Beware of invitations appealing to ego

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From Beware of ‘invitations’ appealing to ego, clarionledger.com

PDF: Beware of invitations appealing to ego

Everyone likes to be told they’re unique, special and deserving of recognition. Marketers have long known that appealing to the ego can help break down barriers and make sales much easier.

When I was in college, I got a letter from an organization informing me my name had been selected for inclusion on a list of outstanding young people, to be published in a high-quality publication. Accompanying the glowing letter was a flyer with information on how I could order a copy of the book and a nice granite paperweight. There was no charge to be on the list, I was assured, although these items would be a lasting reminder of the great honor I’d received.

Since I was young and impressionable, I paid the exorbitant fee for the book and paperweight, which arrived a few weeks later in the mail. But when I told people about it, several of my friends said they’d gotten the same letter, with only the name changed. It turned out that a whole lot of people around me had been similarly “honored” with inclusion in the list, and it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t the adulation I’d thought it was. (I still have that paperweight, keeping it as a reminder to look before I leap.)

The marketplace is replete with organizations that purport to be honoring someone but are really just a way to get people to pay big bucks for a recognition that might or might not be valuable. Of course, there are a great many legitimate recognition programs out there, recognizing a vast array of achievements, leadership qualities and service. But many people are getting solicitations that turn out to be not all they claim and are really just clever sales pitches.

Examples are many, but here’s one. In the past few months, women around the country have gotten emails from an organization called the International Women’s Leadership Association, which praised their accomplishments, said their qualifications had been reviewed and congratulated them for being selected for induction into an exclusive women’s networking group. To join, all you had to do was pay $99 for a six-month membership or $989 for a “lifetime” membership, both of which included a “personal file” on the organization’s website, a feature on its social media platform (and “related endorsements”), as well as attendance at various networking events, webinars and tele-seminars.

But the solicitations caught the eye of New York’s attorney general, who says the organization actually had sent out millions of solicitations and hadn’t done the vetting it had claimed.

In a news release, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the IWLA had agreed to pay $200,000 to settle charges of making false representations, along with agreeing to change its marketing practices. Schneiderman’s release noted that more than 100,000 women responded to this solicitation in the last three years, out of more than 7 million “invitations” sent, and “did not actually consider the person’s contribution to ‘family, career, and community’ or any other qualifications.”

“Mass email solicitations cannot be used as a proxy for deceptive marketing practices,” Schneiderman said. “Honesty and transparency are the hallmarks of consumer protection, and those same principles must be upheld online.”

If you get this or a similar solicitation, it’s important to remember that most legitimate recognitions and invitations are going to come from an organization or individual you know. There are a great many local and national networking organizations, so it’s advisable to thoroughly check out any organization in which you’re interested in joining. Friends and colleagues are often the best source of knowledge about networking opportunities and don’t overlook local and regional chambers of commerce and business social networking sites.

Most importantly, be aware of solicitations that appeal to your ego. Have a trusted friend, family member or colleague to review the solicitation objectively. When our self-esteem is involved, most of us are just not good at discerning when we’re being led down the primrose path.

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