Why You Shouldn’t Vote Us (Or Anyone Else) “Best of Lawrence”

UPDATE:  See our support and the changes for the 2017 voting.  We’re glad the Lawrence Journal World listened to our concerns and revamped the program for 2017.

Voting and elections seem like a simple process.  The person with the most votes wins.  It doesn’t always work that way as we know.  The “Best of Lawrence” marketing campaign appears to be like an election, but it’s not.  If you choose to take part, you should know the facts.

I have questions and concerns.

I have questions and concerns.

Best of Lawrence is Run by Second Street – a Marketing Company

 

If you follow the link at the bottom of the page, Second Street clearly explains who they are:

 

“For over a decade, Second Street has been the leading provider of private label online promotions platforms and partner success services for media companies that want to generate digital revenue, engage their audience, and build email databases of loyal consumers.

This data helps the Lawrence Journal World and the World Company…

 “Approach advertisers to sell integrated packages to help them target your audience” and “Build consumer profiles, create segmented audiences, & target consumers for your advertisers.”

The goal of Best of Lawrence is clear: to gather data and sell ads.  This program isn’t about helping out local small businesses.  It’s not about getting the pulse of the community.  Don’t get me wrong, the Journal-World is a for-profit business.  It has no duty to find out what the best of Lawrence is.  I applaud them for this clever data acquisition campaign.  Each year they keep adding new categories to encourage more potential advertisers.  Smart move!

If you do sign up, please remember you are opting into sales and marketing emails.  You might consider unchecking those to prevent unwanted emails.

 

Remember to opt out

Remember to opt out

Is the Best of Lawrence the Top Vote Getter?

You’d think logically it was.  Isn’t that how elections work?  We fill out a ballot and the candidate with the most votes wins?   If you look over the rules, where does it say this?  It actually doesn’t.  Again, this is a marketing campaign.  The movie that sold the most at the box office isn’t declared the Oscar Best Picture winner by the Academy.  We assume that our votes in this program determine who wins. That assumption isn’t backed by facts.

Photo by apbeatty - http://flic.kr/p/58ZbEh

Photo by apbeatty

 

Unlike circulation statistics, the votes aren’t independently audited.  The number of votes aren’t made public. They don’t list a procedure regarding ties.  They don’t have to.  This isn’t an election; it’s a marketing campaign.  The World Company is in within its rights to conduct marketing in a fair and ethical way.  There is nothing wrong with what they are doing.  They don’t claim that votes solely determine the winners, so why publish the numbers?

A marketing company is allowed to manipulate information to serve its business interests.  Small businesses have sued Yelp for manipulating search results and reviews.  If businesses didn’t pay for ads, they weren’t ranked as high.  Manipulation of reviews is within the rights of a marketing company according to the 9th Circuit.  We, as consumers,  are invited to understand that marketing companies are in the business of advertising.  They are not determining the quality of products or services.  Angie’s List also allows companies to pay to get bad reviews removed.

Again, I think the World Company is perfectly fine running this clever marketing campaign.

The Lack of Rules Encourages Fraud

If you compare Second Street’s “Best of” campaign in other cities, you’ll see very specific rules for the campaigns.  Some of these rules are common among all review sites like Yelp and Google

  • You can’t own or be involved in the business to vote/leave a review, this includes the business you are voting for and the business conducting the campaign.
  • You may only vote once
  • You must be over 13 to enter (to comply with Federal Law)

The Best of Lawrence does not verify you live in Lawrence.  All it asks if a zip code (which isn’t verified).  I was approached by many companies last year offering me a “block of votes” for less than 5 cents a ballot.  To be fair, they offer this for my Google and Yelp reviews as well.  This is a common item for sale on places like Fiverr.  Buying votes violates the rules of Google and Yelp, but not Best of Lawrence.  I of course always decline any offers to fraudulently buy votes.

Google and Yelp also have strict rules regarding soliciting reviews.  You aren’t supposed to ask for reviews or give people something in exchange for a review.  Best of Lawrence has no such rules.  Businesses are encouraged to put up signs and solicit votes.  There is no rule against paying customers to vote for you.

Nowhere does the World Company claim this is a true representation of the “Best of Lawrence.”  Rules imply democracy and fairness, which aren’t relevant here. This is a campaign as Second Street says to “generate” digital revenue.  It encourages companies that wouldn’t advertise in the Journal World to promote their marketing campaigns.  I applaud the World Company for encouraging local Lawrence businesses to promote a the Best of Lawrence marketing campaign.  It’s like when you pay for a T-shirt for a business.  You’re a walking billboard.  Every time I see a Best of Lawrence sign at a local business, I understand the free Journal Word advertising placement.  I wish I had the leverage to do that everywhere!

What It’s like to Be in the “Winner’s Circle”:  More Sales Opportunities!

I work with lots of small businesses here in Lawrence and I hear stories about what happens after the voting process ends.  These stories are consistent with my experience last year.

 

 

A few months after voting ends, a sales rep calls you to offer you an ad in the Best of Lawrence edition of the paper.  They won’t tell you how you placed and don’t explicitly say an ad will help your ranking.  That makes it hard to write copy for an ad.  Your ad can say you were voted in Best of Lawrence, but you can’t say First Place or Second Place.  After all the goal is to sell the ad and you’re less likely to buy an ad if you aren’t in First Place.

Much like Yelp, the ad rep doesn’t explicitly state that an ad will help your ranking.  I see a correlation between companies that place ads and their rankings.  It could be a coincidence, but there’s nothing wrong with paying for placement.  This is a marketing campaign to generate revenue for the Journal World.  Why shouldn’t someone be able to buy placement?  As I stated earlier, the Federal Courts ruled that Yelp is allowed to do that. This is a marketing campaign.

If you are in the winner’s circle, Best of Lawrence sends you two free tickets to the bash.  The bash is during work hours, so it’s hard for a small business or sole proprietor to attend.  They encourage you buy tickets at around $25 a pop.  It’s a revenue stream upon a revenue stream for the World Company.  Congrats.  Seriously.  I know some small businesses that sent teams of 10 or more to the event.  I didn’t attend last year and never received my award card until I contacted a few reps directly.

Aren’t You Just Complaining Dave That You Weren’t First Last Year?

Heck no.  We were chosen second last year.  That’s pretty amazing!  I’ve not had the best relationship with the World Company over the years.  I was an outspoken opponent of bandwidth caps and data restrictions by Sunflower back when the cable company was owned by the World Company.  I don’t advertise in the paper.  We can’t afford it. Not only that, I’m a nano-sized business.  I don’t have a visible storefront, we have no full-time employees.  I handle service, scheduling, sales and accounting. I essentially do it all along with a few trusted technicians.  They fact they placed me second is a huge accomplishment.

 

The irony, I told them three times "DoctorDave" not Dr. Dave. Still came out wrong

The irony, I told them three times “DoctorDave” not Dr. Dave. Still came out wrong

Don’t get me wrong either, saying I’m in first place would be cool.  I also think it’s cool picking the shortest line in the grocery store.  If people choose to vote, please go ahead and vote for us.  It can’t hurt. I know however this article pretty much ensures I won’t be in first place.  I’m totally fine with that.  I’ve been doing this full time since 2003 and had no problem marketing the business. If someone is the “Best of Lawrence” then they probably have a large fan base. Since we focus on on-site computer repair in Lawrence, people never see our Best of Lawrence certificate. There’s something more important than this marketing ballot though…

The Right Way to Vote “Best of Lawrence”

It sounds obvious, but you vote with your dollars and your voice! Shopping local is something I strongly believe in.  I was very active in the Lawrence Giveback program.  Then the Journal World purchased the program, raised rates, and discontinued it.  Whenever possible, I shop local and shop Lawrence.  I give preference to small businesses.  I’m a small business and I appreciate when clients choose us over a larger business.  The smaller the business, the more precious the individual customer.  I recognize that.

Photo by Krista Baltroka - http://flic.kr/p/dZzhWF

Photo by Krista Baltroka

 

Instead of assisting the Journal World in building a database to sell more ads, why not advertise the local business yourself?  Word of mouth remains the most powerful and effective advertising solution out there.  Instead of going online and filling out a random ballot, take that same effort to thank your favorite businesses online.  Have you seen how long that ballot is? Tag your favorite businesses in a Facebook post or a Tweet.  Let other people know you think they are the best of Lawrence.

That’s the real way of letting people know who you think the Best of Lawrence is!  Telling others instead of telling a marketing company is the most powerful ballot

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