Between a rock and a hard place with dpreview
One of my all-time favorite sites on the net, dpreview, home to all worthy camera news, isn’t happy with us. And I’m not sure what to do about it. Here’s the deal, and I’m hoping maybe someone has some ideas on what we can do:
SmugMug customers are foaming-at-the-mouth rabid zealots. Ever been cornered at a party by a TiVo subscriber who wouldn’t let you leave until you’d promised to buy one? Yeah, they’re like that. Four years ago, when we realized what was going on, we thought it’d be great to have a referral program that lets them get discounts at SmugMug and save their friends a few bucks. Not all that different from any other customer referral program, online or off, in the world. (We do give bennies to both parties, though, which isn’t unique but is fairly rare).
It took off like gangbusters and everyone got warm-and-fuzzies because they were saving themselves andtheir friends money. So they started posting their referral codes in blogs, email signatures, and forum posts. No biggie, right?
Apparently to dpreview, it IS a biggy. Thousands of SmugMug customers are also dpreview forum members. And now Phil Askey, dpreview owner, dropped a bomb in our laps: all SmugMug links in the forums will be blocked. Why? Because he’s upset at our ‘viral marketing’ technique (aka referral program). Here’s the message we got (with no warning whatsoever):
Just to let you know that we will be blocking linking to smugmug from our forums due to the rapid increase in your ‘viral marketing’ technique of using ‘account codes’ for discounts. Numerous of our regular posters are now inadvertently promoting your site by placing such account codes in their signatures, this is considered to be commercial advertising and is against our posting rules. As we have no interest in banning such members we will instead be blocking any external linking or mention of your site.
As I mentioned, we have thousands of shared customers (likely tens of thousands, but I don’t know for sure), so with the flip of a switch, Phil will be pissing off a large portion of his user base. Lots of camera reviews in the forums come from SmugMug customers, complete with both links to their galleries and embedded links to images directly on SmugMug. They’ll all disappear in a heartbeat. If I were a non-SmugMug customer at dpreview, I’d be wondering “What’s to stop him from doing this for Flickr or Pbase or anyone else he chooses in the future?”.
I’d be tempted to say that it’s because we don’t pay him to advertise at dpreview, but the sad truth is we’ve tried numerous times to buy ads there. Phil simply ignored every single one of our requests.
So I have no idea what the motivation here is. You see paid plants for other photo sharing sites (something we’ve NEVER done) running amok over there, posting like crazy with no useful information other than a link to “the GREATEST photo sharing site in the world! Way better than [Flickr|Pbase|SmugMug]”.
I’d really like to be fair here. We owe our customers at least some effort to rectify the situation before their ability to use dpreview disappears. So, help me out here. Are we doing something wrong? Is our referral program somehow harming dpreview and/or the internet as a whole? Is there something we could do to change the program that would make things better?
Are are we just stuck?