stilllearning

Interview With Jacob Jans

Mystery Shop Forum debuted on July 27, 2006. Jacob Jans, then age 24, created it with the hopes it would become a valuable resource for both new and experienced mystery shoppers. Mystery Shopper Magazine, an online publication, was introduced in February of 2012 and espoused similar goals.

MSM Talks with Jacob Jans, Owner, Administrator and Editor of Mystery Shop Forum and Mystery Shopper Magazine.

Prior to beginning the forum, it appears you were a mystery shopper. Could you give us a synopsis of your pre-forum life and explain what led you to create the forum?

To explain why I started the forum, I think I would have to go back to my childhood. I grew up at the same time that the Internet grew up. That is to say, some of my earliest memories are of using “Prodigy Online,” a service that was similar to AOL, and was a pre-cursor to the Internet.  As time went by, I grew up, and forums came into existence. In high school, I was quite active on a forum, and the forum bug stuck with me.

To be honest, I’ve never done very much mystery shopping. I think that is actually a benefit to the forum, as I’ll explain later. But, I came to mystery shopping because I started to do Search Engine Optimization for a mystery shopping company in the mid-2000s. After doing that, I created a small email newsletter about mystery shopping. It was sort of a pre-cursor to Mystery Shopper Magazine.

Before starting Mystery Shop Forum, I actually approached the owner of a popular mystery shopping forum about building a partnership. My offer was turned down. So, I decided to launch a new forum. I thought it could be something that would be valuable in the long term, and I saw the need for open discussion in the community.

You made your first post on the Mystery Shop Forum on July 27, 2006, at 4:45PM. Your first response came on July 29, 2006 02:17AM. Could you describe the feeling?

I don’t remember specifically. But, I think I was probably a little shocked that somebody actually was participating. I asked a few of my friends to participate at the time, in order to help get conversation started. But, in some ways it was a relief to finally have strangers participating in the community.

What specifically did you do to attract new forum members?

My main expertise at that time was doing search engine marketing and search engine optimization. These are two skills that helped immensely with finding new forum members. I also had a small email newsletter that was helpful in promoting the forum.

It was interesting, comparing the 2006 posters and posts to those in 2014. In 2006, the majority of the members used their real names, with many of them readily providing their email addresses, in the body of their posts. Today, members are warned away from doing exactly that. Although I observed the same-themed fisticuffs erupting, it seemed members were more naïve, less confident and, perhaps, a little less business-savvy. What are your thoughts?

I’ve very much come to believe in the forum, and the purpose of the forum. I see that purpose as helping to build a community of educated, professional, mystery shoppers. It makes me incredibly happy to know that such a community actually exists, and that I had a role in helping it grow into a strong community.

The forum community has done a lot of good for the mystery shopping industry. The community has helped to educate thousands of mystery shoppers. But, just as importantly, the members have helped shed light on disreputable companies, as well as many of the wonderful companies.

The forum has grown to be a relatively safe place for mystery shoppers to air their grievances with companies that have mistreated them. While the vast majority of mystery shopping companies treat their mystery shoppers with respect, there are occasional problems that happen. The forum creates public accountability. This is part of why I think it is important that I am not currently a mystery shopper. I don’t have any conflicts of interest. My income is not threatened when a shopper complains on the forum.

In the beginning, your posts were mainly directed at generating discussion and answering questions. Today, your posts center almost entirely around forum administration and directional announcements. On average, how much of the forum do you read each day?  

I usually look at the forum for a few minutes each day. Once a week I read several discussions in detail when publishing the weekly “Top Discussions” newsletter.

But, who am I kidding? I get sucked into various discussions on the forum every day. It is easy to spend much more time on the forum than is necessary!

It also appears your attention is shifting from the forum to growing the member base of the Mystery Shopper Magazine. In the meantime, how many people are assisting you in monitoring and maintaining the forum?

Every member of the forum helps monitor and maintain it! The community is surprisingly well behaved. There are very few regular issues that pop up. The major problem is dealing with spam postings.

That being said, we have a strong community of “core” contributors who go above and beyond. We have 40 members who have posted more than 1,000 messages. Every day we get contributions from more than 100 mystery shoppers.  In addition, we have a team of around a half-dozen moderators who help delete spam and remove ICA violations. I’m very thankful for the work they put in to help the community.

I am continually amazed at the quality of the participants in the forum. There are so many insightful and useful conversations that happen. So many people have dedicated a lot of time to helping their fellow mystery shoppers. It is a wonderful thing.

Could you, please, describe a typical day in the life of Jacob Jans?

Coffee. Every day starts by making coffee for my wife, Caitlin, and myself. We recently started reading poems to one another with our coffee.

I operate several other websites, in addition to Mystery Shop Forum. Last year, Caitlin and I launched Authors Publish Magazine, which is all about helping writers get published. To learn more, subscribe to the free magazine.

The other website I operate is called “Freedom With Writing”. It’s all about getting freelance writing jobs.

This is in addition to keeping the forum running and managing Mystery Shopper Magazine.

My days are largely filled with emailing writers, programming websites, and doing the various marketing activities that keep everything going. That and harassing our dog, Ellie. (And taking her on walks.)

Aside from technical problems, what things, on the forum, make you want to pull your hair out?

I somehow manage to say pretty calm.

What’s next for Jacob Jans?

Vacation. We’re taking a short break this week to visit my family in Oregon. It should be very relaxing.

Note:  A special thanks to cindy55, elcarev68, Ishmael, LJ, Prince and StormCloud, whose inquiring minds wanted to know.

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