Manipulating your modification choices

Posted on February 25th, 2011 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

It’s taken a long time but I think that finally the web is now the main source of information for people modifying their cars. I say ‘a long time’ because I honestly expected that state of affairs to be current in perhaps 1995 – rather than six years later.

The benefit of the web being the main info source of car modifiers is that there has never been so much good material available – from enthusiasts’ groups, from manufacturers’ websites and from car modification company websites.

The bad news is now web marketing has become big business in car modification circles – and I am not talking banner ad spots.

Instead I am talking about deliberate and concerted manipulation of opinion through the ownership and infiltration of manufacturer-specific enthusiasts’ sites. 

I heard of one engine management modification company that has a paid team of people (was it seven of them?) who spend all their time posting positive messages about that company’s products to different discussion groups. I heard of another example where a major tuning company – let’s say it was a Volkswagen tuning company – owns a major Volkswagen-specific tuning forum – and of course, ensures that no negative messages about that company stay published. (And that no positives about the opposition appear, too.)

At the time of writing I’ve been on holidays and a bit bored; I have joined a few car modification discussion groups and have been contributing.

Now long-term readers will know I have a love/hate relationship with discussion groups: they can be extremely useful, and they can also be extremely misleading. But in the past I would have said ‘misleading’ because of the general lack of knowledge in what people are talking about – that is, through ignorance they say stuff that is wrong or misleading. But now I’d say ‘misleading’ because, from my position as a very experienced car modifier, I can see specific barrows being pushed.

For example… when selecting a new modified exhaust for your car, you can either buy an off the shelf performance exhaust developed for your model, or you can go along to your local exhaust shop and have them build something for you. There are pluses and minuses of each approach: an off the shelf exhaust is likely to be quiet, to fit well and be typically a low headache purchase. However, it will cost a lot. An exhaust made by a local exhaust workshop can achieve exactly what you want from it (eg retaining the factory cat – or upgrading it, as you wish) and will be cheaper. However, some experimentation might be needed to get the desired outcome. 

That seems a fair enough summary – there will be some other interpretations but this is largely in the ballpark.

But in the discussion forum I was reading, there was a clear and detailed attempt to say that anyone who bought an exhaust from a local exhaust shop was doomed to frustration and by far the best approach was to buy a specific, named, pre-built exhaust. For a post or two I thought the person just didn’t have any idea, but when I realised the length of the posts being written, and how they were so emphatic, I realised a different agenda was being pushed.

I realised it…but many people new to car modification wouldn’t have seen the reason behind the posts. Multiply that by hundreds of posts a day to thousands of discussion groups, and you can see that, at minimum, you should be extremely wary of anyone saying that a specific product is by far the best, or a specific way of doing things (a much more subtle approach) is the only way anyone sane would do it…

Thanks a million

Posted on February 11th, 2011 in Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Nearly every day in the adult classes I run on writing, I talk about the importance of two things. The first is in writing for your audience; and the second is in gaining effective feedback from that audience.

(These days I work for AutoSpeed only part time: my main job is as a trainer, mostly for the Australian Public Service in Canberra.)

When writing, if you cannot get inside your audience’s heads, you’re lost: you’re writing not for the reader but for yourself. So as a writer, you should always be thinking of your audience: will they understand this word, this concept? Will this interest them? Thinking of them, what is the best way to express these ideas? Would the audience prefer that I use an inductive or deductive approach? Would the story work better for the audience if I include this diagram or that photo?

And so on and so on, right down the screen (or page).

But of course, while the writer can think of the audience, they can never be sure that they’ve hit the right spot. Not without feedback, anyway.

Feedback from the audience can be detailed, it can be analytical and it can be highly structured. Alternatively, it can be very simple, very quick and anonymous. At AutoSpeed we chose the latter, giving readers a 1-5 continuum they can use to assess every page of content on the site. Because it’s simple and anonymous, many people choose to provide feedback.

In fact, as this is published, we will have received close to one million page feedbacks! One million! That’s quite extraordinary – and from a writer’s perspective, it provides immense feedback value.

Feedback helps govern AutoSpeed’s direction; it influences the writing style and it allows us to take major risks with content – and then to see if those risks pay off.

For any given article, I analyse the feedback rating in four ways.

1. The total number of feedbacks closely correlates with the page views of the article, so at a glance I can tell whether the article has been well read – or not.

2. The average score shows how much the article was liked by readers – our one million average (ie the average of all the individual article averages) is currently 2.81, so a comparison of individual articles with that number is easy.

3. The diversity of ratings tells me how much impact the article had on readers – how engaged they were with it. What I want to see is polarisation: readers either loved it or hated it. An even spread of scores from 1 – 5 indicates to me that readers did not become much engaged – and that is not what I want!

4. The change of average rating for an individual article alters over time. This is because initially loyal and longstanding readers rate the article; subsequently a greater mass of readers coming to the article via links and search engine results arrive to give their view. Thus I can see how current and new readers rate material differently.

So thanks if you’ve rated any articles over the years. The information you provided with those clicks – all 1,000,000 of them – helps guide and influence our writing.