects that they are passionate about. There's a listing of surveys here and the surveys they had this week ranged Twitter to Paris Hilton to the iPhone (new surveys are loaded all the time, so I'm not sure what is available right now).

So the blogger makes money for filling-out the short surveys and then their readers can make money by doing the same, as well as the blogger receiving a recruitment fee on every survey taken by their readers. And while that's a model that might work for many, it's a model that won't work for others.

Now companies need to come into this space. Especially since researchers and advertisers need to get feedback so they can craft offerings that are better tailored to their customers. It's not that I don't believe companies should come into this space, it's that I advocate the way in which they come into this space can many times be done better.

And that's when I said to Joe, "I'd be open to this if--and only if--you gave bloggers the option of donating their earnings to charity. Why not offer a way for bloggers to add a content feature while giving money to a good cause?"

He liked that idea. How much? So much so that he went and full-on implemented it--and I should note he did it since Monday (bless his real-time response!). Just to clarify, it's not that bloggers have to apportion their earnings to charity...it's that they now have the option. So now bloggers can: (1) add a subject-specific content feature to their blog + (2) keep their credibility with readers + (3) give money to a charitable cause.

Joe has already started off by offering five different charities that bloggers can choose from and will add many more over time. Point is, where once there was not this option of helping worthy causes, now there is. What can we learn from this? Stuff both old and new, actually:

  • Hold true to old principles: 'Listening' and 'value creation' are old principles, but they never get old. A lot can be learned and improved from being open to feedback.
  • Be open to new models and more options: It's a precedent-setting time in this new medium and, if we work together to add value for all parties, we can create some mighty fine models, (and we can do some good in the process).

As for me? I would only post a survey on this blog if it pertained to subject matter that interests me (and of course I would give my earnings to charity). My hope for dNeero? I hope the feedback their surveys generate will help the companies sponsoring them get closer to their customers, be it through better products or better product communications. And sure I hope they'll raise oodles of money for myriad charities.

But mostly my hope is that other companies take a page from their book. The takeaway? Working together we can create business models that create value for all parties...and we can do a lot of good in the process.

PS: Joe is very open to feedback--remember, they're still very new and optimizing their offerings--so feel free to offer suggestions in the comments, he's a darn good listener.

Disclaimer: CK does not work nor consult for dNeero.


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Interesting read! I love how open he was and quick to implement your idea.

Thanks for an interesting read (once again). I like your point about co-developing the business models, from my limited experience it seems like a lot of companies trying to "do the blogging" aren't t2hat open to feedback on what they're doing, and so miss the things that can be learnt.

I think that there is such a good opportunity to get instaneous feedback from the people that you target, and that you'll get a conversation with them - so why not use it to get feedback, input immediately and be able to change your direction based on that feedback.


CK - Your generosity of giving of your ideas continues to inspire. I like the option of giving to a non profit. May I play devil's advocate here? Might not giving to a charity influence opinion as much or more, as accepting a "gift" of a book or a bowling ball? Might knowing that a company is making a contribution to a pet cause encourage one to be perhaps be more favorably predisposed to write a great product review? Only asking .. don't shoot the messenger dear CK.

In bloggy transparency, the Regers are friends, and I can attest that they do 'listen' well (smile).


This is simply FANTASTIC! A real GEM.

The first obvious reason I see is that it represents a powerful link between bloggers and people who don't have access to technology. People in need are depending on efforts coming towards them. This is making mouse clicks worth money for the good.

I have a friend trying to help kids in need, in the townships of Khayelitsha, nearby Cape Town (have not yet blogged about this yet, because a website is being created to explain situation and actions being taken). On the field of action, she is trying to raise money for a good cause and is giving her time, her energy and most of all her heart to do good. Children who live there are not being educated... but most of all they are starving. They do need help. And we could find so many examples like this one.

Now, believe me or not, I was trying to find a way to link and unite bloggers to help. I think this model is an essential step into the right direction. Making it as simple as a click is reducing the distance between good intentions and action.

This said, it is clear that the message is not telling bloggers to make as many surveys as possible. The surveys and dNeero's product still have a meaning of their own. But reading this, it appears to me that companies can actually find a new balance between good business values and good human values. As a company, being open to models like this seems to me like being open to your own consumers and to the world they live in. It is the interface between good values, good intentions and good actions.

Small drops of water making huge (positive) waves.

PS : And besides all the talk around and about it that might come... THANK YOU for making these clicks possible!

Toby: Great question you little devil and a needed one (was hoping that would come up early on). Think about it, if bloggers are consistent to posting on subjects they're passionate about then it's clear they're working to generate convo and give to charity. But if they all of a sudden write on subjects they don't usually, then it's biased (even though whatever the answer to the survey gets the same earnings). And readers can tell when we're not being authentic.

Like I said above, I would ONLY post a survey if it was on a subject that I cover (even tho' I'm tempted to post one every day to help causes). Keep asking the hard questions Toby, we need 'em to define solutions. Plus my new nudge is to hope that the co's will match charity earnings either dollar-for-dollar or a percentage thereof. Hey, a girl can hope ;-).

Linus: Thanks for chiming-in...I'm loving that Rebtel gave you guys your very own blog--and I'm now a BIG reader of yours!

Good for you, CK. Nicely done, to benefit all of us in the long run.


@Luc: "But reading this, it appears to me that companies can actually find a new balance between good business values and good human values."

Well said. Amazing how easy it can be to align profits with principles. Yes, I know you've been working to link biz and great causes, as you shared this with me. Actually your friend's cause is PERFECT for this type of model. Why?

Because in her efforts (as we've discussed) there are nutritious foods that cost under $1 a day to feed a child (the results are astounding and have been penned in major media as the product is so innovative it gives 3 ways to prepare and is enabling kids to come back from severe malnourishment). It really does cost so little to make BIG change is my point.

Also, please email me offline and I'll place you in touch with Joe as he can look to add that charity to the list when your friend is ready. What I can do is place you in touch with him, the decision is his but he's very open (and in particular I see extreme poverty causes as a perfect fit for this since it only costs a buck to feed a child a day and two bucks to cure a child from malaria).

@David: Thanks. But you teach me these ideas everyday (you have such a BIG heart but I won't tell anyone, k?)


Congratulations on your efforts and your success. Although I have concerns, as expressed earlier but similar to Toby's, I think you did a good and powerful thing. As you said, this isn't for everyone, and I likely will pass.

@Lewis: Thanks so much--not for everyone is absolutely right. And congrats on hitting 1,000 comments (what a fab milestone!).


Many thanks for this very kind post. But even more thanks for taking the time to share your ideas all week. Why somebody wouldn't take them and start implementing is beyond me but I certainly see a lot of head-nodding and eventual-forgetting as I go out and consult too.

As I'm sure your readers already know, your energy via email is incredible and very appreciated.

Toby raises a great point. This gets to something we call the Deflection Angle and refers to how much we deflect a blogger from what they'd naturally blog about. It's a huge issue. Money is a factor... whether given to the blogger or given to charity. But money alone isn't the whole story. Luckily, how you handle the money can make the Deflection Angle bigger or smaller.

Do you disclose that a survey was paid for? We force it to be. Do you allow marketers to pay for only positive opinions? We won't allow it but other pay-to-blog services do. Do you have options for bloggers to give to charity? Thanks to CK, we do now.

From the very first day of product design we've tried to make decisions that make the Deflection Angle smaller.

Another critical element of the Deflection Angle is on our shoulders. If we do our job properly we'll have a very diverse set of surveys on topics that allow bloggers to stick to what they're passionate about. If we do a poor job attracting high quality and diverse surveys then the money will tempt people to blog about, say, toilet paper. That's a very bad thing.

We've got some more discussion about the Deflection Angle here.

CK's right... we crave feedback. We want to create a product that people are passionate about. A product that plays a limited role in the blogosphere. We aren't out to change the blogosphere. Maybe to inject some interesting topics into blogs every now and then. Maybe to help some college kids make some beer money. To do that we've grown some really big ears. So don't hesitate to tell us what you'd like to see... what works... what doesn't.

Take care everybody! And thanks again to CK!

Joe Reger

Here's the scenario I think of: Say I go to see a movie like "Ocean's 13" and I absolutely hate it…because I feel like the use of product placement was too overt and that it hurt the story lines and, in this case, “marketing abuse” killed the movie experience. So it's a "marketing angle" that I want to pen about on my marketing blog.

And in writing about it, I want to see what others thought of it so I take a quick survey (and on the survey I say I hated it, becuz that's how I authentically felt). I then include that as part of my post that I was already going to write-up...and one that actually voiced my dislike for the product...but I get to discuss how the movie is fairing with others (maybe they dislike it too, or maybe they liked it). And then I give that money they “paid me” to take a survey and I give it to charity.

From a marketing angle, I like being able to get feedback without throwing all these pop-up ads at users saying "take our survey and have a 1 in 500,000 chance to win an iPod!" (who the heck wins those iPods anyhow?). And from a blogger angle, I like being able to discuss what others are thinking, in addition to my opinion. And from a human angle? I like giving anything earned to charity.

But again, I have (1) said whatever I want (even that the film sucked!); (2) was going to write the post anyhow, and (3), made a little difference because they offered a charity option.

PS: I should note that I've not seen "Ocean's 13" so I've no idea if it was great or bad. It's just an example (and I really don't want to kill my chances with George Clooney in the case he's reading my blog).

"companies can actually find a new balance between good business values and good human values"


I'm the marketer worst nightmare. Except for my car, I don't care a lot about brands in my daily consumption but I really value corporate citizenship and this can really influence my consumption behaviour.

@Philippe: "I'm the marketer worst nightmare. Except for my car, I don't care a lot about brands in my daily consumption but I really value corporate citizenship and this can really influence my consumption behaviour."

Ah, but perhaps you are NOT a nightmare--what if company's offer not only a superior product/service/experience but also do something positive for the world? Then you will have encouraged them to be better corporate citizens (and will have made this world better, too). Thanks for your feedback!

"Working together we can create business models that create value for all parties."

I think we're going to see a LOT of this in the future. I'm not sure exactly when, but that's not the point.

It seems as though we're steering farther and farther away from "I'm better than you" marketing. We're not out to trump everyone in our path. Instead, there are now a gazillion more paths to choose from and companies have a huge amount of options.

In theory, this should result in less dog-eat-dog strategies, and more mutually beneficial solutions. Sure it takes more creativity and desire to execute these things, but those are obstacles we can most certainly overcome.

Thanks for all your ideas on this issue, CK. Lots of great thinking goin' on over here :)

@Ryan: Thanks you...and thanks to Web 2.0 platforms that enable us a voice, more companies are either going to want to work with customers at the outset for these mutually beneficial solutions...or be forced to do so (the former is far more ideal for the brand and PR).

A little reality check here. For me CK, it all boils down to this: What kind of money are we talking about here?

If the potential upside is $20/month on a good month, if you have a very popular blog, then (a) donating to charity is a no-brainer because for $20 you've just bought yourself some great PR and (b) how often am I going to go through the hassle of doing this just for some pocket change? Unless I'm someone who frequently makes use of surveys in my blog and senses that the results of a DNeero survery greatly enhance my blog, chances are I'll do the survey a few times and then move on. Unless I see some real monetary benefit, I'm not going to bother.

@Toad: It depends upon the survey topics at any given time--and when I'm writing on a subject where I want to run a survey (and review those against the opionions of others). It also depends upon the volume of users that run surveys (many of the surveys I've seen are a consumer play more than b2b, but that can change depending upon the needs of the researchers/advertisers that sponsor the surveys).

I can't answer any of those questions yet--just like I can't say how many out of the pool of users taking surveys will opt for charity over money. See, even if a user publishes a survey and gets paid for doing so, each of the respondents can choose to forward their earnings to charity (or keep them). It may require a higher earning potential for survey respondents, or it may not--time will tell.

But instilling a charity option...on a post that is not monitored/censored (in this case you're adding a content feature), is interesting. As a researcher, the question is how much is that feedback worth (in the case that the earnings need to increase). Joe will have to keep us apprised.

I'm sorry you hated my movie. Maybe you'll like Oceans 14 better.

George C

@Tangerine Toad: You're correct, for many the earnings will be low. Another reason that CK's charity recommendation makes sense. But as CK mentions, if you find a survey that's hyper-relevant then you can take part in a bigger conversation via the survey. It's often hard to think of that when the surveys are about things generally not relevant to your blog (Paris Hilton anybody?)

The potentially-low earnings has a couple effects. First, researchers love it. They aren't big fans of people who make lots of money on market research. Second, it skews the applicability of the model a little younger. While $20 isn't much to you or me, it's beer money for a college kid and at $20/hr can compete with a part-time job at the student center. Third, it argues for marketers to package it in new ways. Maybe the survey URL should be printed on the back of a movie ticket. Or inside the BigMac packaging. The basic messaging for both being "spend a few bucks on our product but get a few bucks back by sharing your feedback with us." Researchers certainly do this with private/closed surveys already... now marketers can jump into the model too.

One thing we also built is a referral program to magnify earnings. If people sign up after clicking from your blog we give you a bonus. Big note here: we don't take anything from them... we pay an additional recruitment fee out of our pocket to you for doing the recruitment. Recruitment happens automatically when you put a survey onto your blog. And it extends down three levels so that we pay based on the people who your recruited end up recruiting (I think I confused myself there with the wording... but I'm sure you get the general picture). When we run the math you can do pretty well if you're a thought leader and introduce a lot of people to the dNeero concept. More info on the site, of course.

The last comment is that we do hope the widget itself provides enough value to stand alone on blogs without the monetary incentive. With politics in particular we hope that people enjoy seeing how their readers stack up to all takers of the survey. We may have a long way to go in this arena. My personal sense is that we have a ton of interactive power with Flash that isn't being used. And the way surveys look when embedded needs to be made a bit "cooler."

Thanks to all for taking the time to comment. I'm always amazed at the level of thought that goes into comments on CK's blog. Now it's very cool to be one of the topics!


@Joe: "It's often hard to think of that when the surveys are about things generally not relevant to your blog (Paris Hilton anybody?)"

Ha! I've blogged on Miss Paris several times...and while I knocked her, it was also around some marketing angles. Too funny.

I'm stunned that Paris Hilton may not be relevant to everyone's blog, Joe :)

CK, you and the epiphany community once again fill me with hope for the future. My firm belief is the organizations who put others first are the ones that last. It is testimony to dNeero that they listened and responded so quickly to your suggestion on "the option". I'm a believer after only a brief tour through the site. Its probably a combination of 1 - liking to take surveys but finding them - in general - too much of a "hook" with way too much irrelevant feedback. Nobody wins those ipods but they sure generate a lot of junk in my inbox and 2 - The source (that'd be you) is trustworthy.

I'll probably test drive this little idea.

@Hey Bob: Thanks for the trust ;-). If you have content that one of their surveys can complement (as an added feature in a post), it's worth a spin.

And yes, I'm hoping more biz's--across the board--will start implementing more options like this...but I equally hope that they'll all be open to feedback.

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