Citizen Marketers

citizen marketers
Book Review
Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message.
Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba.
Kaplan Publishing, 2007. 223 pages.
Citizenmarketers.com

Mike Kaltschnee has been blogging at HackingNetflix since November 2004. Each day, he composes three to five posts about the company’s DVD-by-mail subscription business. Some 7,000 readers follow along daily.

He is one of many citizen marketers Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba portray who, collectively, affect the culture of business.

Citizen marketers are advocates who use relatively easy and inexpensive tools to create online content and to provide “unaffiliated, uncompensated work on behalf of a product, brand, company, or person.” Other examples include Dennis Lloyd, a civil draftsman, who started iPodLounge.com in 2001, and Jim Romenesko who runs the hobby blog StarbucksGossip. Because they are not paid for their work, they retain credibility.

Citizen marketers can be any age, but most are young. Having grown up with TiVo, cell phones, and video games, millennials want to interact with culture. And more broadband access means more citizen content creators. Participation is the future of marketing. Given that, participation should be added to the well established four P’s of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion).

So what does this mean for business? Your customers can form communities of interest and lead conversations about your brands and products. The authors argue that you can only benefit from working with them: “Companies are bound to reduce their risk of failure by embracing the principles of democracy and participating in established democratized forums or creating their own.”

What is the risk of ignoring citizen marketers? One influential blogger can cause major headaches for a company he or she perceives as providing lousy customer service (it happened to Dell) or damaging the environment. One influential blogger can begin a process that topples a nationally known figure like Dan Rather.

These activists are a powerful minority. Based on the authors’ research into the work of citizen marketers, they postulate the 1% Rule: About 1 percent of the total number of visitors to a democratized forum (Wikipedia, for example) will create content for it or contribute content to it. These 1 Percenters are typically well educated, highly involved, and on the leading edges of technology.

McConnell and Huba says the key is to build a community with a stake in outcomes. A community can help your company design products or services they are more likely to buy. Just check out the Threadless T shirt company, where you can submit designs, rate them, and participate in challenges.

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