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
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.
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:
Say nothing and let the citizen marketers have their time in the
spotlight. It’s a safe and conservative approach.
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Question: Is there a way to identify citizen marketers before they become
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.
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?
Great interview. I agree with Huba on the youtube success over google. I guess their way of serving people was just more valuable to visitors.
Thank you for sharing this story with me !
I noticed that there are two authors, yet when you put it the editorial, you suggested the respondent was Jackie. I pulled a quote out of one of the responses (out of context, but I don’t think they’ll mind), and I was wondering whether or not Ben answered that first question.
Looks like a nice book.
Ten Questions With Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell
By: Guy Kawasaki 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….
The red line was my answer and analogy. Growing up in Minnesota and playing hockey through high school, I know how hard it is to score on a slapshot from the blue line. Doubly harder from behind the red line. Next time I’m out in Silicon Valley, let’s lace up our skates!
Who shoots from the redline? Even a Hawaiian knows not to do that. :-)
Are you still playing? I’m coming to Minnesota for the pond hockey tournament in Jan.
Great interview, Guy! Thanks for sharing that with us. Looks like a very interesting book to me. I’ll have to put it on my wish list (together with the 500 other books ;-))
George, I think that may factor in this case, although as Guy has written, first-mover advantage is not always a feature or an advantage. Don’t forget that YouTube had other competitors out of the gate, including eBaum’s world, which had been around for years.
Great thoughts in there. I think the beauty of the concept of Citizen Marketers is that it doesn’t always look at money as the answer to all marketing woes. What it does require however, is lots of time, energy and effort. Also considerable skill and charisma!
This is something that will be useful for us here in Singapore to learn about. Most marketing and advertising I see are very traditional and interruption-focused, often with a blunderbuss, outspend the competition approach. I look forward to the day when our business leaders are enlightened enough to realise the power of citizen marketing!
Great post Guy and the book will be on my read list for next year.
I’m not sure about the “apology” to Google before commenting on their product though. It may come off as being intimidated by Google to some people (yours truly included).
“Who owns what they do?” What a loaded question this was!
‘What one does’ produces a lot of stuff, protected variously in the eyes of the law.
The ownership question is probably easier than other things to handle with copyright (and to some extent, patents) – through attribution and where possible, a link. The trademark question may be resolvable through disclaimers of dissociation. But in case of ‘negative’ coverage, I am sure those lawyers will not stay inside whatever cages are referred to here.. What about trade secrets? What if somebody reverse-engineers a ‘formula’ for a popular fizzy drink and then publishes the information all over? It is not ‘marketing’ arguably but it sure gives exposure. The genie would be out and no lawsuits will bring adequate recompense.
Also the ‘non-evangeliser’ is important – esp for truly ‘exclusive’ brands. They do not want the mysteries of, for instance, obtaining their highly-priced/ often highly-prized products to be discussed on the web and I think they will need to rely on their customers NOT to discuss these things. (Think why few Amex Centurion card holders discuss its value online or why Hermes does not support a Hermes scarf collectors’ club which only exists as an online Yahoo group..). What sort of incentives might be needed to ensure that, apart from the brand customers’ own pursuit of exclusivity? (Or is this a question too non-techie to raise o this blog?? A brand is a brand is a brand..)
I did not know about this book. It is already on my Christmas list!
Coming from Sweden I’m not that familiar with Hawaiian hockey…
Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell (authors of
Dan J. Boos
December 7, 2006 at 11:49 am
December 7, 2006 at 1:14 pm
December 7, 2006 at 2:49 pm
December 19, 2006 at 12:09 pm
Donor Power Blog
December 21, 2006 at 8:05 am
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Just for those who wish to acquire more wisdom from Guy Kawasaki, he will be the guest speaker at the 4th annual SEBO ENTREPRENEURSHIP SERIES to be held at Bowling Green State University on April 13, 2007. The program includes a Q&A session on entrepreneurship. For more information, contact Gorillas & Gazelles LLC at 877-874-0011 or at email@example.com or visit: www.gorillas-gazelles.com. Gorillas & Gazelles LLC is the proud founding sponsor of the Entrepreneurial & Business Excellence Hall of Fame (www.ebhf.com).
If the authors are so narrow minded about the modern web to cite American rebels and American culture for explaining (part of) the rise of user generated content then they need to give their heads a shake.
Especially given that of the three examples cited, one is entirely UK based and another (Wikipedia) is less than half English (not to mention that a large portion of the English Wikipedia was written by non-Americans).
User generated content is a truly GLOBAL phenomenon and has nothing to do with America or it’s culture – it has to do with basic human nature.
A Nod to Our Provider Community
Guy Kawasakis blog today features an interesting interview with Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell, authors of a new book called Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message. Although predominantly geared toward consumer-focused businesses, the no…
I think Comments & Rankings more than anything else is what gave youTube its competitive edge. Comments helps to foster a community, and rankings help people judge themselves within one. Thats what Google lacked, what I *really* wanna know is why didn’t Google simply add them?
YouTube and OffBrand — can you handle it?
Guy Kawasaki recently interviewed Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell (who author the excellent Church of the Customer Blog) in Ten Questions With Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell. He asked them what companies should do when people make videos about them
Guy — I’m in Chicago these days, so there’s always time for steaks and skates.