Transparent Evangelism

Recently, we had an interesting hit on PassPack. We thought we’d share it with you since it touches on a really hot topic for security: spam.

Here at PassPack, we’ve recently welcomed some new employees, and while our home office is buzzing a little louder with their presence, so is the buzz on PassPack as part of their job is to read and respond to comments and questions we receive, as well as read what’s out there and, when appropriate, respond.

We call that “evangelism” (alla Guy Kawasaki), and its a pretty common way to educate and encourage people to use products and services in the web 2.0 world. We actually consider all of our happy users evangelists, and our employees are indeed both happy users.

Its a company mandate that whenever we do talk about PassPack, we identify ourselves as members of the PassPack team, to remain as transparent as possible, and we don’t go into random places to comment or post, and we never do so repeatedly. Rather, we do so when we’re taking part in a discussion on security or passwords.

We don’t believe in SPAMMING – infact, we know it sucks and its taking up more resources and time in people’s lives than ever before. So when we’re accused of it, we want to address it- we’re a company built on trust, we never want to lose that trust we have with you, our users.

To prevent PassPack from even accidentally spamming anyone, we actually keep track of every place we comment or post. It’s all logged into our internal support system. We get alerts when anyone out there is talking about PassPack or a related topic and we always check it out, and if its relevant to do so, leave a comment or even contact the blog owner directly. If not, we just make note and move on.

Since its our policy to be open about what we do here at PassPack, we wanted to share this with you and get your feedback – ALL feedback, whether good or bad. So talk to us… what do you think?

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11 responses to “Transparent Evangelism

  1. Tara,

    I’ve now used your product for quite a while having converted from a “competitor” (clipperz). I’ve seen you engage on various websites and I must say I appreciate the efforts you talk about above to monitor your industry. *However* I must say I read the two articles/comments mentioned and I must say they seemed a little out of place in my opinion.

    Instead of engaging on the topic and perhaps mentioning how you address the issue…one comment brought up an entirely different issue (“ultra-secure passwords” to “multiple passwords”) The other one just seemed to “compliment” then pump PassPack.

    Now, please understand I think PassPack is an awesome service that I definitely make use of, however unlike much of the communication I have seen you/your company engage in these instances could probably have been handled better.

    What may have been better is to engage on the topic, perhaps mention you work for a “password” company…leave out the link to the product blog, it just didn’t apply and then perhaps email the blog owner privately mentioning PassPack as something for him to consider looking at or mentioning in upcoming posts.

    Thanks for your service, just my thoughts.

  2. Thank you James. I really appreciate the feedback. It’s such a fine line to walk, and it’s even harder to teach. I think you’ve made a good point, and we’ll act on it.

  3. Since you want to hear what other people think, and I don’t want people to go treasure hunting through my comments to find these questions…

    I’m presenting you with the same list of questions I posted as a comment to your last post. You don’t have to answer them there if you answer them here.

    A company that is transparent should have transparent standards right?
    So could you take a look at those comments made by your employees and tell me exactly how it fits your own cirteria of relevancy?
    Do you have any criteria for relevancy?
    Are there steps that employees must take in order to fulfill this mission of “Evangelism”?
    How far is too far? How little is too little?

    Are your employees given any instructions on how to post links, and how not to do so? Is there any specific literature that teaches how to “Evangelize” your product?

    If so, can we see those instructions to ensure true transparency?

  4. @eksith
    There is no literature, we’ve been doing this for slightly over two weeks. L. and D. are just learning, and I’m new at teaching. It’s a trial and error process.

    Naturally, there’s been a lot of discussion going on here. James brought up that he thought the comments were out of whack with our general communication. I approved them, so that’s something for me to think about.

    Frankly, I think the difference is that I used to do this all myself. Now, we’ve taken on help, but clearly things sound different coming from an “employee” or from a single founder.

    I suppose I just don’t understand where all this anger comes from. You called us to the plate, and I stood up. You ask questions, and I do my best to answer. If I’m making mistakes, I’m certainly not trying to hide them. That’s transparency.

  5. Tara, let me just make one thing clear right now.

    I am not now, nor have I ever been angry at you or any of the people behind this project. If I conveyed that image, I apologize. Believe it or not, it takes quite a bit to get me upset.

    I understand that I come off as irascible when I’m making a point. That’s regrettable, but I’m working on it.

    When I see something as silly, and/or ridiculous, I have a tendancy to be direct as possible. In other words… I calls it as I sees it.

    This “Evangelism” business is probably one of the most ridiculous and utter BS concepts in the corporate world I have ever seen. It’s just an overhyped, “webified”, reiteration of a very, very old concept.

    Fandom!

    This is no different how we used to pass around tapes of bands we like, because we were fans.

    Key word here : “fans”

    I see what you are doing as some overzelous mission to popularize your own product. And when that comes from your own employees, it becomes just another AOL. Worse yet… Spam.
    And it isn’t my “opinion” that this is Spam, any third party would attest to that fact.

    When you’re doing your own advertsing on someone else’s page and you haven’t paid for it, what else do you call that?

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to run your company, obviously. But I will say, this is not the sort of thing to be informally discussed with employees.
    Believe it or not… They are your employees.

    You’d better have a serious talk with them because this sort of nonsense will give any company a very bad reputation.

  6. Thank you for this last comment. I can appreciate the honesty in it. I’ll keep it top of mind.

  7. Tara’s right: this kind of evangelism/marketing/promotion is very hard to do, and it’s even harder to teach. For starters, there’s no solid line that one might cross – or rather, you and I and everyone else have our own ideas about where that line is. How are Tara and her employees to know for sure when they’ve crossed that line for you? Only when you tell them. Will everyone else agree with your positioning of the line? Not necessarily. Spam often IS in the eye of the beholder.

    This reminds me of a blow-up on Tom Coates’ blog a couple of years ago, when someone running around the web marketing Cillit Bang (a cleaning product) left a comment commiserating with Tom for the loss of his father. This person was soundly berated for inappropriately marketing a product in connection with a personal tragedy, when in fact the product was never mentioned except in the URL. As I pointed out at the time, it might be that the person, in the course of other blog marketing duties, saw a post he or she empathized with and simply left a truly felt condolence. The fact that a marketing URL was attached is neither here nor there – many blogging platforms fill in the URL for you if you’re a multiple poster.

    The lesson I draw is that, on both sides of the marketing relationship, it helps if we all simply treat each other as human beings. Why not cut L. and D. some slack for the fact that they’re new and enthusiastic and still have some ropes to learn? They are new members of the community of PassPack enthusiasts and, like all newbies, they’re bound to step on some toes. Be kind. At some time or other, you’ve been a newbie, too.

  8. “Spam often IS in the eye of the beholder”

    Actually it is “rarely” in the eye of the beholder. If the obvious truth here cannot be seen in thos comments, then those eyes aren’t working properly.. LASIK anyone?

    BTW…
    For anyone looking for that Tom Coates incident, here’s the archive :

    http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2005/09/on_cillit_bang_and_a_new_low_for_marketers/

    The “offending comment” :

    “Hi Tom, Always remember one thing. Life is very, very short and nothing is worth limiting yourself from seeing the ones you love. I hadn’t seen my father in 15 years until 2 years ago. I was apprehensive but I kept telling myself that no matter how estranged we’d become there was no river to wide to cross. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help. Cheers, Barry”

    Actually it’s good that you brought that up, Deirdré. Feel free to see what happened there, folks.

    I’ll let everyone else decide what happened on the Tom Coates blog. I’m considering this a completely unrelated incident.

    “Evangelism” in the context of this situation, and general corporate lingo, is spam.
    Plain and simple.
    There’s not blurry line. No dubious definiton. No misunderstood intent.

    It’s the age old car salesman tactic of showing interest in what you need and what you’re saying and trying to push a business card on you.

    I can point to the sky and call it green, but that doesn’t make it so. This is what happens when people start blindly accepting their own manufactured buzzwords.

    For the record.
    I don’t have to cut L. or D. any slack as they don’t work for me. That’s for Tara to decide.

    For now, I’m waiting for them to talk it over and decide if buzzwords are really any substitute for substance.

  9. @eksith
    While I agreed with you that the comments made on the blogs referenced in your post on your blog were in my opinion out of context and inappropriate to the discussion (in the form that they were presented). I can’t say that it’s black and white spam if you reference the company I work for in a contextual situation.

    If I happened to work for/be involved in a company that works with other companies in PR/developing trust with target markets/developing market reach (which I don’t, but that’s neither here nor there) I wouldn’t necessarily feel out of context to reference such a company’s blog in this discussion as it is assumable that they would discuss such issues.

    In the context of these referenced comments they applied only on the fringes of the general conversation (passwords) and didn’t contribute to the specific conversation (“good” passwords). That I see as the difference. If I or others work for a company/have a product that directly helps solve the specific conversation/problem I don’t shame them for mentioning it. I appreciate that they openly state that they have a vested interest in the product (and would be irritated if they didn’t).

    In these specific conversations PassPack does have tools that directly related to the conversation (for example a built in password generator with varying levels of complexity based upon a specific sites rules for passwords. A complex generated password I would argue is even more secure then a password system as you reference at your blog, although that is better than what many of us use.)

  10. **If you reference the company you work for in a contextual situation**

    My above sentence made no sense…typing to fast

  11. James, believe me, nothing would make me happier than for my clients to pick up a password manager.

    About half of my tech support emails and phone calls involve lost, incorrect or insufficient passwords. So you can imagine my delight if everyone used secure password generators and, above all else, didn’t lose their new passwords.

    “L.” didn’t even bother mentioning the password generator (I found that out by browsing PassPack myself).

    In fact, it was a tech support call that inspired me to post that technique.

    However…
    Casually shoehorning a product somewhere (anywhere) isn’t my idea of relavancy.

    Those toung-in-cheek questions I asked in a previous post was to point this out.

    This type of advertising will always encourage abuses. It starts off with a mistake here and there, and eventually boils down to outright spam.

    I understand PR/Advertising people need to think on their feet, but there needs to be certain rules and guidelines to follow. Actions need to be delimited by appropriateness.

    I belive that is impossible as long as a company insists on adhering to some random concept about “Evangelism” by a marketing exec with an MBA.

    In other words… “Don’t believe the hype!”

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