Jan28

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ShareASale and Toolbars / Call for Participation on Guidelines

As I’ve stated a few times recently in blogs or interviews, it is my feeling that 2009 will see a great increase in the number of toolbars implemented throughout various affiliate and/or merchant sites. Due to the increase in installations of Firefox extensions as well, these toolbars will have varying levels of interaction with the user and will pose various levels of difficulty.

ShareASale has traditionally allowed no software related affiliates to participate on our network due to interference and potential interference with site based affiliates. We plan to modify this policy, with the help of the community, to make sure that we are allowing for legitimate customer service concerns – while also protecting site based affiliates and their clickstreams/commissions.

My proposal is to lay out what I feel is a base guideline document – this isn’t a final document by any means… as you’ll see if you read on. I’d like to establish what I feel are some of the main concerns and then we will open the entire discussion to anyone who would like to get involved and share their ideas.

We will host a “Toolbar Roundtable” (possibly more than one) – with the first session coming on Tuesday February 3rd at 3pm Central. Depending on participation level and how far we get, we can schedule further roundtables. We will welcome any merchant, affiliate, or industry member to participate and will be providing a call in number as well as an online meeting so that we can all chat and look at possible scenarios that should be considered.

In order to participate, we will need your RSVP to brian@shareasale.com.

Here are some points that I have outlined that will be discussed.

1. Toolbars must be used for the main purpose of customer assistance and support. As just one piece of this, this should rule out any use of the toolbar as an ad-delivery mechanism. Our aim is to allow affiliates to use toolbars as customer service tools, not ad platforms/popup delivery/behavioural targetting.

2. We will attempt to draw a distinction between ownership of content on a website, vs. ownership of a browser. It is my opinion at this point that content of a webpage belongs to the person who created that content. I.e., if it is an affiliate site it belongs to them, if it is a retailer it belongs to them, etc… As part of this distinction, we will aim to disallow the practice of a toolbar modifying any content of that web page. Conversly, the browser (in my opinion) belongs to the user of the computer. Receiving messages through parts of the browser which are not attached to the content of the page should thus be a decision between the toolbar creator and the user.

3. No automatic redirection should take place at any time. Regarding toolbar software, there really should never be any errors in this regard.

4. A distinction should be made between positive notification, and negative notification (on the toolbar). A negative notification (one that says something like “You are not earning via this toolbar) could be construed as a more marketing message/interference with previous clickstream. A positive notification should be a customer service reinforcement of a previous click that took place from that particular toolbar content provider.

5. Distribution of any toolbar should be through intended download directly through a corresponding account on the provider’s website. It must be by choice, and not incentivized to the customer to use. (i.e., the provider’s site should work perfectly fine without the toolbar installed). This coincides with the desire to allow toolbars as customer service tools – not marketing initiatives. As with automatic redirection, there is little room for errors or ommissions here.

6. Industry participation and history should be relevant. In terms of participation through ShareASale, past history of a company or toolbar manufacturer will be relevant. Past errors, ommissions, glitches, bugs, etc… will have an impact on a necessary confidence factor that needs to be in place.

We strongly wish for your participation in this process. Please let me know directly if you would like to attend/participate/listen in/etc… My email address is brian@shareasale.com or feel free simply to comment on this post with your intention to participate, etc… Feel free to email me any questions or comments you might have. We need to find a common ground on this issue, and we need to work together to get there. It may not be the easiest task we’ve ever taken on but it is necessary and one that I am confident we can succeed at. I look forward to hearing all of your thoughts!

-Brian Littleton
-President/CEO ShareASale

Brian Littleton

By Brian Littleton

Brian is the Founder and President of ShareASale - a 13 year old Chicago based software firm that helps connect online retailers with bloggers and webmasters. He can be found online at @brianlittleton and on brianlittleton.shareist.com Brian writes about internet marketing, College Football (CF Show), golf, hockey, social media, and cartoons!

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