The Virtue of Being a Whistleblower

January 24th, 2010

This is not an internet marketing blog.  But I’ve been intrigued by a couple of posts circulating the internet regarding internet marketing gurus.  And I think all of us can learn from it because it goes to the heart of who we are.

Recently Michel Fortin wrote a post called “On not playing the blame game.”  In it, Michel talks about how he and his wife made a report about the bad practices of some internet marketers, and went on to respond to the criticism that he did not name names.

He made some excellent and well thought-out points about why he did not name names.  And as someone who has followed Michel for many years and respects his writings, I understand and agree with his reasoning. But recently another post cited Michel’s post and came to the conclusion that you should NEVER name names.  And THAT I do not agree with.

So, I’d like to offer up a different prospective.

I’ll start with a simple statement: when you name names you run the risk of having the followers of the named Guru turn on you and NOT buy your products.

Is that cynical?  Perhaps a little.  But it needs to be said.  Reading Michel’s post, I think he is implying this, but never actually states the obvious.

I notice now that some internet marketers have been utterly discredited, there is a naming of names, as Ryan Healy did in this well-done post.

A great reason Michel gave for not naming names is basically you won’t change the Guru’s followers’ minds.  And, psychologically speaking, he’s right.  It’s the same reason so many Doomsday cults grow in numbers after the said End of the World comes and goes.   Outside criticism re-enforces conviction.   That’s why in sales copy, many employ an us-versus-them theme (the secrets they don’t want you to know).

But what about all those prospective followers of Guru A who don’t know any better?

A Name-namer’s Prospective

John T. Reed, a real estate guru who is famous (or infamous, to some) for his guru ratings page is well-known is real estate circles for his criticism of real estate gurus.  In fact, when looking for information on Reed, the consensus seemed to be that Reed is a very negative guy who tears down others just to sell books.

Reed responded to this criticism on his site when he was accused of writing negative reviews of gurus like Robert Kiyosaki in order to make more money selling his own books.

Well, Duh!! Of course, I do it, in part, to sell books! Where did I ever say I was Mother Theresa?

However, there is another aspect to the issue of me, my guru-rating Web page, and my profits. I would make more money if I never created this guru-rating Web page. And I would make more money if I took it down, now.

How so? The vast majority of people in the market for real-estate-investment information were brought into the business by Carleton Sheets or some other TV infomercial guy or best-selling financial author like Robert Kiyosaki. The majority of them love their first guru. He gave them bad advice, but they were too ignorant of real estate at the time to recognize it. They really liked his personal charm and the siren song he sang to them. By the time they figured out on their own how you really make money in real estate, they forgot that Sheets or Kiyosaki or whoever really did not really help beyond saying, “Real estate is good.”

The fact that they love their first guru would not normally stop them from also buying my material if I made no comment about their guru. But when I criticize the guru they love, they absolutely refuse to buy any of my products and denounce me to their investment acquaintances.

And that, my friends, is what it boils down to.

Let’s not kid ourselves here.  Naming names can be good.  It can save ignorant people from all sorts of bad decisions.  But it does come at a price that most people are not willing to pay.

But personally, I am thankful to Reed for saving me money and not buying bad information (a conclusion I came to after actually looking at the material he was criticizing).  Other than Reed’s page, no one had a single criticism of the said Guru.  Without his dissent, I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying…it was the second thought that saved me an untold amount of money.

Why We Don’t “Rat Out” the Bad Seeds

Culturally, we’re taught that “tattling” ratting” are bad things.  But “ratting someone out” can do a large amount of good.

Me with "retired" internet marketer Perry Belcher

And this goes for guru searching in all areas, personal development included!  I’m grateful that when I was looking for copywriting and internet marketing information, I found Michel’s blog first.  But the truth is that these guru worlds are insular and these guys promote each other all the time.  It’s damn hard for a novice to tell who’s on the up and up and who’s just out there to fleece you.

In the internet marketing world, there are some people who freely criticize, like that Salty Droid character whose blog gives me a headache.  But the main thing I notice is that Salty Droid isn’t selling anything, so the Droid has little business to lose by criticizing.

So, in this discussion, I hope the takeaway isn’t “Don’t name names.”  But rather “name names if you feel an obligation to do so regardless of the consequences.”

Also, I hope no one takes this post as a criticism of Michel Fortin or those who don’t name names.  Whistleblowers are not treated well in our culture.  But at the very least we can do as Michel Fortin did and point out the practices in the hope that someone will figure out who is engaging in it–which is more than most people.

But naming names is not a bad thing to do.  I think it takes a lot of courage, and I think that needs to be said.

When discussing choosing businesses or gurus to follow, Ryan Healy ended his post with these words, which I think apply to all areas:

Really, it all boils down to these three things:

Guard your mind.

Guard your wallet.

Guard your reputation.

Which, I think can be summed up in this phrase:

Don’t step in the poop!

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