With its paid-for affiliate links and an uncompromising user policy, is the Money Saving Expert site at risk of denying its users the opportunity to get genuine, good advice from industry experts?
This post is somewhat off topic, but important nonetheless. James Saperia, Managing Director of Simply Registrations has recently been on the receiving end of what some may consider unfair treatment by the forum moderators at the well-known website Money Saving Expert (MSE).
James has been offering his expert opinion and advice for free to users of the Money Saving Expert forum since April 2011, providing help on a variety of different motoring subjects – including, of course, personalised number plates, under the username of ‘Happytohelp’.
However, following a post he made on the MSE forum last week, James logged into his account to find that, without warning, he had had been given an outright ban and could no longer contribute to the website. The ban was imposed due to a thread James had started to advise forum users about the recent announcement that the Government may be changing the rules on purchasing car tax, to allow drivers to do so without providing evidence of a valid insurance policy. In order to provide a point of reference and further information, James linked to the article on his company’s website from his post on the MSE forum.
Now, as anybody familiar with the Simply Registrations website is aware, the business does not sell car tax or insurance products of any kind, nor are there any affiliate links from this company website – but the post was presumably deemed to be of a commercial nature and therefore subsequently led to James being banned indefinitely and his posting privileges removed.
Selective Linking Policies – Protecting users or Limiting Advice?
The Money Saving Expert site recently published a blog post by Martin Lewis, which talks about the injustice of forums such as MSE being ignored as potential social networks. He wrote that this may be because “they’re seen as closed communities” – but with such a rigid stance on allowable advice, perhaps the real reason is that they don’t offer the same freedom as other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
While it’s understandable that forums need to have rules in place, when these rules are ineffectively policed, users are potentially denied good advice in favour of the site owners’ over-protective stance. So the question is; if a site protects its own revenues by restricting relevant and helpful advice from industry experts, does that negate the site’s intended purpose to offer support and help to its users? Martin Lewis and the MSE site has done a lot to help its users, especially when you look at the PPI scandal and the amount of people who have been able to reclaim unfair payments made through mis-selling, however it would seem a shame if other support was hindered due to a poorly moderated policy.
‘Happytohelp’ is no longer able to Help – and it’s the Users that Lose Out
As a regular contributor to the Money Saving Expert forum, James has placed 86 posts and been thanked 49 times for the advice that he offered. This advice, just like the post that lead to his ban, has always been focused on helping other users to make better decisions. Quite often his advice has diverted people from making mistakes which could have led to financial penalties. An example of this can be seen here.
Ultimately, the posting policy on Money Saving Expert doesn’t seem to work. If you link to a commercial website that has not been approved as one of MSE’s revenue-generating affiliates, even if there’s no chance of making money from your post, it appears that you’re banned from further contributions and have to appeal – hoping your ban will be lifted so that you can rejoin the community. This means that while Money Saving Expert continues to make an income from approved commercial links, the users that make up the community and ultimately add to the site’s success could potentially lose out on relevant and important information. So now the Money Saving Expert community has lost its resident personalised registrations expert and, no doubt, other industry experts along the way.