There is a controversy brewing and this time it is not really about eBay - or is it?
It seems that Debbie Levitt CEO of ASWAS, an eBay Stores designer and consulting company based in Boston, MA and a personal friend, has come out very strongly against the grass roots marketing efforts of Bonanzle.com. A Prominent blogger and also a friend, Henrietta of the Red Ink Diary has responded quite directly to Debbie's take on the Bonanzle Action Club.
Henrietta has been a friend to Bonanzle.com since the beginning, I don't think she is a member of the BAC, but could be. It is a pretty small club of only 50 people when weighed against the 30,000 members of Bonanzle. Yet the effects of its political style grass roots effort to get out the word about the site seem to have gained some attention in eBay circles (where Debbie Levitt is a big swimmer).
The Article on the Red Ink Diary is available for all to read in its entirety here Red Ink Diary. I have included a short quote below to give you the idea of where Henrietta stands. (Note: Links to the articles Debbie Levitt wrote in the ASWAS blog are included, just as they appeared in the Red Ink Diary.) I don't know if I would have been quite as direct as Henrietta was in her post, but she expressed her point without leaving any doubt.
From the RedInkDiary
The words which come to my mind are confrontational, short fuse, defensive, impulsive, and ‘no thank you’. This person seems to have a bee up her butt about Bonanzle and for such an important, influential and successful business owner, (I quote below from her profile on Practical eCommerce) to devote her valuable time to badmouthing a site which should be beneath her notice and that of her presumably paid staff; does make me wonder.
...the CEO of eBay’s first Certified Service Provider, which offers services for online sellers including branding, design, and personalized sales and marketing strategies. (She is) eBay’s first Certified Consultant and the first Education Specialist trained by eBay. Her recognized expertise as well as her approach to online branding, marketing and strategy are redefining the model of what are “good” eBay listings, eBay Stores, or websites.
She has written two posts about it this month. One on February 10th which has a comment by Mark Dorsey and an illuminating response to that comment by the blogger.
“As for helping me with future content, I have tried to contact you a number of times through email and Twitter, and that’s as far as things have gone. I guess I’d only matter if I were a BAC member. :)“
Shame on you Mark for not realizing what an important and influential person you were failing to treat with awe and respectful deference.
The second post is today and comments have been closed. You may however comment here on Red INK
End of Red Ink Diary Quote - All Rights Reserved
Personally I have no idea why Debbie Levitt would raise such a ruckus over the Bonanzle Action Committee. They are just happy members and sellers on the Bonanzle.com platform who freely give of their time to help increase the reach and awareness of an upstart bootstrapping eCommerce alternative that has simply grown faster than any other in history.
Did the 50 members of the Bonanzle Action Club help that growth along?
- You bet! - how much they helped is really indeterminable.
Is it evil, backhanded or unfair?
- No way! - The tactic has been used the world over.
eBay has their own shills and cheerleaders, they almost invented the practice and they did it on a much larger scale than 50 unpaid members of a small site that has grown beyond anyone's expectations. These are people who actually sell product on the site they are promoting, not some paid staff working out of a boiler room. The difference here is that the BAC members are doing it in a new medium called social networking and they are effective at adding dialog to sites where there already was an interest. (They could be more effective, but that is a matter for a different post).
I have been writing about Bonanzle since before the Bonanzle Action Club (BAC) came into being. I am not a member of the BAC and I will never be a member of the BAC because membership is closed. I have written good things about Bonanzle because I instantly saw the advantages offered by the site, it worked, it is easy to use and because I liked it.
I have been so impressed that I have created an off Bonanzle website development project for its members that is known as Bonanzle Webstores. This is not funded, administered or run by the team at Bonanzle or its ownership yet they have been more than helpful in the creation and development of our program because it will help bring in new traffic to Bonanzle.com and its merchants.
I have never been paid, offered payment, bribed or told what to say. I have also written honest critiques which in most cases have been accepted and acted upon by the founder of the site Bill Harding. While the site is not perfect and there are several improvements that could be enacted, the founder and head programmer works hard to make the site work for all of its members on a daily basis.
Bonanzle is a very interesting and ever expanding marketplace that has piqued mine and several thousand other peoples interest. The entire massive and ever expanding groundswell of acceptance has not come from just 50 people repeating the same comments on several blogs or sites around the Internet (something I have a problem with - please be original BAC members i.e. paraphrase your comments on blogs - don't quote verbatim what the BAC blast says each time - OK - just say what you feel in your comments) . The interest has come both from within the seller base and from outside the community from sites like Google and from blogs like this one.
The BAC members are simply reaching outside the site to make the site known to those who have never been exposed to it. From there the decision is completely in the consumers hands, try Bonanzle or not - it is up to the potential member. The BAC does nothing to trick or deceive people into trying the site.
I agree with Debbie Levitt on one point however.
I dislike the term or slogan "Best eBay alternative", in fact I dislike any mention of eBay when referring to Bonanzle. They are two different marketplaces, two different systems of eCommerce and they really have no comparisons at all, other than history.
The history of eBay is one of a grass roots driven growth curve built on social interaction (first between sellers and then between buyers and sellers). Bonanzle has re-created that excitement from the early days of eBay, when sellers sold to sellers and everyone helped one another learn how to use the tools provided by the venue to become successful. Bonanzle and eBay both have the same history in regards to a fantastic growth curve and they both share a history of having a very small marketing budget. eBay was not perfect when it started and is still not perfect all these years later. I would wager that if you could access a screenshot or go back in time to read the forum comments of users of eBay after roughly 6 months of operations and compare that to the Bonanzle site we see today, the differences of platform and the similarities in regards to history would be oh so clear.
In today's world of internet marketing, having a small marketing budget does not necessarily rule you out from competing for business.
Being creative by using customers enthusiasm is a fantastic way to create evangelists for your brand. This is exactly what Mark Dorsey at Bonanzle has done with just 50 of his best customers. I am certain he has many more volunteers for the BAC but for management reasons they have kept the number small.
I am sure the method of marketing being utilized here can be called many different names, is it unfair? No.
Is it unusual?, maybe in this space but it is used by fortune 500 companies the world over in this new World of Internet based marketing. Should it be an issue for a eBay based service provider to come out so strongly against? I really don't think so.
Debbie Levitt, on a personal note...
I want to say that I appreciate the work you do and I have always loved your designs, your speaking and your in depth knowledge of eBay. I don't want you to take my comments here personally, but I don't agree with the implications of your post(s), your insinuation that Mark Dorsey is anything but approachable and informative or that he only speaks with BAC members. I also am uneasy with your inclination to take the negative tact sometimes used against other companies in posts on your blog to somehow promote yourself as a consumer advocate.
Debbie, you are a marketing person and you represent ASWAS as the CEO and as its chief evangelist. Your consumer advocacy always has been one which promotes your own services and that of eBay or other eBay service providers you work with. There is nothing wrong with promotion, and you do a fine job of it - when you discuss matters that pertain to your business, eBay or how your clients excel in new and exciting endeavors online. You have a great track record, an avid following and a long portfolio of quality work.
I really do not understand why you are endeavoring to slow the growth of a new and exciting community of sellers and buyers who simply choose to do eCommerce elsewhere besides eBay.
The people who choose to use Bonanzle really have no effect upon your business. Does it help your company to point out what you think are wrongs that in fact have no effect on you, on your clients or really eBay in any way? I understand how you want to expose wrongs and be a stand up person who is respected in your industry, and in fact, you have been that person for many years. Take the respect and knowledge and experience and use it to promote the good of your community, add to the knowledge base of your clients and readers by interjecting reason and not necessarily interjecting doubt where none existed.
The members of the BAC are only a small problem for those of us who have to approve their comments, and to me.. that is no problem at all because comments are what bring a blog to life.
The media thrives on news, and believe it or not, Bonanzle is news.
Bonanzle has something people like, sales are being made by the merchants who use all of the tools available to them on the Bonanzle platform, and there are improvements being made almost on a daily basis. There is no way that Mark Dorsey on his own could gather the attention that he has for his company without some help. He can either pay cash for that help, or he can use customers who are also evangelists. The ring of truth always comes from actual customers - on this I am sure we can agree.
You and I ask for testimonials from our clients - is this really all that different?
Except for the fact that Bonanzle Action Club Members give testimony each and every week on the behalf of Bonanzle.
I am actually envious - I don't have as many clients as Bonanzle.com has that are so impressed with my work that they would take 20 minutes of time each week to promote for me. The ones I do have, I cherish, but I have yet to organize them into a committee. Having clients that sing your praises is the best marketing in the world... Using the power of word of mouth is a basic tenant of all marketing.
Maybe you and I should look at creating something like the BAC ... Hmmmm iBusinessLogic Action Committee - Naw, it doesn't sound right, does it.... ASWAS-AC?