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Bento Lunches
Exploitation of this LJ community by marketers 
22nd-Jun-2007 09:30 am
(EDIT: At the community's request, new anonymous comments by non-LJ users will not be shown on the screen.  I've also posted an apology for this post and an explanation here; [info]pernwebgoddess  suggested that it be added to the original post so it doesn't seem hidden.)

I'm stunned and saddened to make this post. How would you feel if you found out that one of us had created a whole business based on mining this community for marketing purposes, trying to glide under our spammer radar, and was bragging about to other marketers? It's like watching a teen movie where the jock pretends to make friends with the shy girl on a secret bet with his buddies, and gloats about how he's pulling one over on the gullible target.

Read this:  Google, We Don't Need No Stinking Google!  (June 11, 2007)
And this: Stumbling into Opportunity (June 15, 2007)
And this: Have a Unique Selling Proposition (June 19, 2007)

They're articles that new bentolunch member thejenn1  wrote about setting up the Bento Yum website as an experiment in "social media marketing" with the main purpose of selling her bento box starter kits. It's described as an experiment in marketing to online communities from within, participating in the community with the main purpose of sales while trying to slide under the community's spammer radar. I don't know that I've ever seen a more condescending and disingenuous approach toward this community.

She will be writing a series of articles detailing her "social media marketing" experiment as it happens on her marketing website, so we can see how she describes marketing to us under the guise of community involvement.

thejenn1  started posting to bentolunch in mid-May, and soon after started actively pushing her bento kits for sale on the community, with regular inventory updates in her posts as per her business plan. The moderators have directed her (unsuccessfully) to the bentoforsale community for that purpose (to which she already belongs) -- so that people who are interested in buying and selling can do so, and the rest of us can focus on the food. To me, this crosses the line. It makes sense to let regular community members post about the occasional extra box or accessory they'd like to sell or trade, but this is a full-on business posting ads, like the eBayers we've said we want to keep out.

While I applaud thejenn1 's entrepreneurial drive in setting up her business and wish her well in selling her bento gear (hey, she has good stuff and her prices are actually not overinflated like some eBay sellers! Cool!), I feel duped by her disingenuousness and ulterior motives for her involvement in the bentolunch  community. [info]bentolunch already has a good online shopping guide and a geographic shopping guide with reliable feedback from the community, and Bento Yum is on that.

Looking at Bento Yum as a sales organization does help me understand some things that didn't make sense before, though. All comments there are moderated before they appear on the site (retaining control of the message), her LJ posts have fake cuts channeling people to her moderated site, and when I commented there answering a reader's question about egg molds (pointing them briefly to the Cooking Cute tutorial and my old ice cream sandwich mold tutorial), thejenn1  first approved my comment, sent me private e-mail asking that I not point her readers to any outside resources, then removed my comment from her blog. To me that says it's not a community-minded site, it's a sales site mining the communities. Also explains why Cooking Cute is not on her blogroll.

I feel really stupid and duped now that I realize what's been happening. I was initially so excited about Bento Yum and what I thought thejenn1  was adding to our community, and happily put her on my main blogroll on Lunch in a Box. Man, am I clueless. I've now expanded the links on my own site to prominently feature the bentolunch online shopping guide and a geographic shopping guide, and have learned a lesson in trust and communities. I think we need to amend our posting guidelines.
22nd-Jun-2007 04:45 pm (UTC)
There is an other community I belong to that had a new member who I think is doing the same. None Bento.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
I feel better knowing my odd feelings to this person and her posts was not wrong.
22nd-Jun-2007 07:37 pm (UTC)
Ironically, I had a 'weird' feeling about the site, too.
22nd-Jun-2007 04:47 pm (UTC)
Damn. I agree with you, her kits were really cool and well priced. But that's a crappy way to go about selling things. That's shady as hell.
22nd-Jun-2007 04:52 pm (UTC)

Yeah, this concerns me.
22nd-Jun-2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
I think you've just hit on the reason why a marketing scheme like this won't work--people don't like to be lied to. And we're not stupid! Eventually someone is going to figure out what's going on. This is underhanded and sneaky, and I'm sure as hell not going to trust someone who will cheerfully lie to me with my money.

When you're attempting to run a business, it's a good idea not to alienate your customer base.
22nd-Jun-2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
this is so terrible!!!

I totally agree with you!! one thing is to occasionally sell something, and other very different thing is to get this community for her own sells! ò_ó
22nd-Jun-2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
and to not even be honest about it, to boot :/
22nd-Jun-2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
How upsetting. :|
22nd-Jun-2007 05:02 pm (UTC)
Ugh, the Amway(*) person not shutting up at a party feeling. I hate that.

* if you have problems about my opinion of Amway, email me and I'll explain.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I decided to buy my bento sets elsewhere after feeling somewhat suspicious of her intentions. This is just not cool at all.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
i feel so...used. i hate being lied to & i don't like being ANYBODY's guinea pig. Maybe no one ever told her that a little honesty goes a long way.
i guess we should send her a thank you note for allowing us to be the petrie dish for her newest pet project.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
Um, it's not really that surprising, is it? she's mentioned selling kits here. she wants to make money at it, no?

she doesn't seem to really understand the nature of the communities she's mining, though, if she didn't really think that most of us would find her behavior deeply annoying. having a "blog" that isn't really a blog shows she doesn't really get it. she grasps marketing but not actual social networking. she could have let it be a real place for community, including links to other resources, and i for one wouldn't much care about the fact that she was making money from her hobby.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
And she's muddied the field for community oriented people who do want to make a side business without exclusivity and ego. One of my friends is, since we are lucky enough to be in a resource rich area, going to do a SMALL bento online business. She expects to make just enough to buy an internet radio station, making one hobby pay for the other. But her idea of 'how to stand out' was to Go Green, not Hey I Can Avoid EBay. How behind the curve is that?

"That's when I realized that we didn't really need eBay. The bento community was small enough that we could sell directly through our web site and rely on traditional marketing and word of mouth to drive traffic and sales. At the time, we figured we could leverage eBay to our advantage by posting a single set at a time and using the listing to drive traffic to our additional offerings at the site."
22nd-Jun-2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
And I *still* cannot access her site! (Complained about this before, with the fake cuts, and I'm apparently the only one it is happening to.)

Eh, it makes sense as a marketing angle, though I would like to suggest that when people post here, their post has to stand on it's own - link to your own site with recipes or more instructions, but post here with the picture and the contents.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
You're not the only one. I randomly cannot access it.

I've got thoughts on this but am going to attempt being "nice". Most likely won't work for long especially if we hear Bento Yum's side of the story. Deception like this is never good for anyone.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for revealing all of this. I agree with raqs, I don't think anyone would mind that she was making money, if she was truly a community participant as well. (After all, Cooking Cute is monetized, with an Amazon store and etc, and no one minds.)

Good investigative work!
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22nd-Jun-2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
So let me get this straight.

Bento Yum wasn't made to share bentos but is actually a small business? I thought it was a blog she made to showcase her bentos and she just decided to let her friend sell bentos to help those of us who can't find do it yourself kits.

I feel bad now, I ordered a set because it was cheaper then grabbing everything seperate (still haven't gotten it tho and it will be 3 weeks on Monday :/) and I thought it was nice she decided to do that service on her own blog. But apparently the blog was a front? Am I reading this right?

23rd-Jun-2007 12:37 am (UTC)
I ordered a set from Bento Yum, and I got it inside of a week. I'd been talking with Abigail (the one who lives in Japan), and she seemed really nice.

I'm a little upset about the blog not being a blog, though. I pimped it in a lot of places because I really liked her sets, and I thought I'd share the good information with other people. Knowing what I know now, I feel bad about playing a part in her little marketing experiment. :(
22nd-Jun-2007 05:33 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. This comes from out of the blue to me. I had no idea. As, I gather, neither did anyone else.

(How ungrammatical.)

I understand why people are upset. It's one thing to earn some dollars with a legit business or the like. We all have to make a living somehow. It's another thing to sneak it in like this. As a group maintainer, my questions are: what rules here are actually being violated, and what should be done about it?

This is one that Ye Humble Maintainers will have to think about, and will definitely be watching. And I would like to see what thejenn1 has to say to us.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
I think she crossed the hobby line.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
I always thought her "blog" was annoying, because it was mostly about selling things and had no content other than bento stuff. I don't see this as a surprise, but am glad other people find it annoying.

What would people think of having a rule in the community info that only actual blogs can join? A lot of communities have this to avoid spamming and trolls. They say that members must have a blog with interests listed, people friended, and some public entries. People who don't meet the criteria but believe they are a "real" blog are free to e-mail and explain themselves. I think we can all tell which blogs are real and which blogs are for selling things.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with both of your statements eeka13, I was first annoyed and now am angered to see this social engineering. I have to deal with it at work all of the time but didn't think I would see it in the blogosphere.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
Bento Yum always seemed pretty fishy to me. I was looking at prices of ebay versus her store, and it seemed like I could put together my OWN bento 'starter kit' and it'd be cheaper and less...fishy, to say the least.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:43 pm (UTC) - Wow
Wow, quite honestly, I'm in shock.

I really am.

I've been honest about the fact that BentoYum is a business since day one. (Though it should be noted that I'm not making a dime off the site...the only money being made is being made by Abigail, a stay at home mom that wanted a second income stream. Since I had already decided to start a blog to post my lunches and any recipes or tips, it made sense to pair up.)

The article series? Also not lying about or hiding anything. It's obviously not difficult to track me back to that site, I certainly haven't made any attempt to hide who I am.

The moderators pointing me to a community for sale? Umm..never got those emails, though you can dog gone bet I would have been checking that out. (I saw a note about it here in an individual post, which I then went and checked out, registered for and waited for things to get going.

The moderated comments? Most blogs have moderated comments. It's how you keep the spam out. I'm glad that none of you have yet had a blog that got spammed, but being the owner of two highly trafficked blogs, I can assure you that most readers prefer a brief delay in comment posting to reading comments filled with sales messages and links to porn sites.

The deletion of comments? Up until this morning, I had deleted one comment made by Biggie. It was a comment that pointed out a broken link on my site. I corrected the link and THEN deleted the comment. To note, Biggie also left the same comment on another one of my blogs rather than dropping me an email to point out the error.

The other comment? Well, I had specifically stated that I was going to post information about the topic. Biggie came and then posted links to her own coverage of the topic and promiting her own log. I LEFT the post, but sent her a polite email explaning that I was working on fixing the errors, but that I was having computer problems, so could she please be patient? Then I explained that I was planning on posting an egg tutorial of my own and that I was going to link to her coverage of egg molds made from ice cream molds.

I went on to point out that users tend to place more trust in links that are WITHIN posts rather than in comments and that if she'd be patient, I'd be linking to her in that manner. She never responded.

I did remove that post this morning after she decided to go on the attack.

Now, as to the idea of me manipulating this community, I want to make one point.

I am using this community in the exact same way that Biggie is. I am posting my lunches with tips, recipes, picture and links to my blog. The same way that Biggie does. I am helping someone make money by running a business, I assume Biggie makes money off of her blog since there is advertising and affiliate links.

The ONLY difference is that I'm writing an article series about my experience to help OTHER business owners learn how to make money as well. This is what I do. I teach people how to market their business online. I teach them how to play by the rules of community, how to particpate, how to add to the discussion and how to entice sales by being part of the crowd rather than by buying ads.

Want to crucify me for that? Fine. Want to make sure that NO ONE is making ANY money off of ANY post on this community? Fine. But I suggest you look further than my blog.

Quite honestly Biggie, this hurts. You were the first site I linked to from Bento Yum because I admire your content. I sent an ad agency your way to purchase advertising on your site because I thought I could do you a favor.

In my world, that's how these things work. I have a popular breastfeeding blog (I wrote an article series about launching that too, didn't seem to bother anyone in that community) and I continually send traffic to other sites, share advice and input...it's a community. I help you out and someday, if you want to, you help me out.

If my posts add nothing to this community, that's fine. I'll leave and this community will have my full apologies. But as far as I can see, I was adding content, sharing ideas, taking part in the conversation and driving traffic to a blog the same way Biggie was.

Biggie, is this really about protecting the community? Or is it about protecting turf?
22nd-Jun-2007 05:52 pm (UTC) - The only difference is important
The ONLY difference is that I'm writing an article series about my experience to help OTHER business owners learn how to make money as well.

Yea, that is a major problem. You are so deep in your idiom that I doubt you can understand how this is being taken. I don't know if you CAN get it.
Re: Wow - Anonymous - Expand
Re: Wow - Anonymous - Expand
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22nd-Jun-2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
I think the problem here is pretending to be something you're not. I wouldn't have a problem with someone occasionally posting saying, I'm selling this stuff over here, check it out. (but obviously, I'm a lurker, not a member and it's not my call).
But this reminds me of that viral marketing crap where they pay someone to go to a bar and pull out a cool cell phone and take pictures with it. Why would you bother since it's just going to piss people off? And what exactly did she think would happen when this came to light? Didn't she realize that she'd make a whole bunch of potential customers very angry?
Biggie, how did you find out about this?
22nd-Jun-2007 05:48 pm (UTC)
Gosh, that's horrible, and sort of slimy. *makes face*
22nd-Jun-2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
Personally, I don't think she did anything wrong at all.
I think that a lot of these comments and responses come from people who are jealous. *cough*

She's just selling her crap like anyone else. Just because she got PUBLICISED for it in an ARTICLE doesn't really mean anything. And she's not some super big corporation like wal mart or something sneaking into our community and going, "AHAHAHAHAHA WE'LL TAKE THEM WHERE IT HURTS!!"

She's just like you or me. Selling her junk.

Don't be mad at me. :/ Just an oppinion.
I love this community.
23rd-Jun-2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
Except... she's not. Jenn's not even the one selling the sets. There's a wonderfully nice lady in Japan who is selling the sets.
22nd-Jun-2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
I don't think anyone likes to be an experiment, social or otherwise. : ( Next thing you know, Coca-Cola and McDonald's will be in here posting subtle advertisements in the form of bento.
22nd-Jun-2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
I gotta say, I don't really care. This is the internet, anyone could be pretending to be someone else. It's neither surprising, nor is it upsetting. I was going to check out the site and maybe buy something since it's said to be reasonably priced, but then I read a comment from someone who is still waiting 3 weeks for her order. Bad customer service is something that will make me not shop someplace, not how they advertise.
22nd-Jun-2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
Just a note since I'm the person still waiting 3 weeks for my order. I emailed Abigail and she replied quickly so I'm hoping it's just the postal service being stupid. I only mentioned it because it DOES frustrate the hell out of me that I've gotten packages from japan and thailand that I ordered after I ordered the set.
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22nd-Jun-2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
This was my issue with it as well. Or, if I am part of a social experiment, ask me first. Or give me the option to opt out.
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(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
22nd-Jun-2007 06:23 pm (UTC)
I'm a little confused, to be honest. It appears that everyone knew she was selling these products through her blog and with the help of posts here (and sales pitches in communities can certainly be annoying, I agree).

Why is it suddenly much more unsavory because she's writing a series of articles about this and because she went about her business venture in a logical, well thought out manner? I'm not really sure what makes her behavior different from anyone else blogging about something, belonging to online communities about the thing, and also selling that thing and using an online presence to build contacts and a customer base?

I'm not trying to be argumentative, I just don't really understand why everyone was apparently fine with this whole concept until the discovery of the article series.
22nd-Jun-2007 07:05 pm (UTC)
I've been lurking in this community for over a year. I feel like a member, even though I'm not. (LOL! I guess in my own mind I'm a member!)

The deception is what feels sleazy to me. I've had a wierd feeling about Bento Yum from the start. Recently she's started posting pictures of her sets regularly on bentolunch -- which I thought was agianst the "rules". Either way, I find it obnoxious!

Entering a comunity, so that you can market to them (and hiding the fact) is really different from selling things (openly) to a community that you are a long time member of.

There's really no comparison between Biggie's blog and Bento Yum. It's silly of Bento Yum to suggest that Biggie feels threatened somehow. Biggie is in a different universe, content wise, and I never feel that Biggie is plugging something to make money.

Bento Yum is just trying to point the finger at Biggie, becuase she got caught lying! Not cool, in my opinion!
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