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Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell are the co-authors of Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message. Their first book was called Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force. As business advisors and speakers, McConnell and Huba have worked with
Starbucks, Microsoft, Whirlpool, Discovery Education, PBS, and the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting. They are also the authors of the award-winning Church of the
Customer blog

  1. Question: What inspires people to create digital content?

    Answer: We think there are three reasons: The first is that the people
    who helped build sites like Wikipedia, TiVo Community, or Mini2 aren’t part
    of mainstream culture. They’re what we call the “1 Percenters,” the people
    who live at the edges and are different than from 99 percent of the world.
    Our research for the book led us to create the 1% Rule, which states that
    about 1 percent of a site’s total number of visitors will create content for
    it. The 1 Percenters flout cultural conventions. Americans love rebels,
    therefore the 1 Percenters often become the influencers of American culture.

    The second reason: Their work is a hobby. Hobbies are fun, certainly, but
    hobbies can be viewed at a deeper level as an extension and reflection
    of one’s identity. Hobbyism grants one the permission to consider their work
    as recreation while subconsciously it works as ideological re-creation. It
    replicates the skills of the workplace and adds value that may often be
    lacking from it. Their content is their production.

    The third reason is the sense of community. We’re not talking cities but more
    like extremely large families that scale. It’s easy for other hobbyists to
    find one another. The human need to bond with something is strong, even if
    it’s with a commercial entity.

  2. Question: What should companies like Coca Cola and Mentos do in reaction to
    the videos their products are in?

    Answer: There are three different ways to respond to amateur grassroots
    efforts like that:

    1. Say nothing and let the citizen marketers have their time in the
      spotlight. It’s a safe and conservative approach.

    2. Use your company website or blog to point to the citizen marketers in the
      spirit of “what people are saying about us.” This opens the door to ceding
      control, and that’s a good step. Just remember that citizen marketers don’t
      follow instructions. This approach requires company spokespeople to have a
      sense of humor. That wasn’t the case with the Coke, whose spokesperson was
      quoted in the Wall Street Journal as scolding people for not drinking their
      precious beverage!

    3. Quickly build a program around what’s happening. It can be beneficial but
      also tricky because it can taint the grassroots nature of what’s happening.
      Keep it simple. The “firecracker” nature of something like Diet Coke and
      Mentos has a short half-life. Better to openly solicit ideas from the people
      or community involved and keep it simple. Follow the lead of the community. And keep the company lawyers locked in a cage.

  3. Question: Why did YouTube succeed over Google Video?

    Answer: We suspect the primary reason is something you’re pretty familiar
    with: entrepreneurial focus. YouTube’s mission was itself. Combine that with
    a bucket of venture capital to pay bandwidth bills, and YouTube had
    tremendous advantage. The Google Video product team probably had to navigate
    the political minefields of a big company with multiple products.

    Second, YouTube won because of a vitally important theme: It
    democratized data. YouTube made user data transparent while Google Video did
    not. YouTube exposed data like numbers of views, comments, referrers, as
    well as most popular referrers, most popular videos, most popular channels,
    etc. That data helps YouTubers gauge their own popularity and allows the
    larger community to measure relative popularity, too. Google did none of
    that out the gate. It democratized data using a piecemeal approach, and it
    didn’t set any standards along the way. YouTube set all of the standards.

    The third reason was a great user interface. Simple, intuitive and elegant.
    With apologies to Google, the UI for its video product was clunky, confusing,
    and inelegant.

  4. Question: What’s more important: appearing frequently on the front page of Digg
    or achieving a spot in the Technorati 100?

    Answer: Neither. The total number of subscribers to your blog is the most
    important measure. RSS is the paperboy to an opt-in mindset. Great
    subscription numbers means someone is creating valuable, important or
    entertaining content—or all three).

    To use a hockey analogy, trying to get on the front page of Digg is like
    taking a slap shot from behind the red line

    [I think she means blue line, but I digress…] and hoping to score. It’s highly
    unlikely unless you’re damn good and very lucky. The “Digg Effect” is great,
    but it’s short-lived. A few days at best. Subscriber numbers is a better
    indication of how well you’re connecting with the larger community over the
    long term.

  5. Question: How long do you think MySpace will remain hot?

    Answer: It may already be cooling. Use Alexa to compare the growth of
    MySpace and Wikipedia since 2005 and you’ll find nearly identical reach
    until the summer of 2006, when Wikipedia kept growing while MySpace
    flattened. It’s not over for MySpace, though; members who have invested
    significant time into decorating their spaces and building a network of
    friends won’t easily abandon the service. Like any hot business, it’s bound
    to cool off. As long as it doesn’t pull an AOL, it will remain a cultural

  6. Question: Why do citizen marketers proselytize the companies that they love?

    Answer: Some people innately like to help. They want others to know about a
    brand, product or company and share what they’ve experienced. For others,
    it’s about status. They like being an expert about a brand or company and
    therefore demonstrate their knowledge by talking about what they know.
    Finally, others just like to connect with others who are as crazy about a
    brand or company as they are.

  7. Question: Who owns what they do?

    Answer: So far, most companies have been smart to keep the trademark lawyers
    in their cages when citizen marketers create fan sites. And for the most
    part, most citizen marketers have been smart to unequivocally declare their
    independence from the companies they cover. But who owns what has yet to be
    resolved. Lawrence Lessig proposes a joint ownership agreement, similar to a
    Creative Commons license, and that makes a lot of sense. We imagine some
    form of a template agreement will arrive sometime in 2007 as the number of
    user-generated and citizen-created sites reaches critical mass.

  8. Question: How do you plan to get citizen marketers for your book?

    Answer: We’ve followed two principles in thinking about this: First, word of
    mouth is most efficient when it’s designed it into the product, service or
    brand at inception, not just at launch. Second, ideas grow in value the more
    they spread.

    When we coined the term “citizen marketers” in February 2005, we did so on
    our blog, almost two years before the book arrived. That spread to a number
    of bloggers, who’ve adopted it as a content category. Some point toward our
    posts on the subject when talking about the content category. When we
    started writing the manuscript about a year ago, we invited readers of our
    blog to join a peer-review group. People from around the world signed up,
    and their feedback was truly invaluable.

    A number of them have since
    become early promoters of the book because we gave them a stake in its
    formation and ultimately, its outcome as a guidebook to what’s happening
    culturally and its effect on customer relationships. Finally, we are
    outsourcing our book tour to our evangelistic blog readers. Called “40 Talks
    in 40 Days
    ,” we will go anywhere in North America during 40 specific days in
    2007 to deliver a one-hour presentation in exchange for 200 books and
    travel expenses. Evangelists for social media have been the first ones signing up for
    the book tour. So far, about more than half of the dates are taken.

  9. Question: Do you think that because something like “Dell Hell” occurred,
    other companies will work to prevent the same thing happening to them?

    Answer:Dell Hell” was the Great Chicago Fire of online customer
    commentary. Jeff Jarvis’s posts about his laptop lemon spread so fast and
    ignited kindling of discontent in so many disparate quarters that its
    lessons are a textbook case for companies on the importance of customer
    communications. At the time, Dell did not have a corporate blog and no way
    to respond to the online conversations. The number of companies starting
    corporate blogs continues to grow, and that will help them get out in front
    of future crises.

  10. Question: Are citizen marketers more effective at calling out bad things or
    promoting good things?

    Answer: It depends on your definition of “effective.” Citizen marketer
    “firecrackers” like Brian Finkelstein, who shot the video of a Comcast
    technician sleeping
    on his couch, fomented a lot of negative Comcast buzz
    but beyond that, not much happened. On the other hand, the Kryptonite
    bicycle lock-picking
    video cost that company millions of dollars in revenue.
    Kryptonite survived and moved on. The nature of “firecrackers” is that they
    create a lot of noise and commotion but typically for a short time.
    Therefore, we’d say positive citizen marketers are more effective – they’re
    in it for the long term, helping snowball word of mouth and building
    momentum for a product, brand, company, or person.

  11. Question: Is there a way to identify citizen marketers before they become
    citizen marketers?

    Answer: On a regular basis, companies should be asking customers, “Do you
    recommend us?” That helps quantify evangelism. Those conversations should
    also include discovering how many customers have their own blog, podcast, or
    community site. The heavy users of social media are the most likely to
    create content, and the top 1 percentile of evangelists is the most likely
    to become citizen marketers.

  12. Question: Last but not least: How could you write a book about citizen marketers and not cite me
    or my books even once?

    Answer: But you were such a superhero in our first book! No matter what,
    you’ll always be the godfather.

Nice try, guys…do you own a horse?