My column in Ad Age

Advertising Age published my opinion piece this week talking about the similarities between public relations campaigns of the past and blogger-based marketing campaigns of today.

The techniques you use to influence the influencers really haven’t changed all that much from the tactics that worked with mainstream media. It’s just that the audience has different motivations. Once you understand how to influence these people, you can build a groundswell of favorable opinion that is impossible for the mainstream media to ignore. See examples.

Author Jackie Huba on Citizen Marketers

Citizen marketers: respect them, engage with them and make them your fans because they’re defining the message about your company and your products.

That was the message from Jackie Huba, co-author of Citizen Marketers and Church of the Customer Blog, who addressed the Social Media Cluster of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council this morning.

Jackie offered lots of examples of how individuals are influencing markets through blogs and online video. Here are my lightly edited notes from the meeting.

Who are citizen marketers? The content they create is actually branding for the companies they talk about. One reason we use this term “citizen” is that we see a link between this new media and the Bill of Rights. There’s a freedom to speak and a freedom to assemble.

Fernando Sosa and Thomas Hilditch of Chicago met at Second City because they were aspiring comedians. Their funky McNuggets video. “McDonald’s Nuggets by Fernando and Thomas” has been a viral hit. The funny thing about this was this was almost an accidental citizen marketer thing. They were going to perform one night and came up with this rap. The friends thought it was so funny that they recorded it, uploaded it and it got over 100,000 views. If you’re McDonald’s, that’s fabulous publicity.

Cell Block Tango is a homebrew video that’s had over four million views.

The blog came out when Obama announced his presidential candidacy and 70,000 people signed up in a week. There are 2,400 self-selected groups but it was created by people, not the campaign.

Podcasting is another phenomenon that not taking off as quickly, but research is finding that heavy radio listeners are listening to traditional radio less. NPR gets over 2 million downloads a week. With podcasts, there can be comment around the content. Now people can collaborate around the content and have a discussion. You can’t do that with radio.

George Masters – in November, 2004 he was a vocational school teacher in Southern California but very interested in graphic animation tools. He created an animation about his iPod. Wired magazine picked it up and starting writing about a home-brewed iPod ad, saying it looked professional. The New York Times picked it up from there and then CNBC. It changed George’s life: he got an offer from a graphics animation firm and that’s what he does today.

Brian Finkelstein posted a video of a sleeping Comcast tech on YouTube and six days later, the Times picked it up. The Comcast tech was fired, but the big question for Comcast is why was the guy on hold for 90 minutes in the first place?. Go to Google today and type “Comcast technician” and the entire first results page is about the video.

Let the seller beware. If you have a bad product or service, the consumer has the microphone.

Mike Kaltschnee of tried to get on Netflix’s press list and received a brush-off response, which he posted on his blog. When Netflix realized how influential he was, the company did a 180 and how treats him as it would a member of the mainstream media.

Jim Romanesco runs (subtitle: Monitoring American’s favorite drug dealer). He’s a Poynter institute journalist who does a lot of work at Starbucks. He’s actually scooping the media on some things. When Starbucks recently had some bad earnings, the company blamed it on new products that were increasing wait times. He posted about this and store managers began to contact him to say they had told the company eight months ago that this was going to happen.

Jackie spoke about a category of publishers she calls “the fanatics:” is a blog by a 28-year-old mother all about Target. She writes about great new products and generates sales. People actually go out and buy the products that she recommends. Target ignores her. Why?

Rabid fans of the soft drink Surge launched a website called to try to rally support for a campaign to bring back Surge. They called themselves soda activists. They weren’t successful, but Coke did start to test a product called Vault. People were contacting the authors saying that Vault was a lot like Surge, so the group started to encourage Coke to go national. Coke eventually complied. Today, if you type “vault soda” in Google, nearly all of the links are to SaveSurge and VaultKicks fan sites.

There’s another category she calls “the facilitators:”

Paul Mullett runs, a site for Cooper Mini enthusiasts. Last July, a mystery ad started running, inviting people to visit the site at midnight on a certain date. It turned out that BMW had given the site operators and a few other journalists a preview of the 2007 minis. At midnight, the site posted photos of the new mini to an enthusiastic crowd.

So who are these people?

We found that these people perceive these activities as “productive leisure.” For them, it’s a fun outlet to communicate with other people who love what they love. It’s a bridge from what they do in real life to their passion.

You might think that this is a lot of content. But there’s something we call the 1% rule: most of the content is created by only 1% of the visitors.

Microsoft’s Channel 9 is mostly created by people within Microsoft. They have 4.5 million visitors a month and only 11,000 contributors.

QuickBooks community has 100,000 monthly visitors but only 900 people who create any content.

It may be only 1%, but that 1% is very powerful.

How do you take advantage of this trend?

Reach out to your fans. Last week, TurboTax partnered with Vanilla Ice to get people to create raps about taxes. People are actually doing it!

Another successful example is Converse, which asked people to create videos about their Chucks sneakers and upload them to They got 1,800 submissions and Web traffic rose 66%. Sales doubled in the months after the videos ran.

She cites the Chevy Apprentice campaign as an example of a viral campaign that didn’t work. Environmentalists hijacked the campaign and it spread into mainstream media. GM’s problem was that they didn’t reach out to people who loved the product. They just enabled people to be nasty. Reach out to your evangelists, the people who love what you do. Try the contest.

Invite co-creation. When Shakira’s latest album didn’t sell well, her record company took one of the songs – Hips Don’t Lie – and asked people on her fan site to contribute videos of themselves dancing to the song. They got thousands of submissions and the song became a hit. Was the video the reason? Probably not, but it was a great marketing campaign to use fans to be part of what was going on.

Create communities. Discovery Channel has a little-known division called Discovery Education that targets professional educators. You can download images and video to bring a PowerPoint to life. Teachers love it and Discovery Education has 70% market penetration in schools. But awareness among teachers was low. So Discovery Channel decided to invite educators to join a program – the Discovery Education Network – that gave teachers the opportunity to come to a program to learn more about how to educate with these tools.

Discovery also launched the Discovery Educator Network where anyone could register, get a blog, join a discussion group, exchange presentations and materials. They’re attracting people who love what they’re doing.


Any comment on Viacom’s decision to sue YouTube/Google?

These clips are the new 30-second ads. CBS is one of the top channels on YouTube. Some big media companies get it and others don’t. CBS gets it.

There seems to be a total breakdown in use and abuse of a brand. What are the implications?

There are some rules that protect consumers from using brands, such as parodies. iPodMyBaby had to change their name to iPopMyBaby. If you go to my blog, you’ll find some brands who are sending cease-and-desist letters to fans. One movie company got the bloggers to actually take down a blog. It’s a confusing time right now.

How did you write a book with your significant other?

Ben has a journalism background and I have a marketing background, so it worked great. He did a lot of the background and I interviewed a lot of the citizen marketers.

What do you do if you’re a regulated company?

A lot of this hasn’t been sorted out. I was talking to a company last week whose lawyers were very concerned about starting a blog. One side argued that the blog was a personal opinion but others were saying it was company communications. There are a lot of CEO bloggers but can’t think of any in regulated industries.

How about ROI?

A lot of it has to do with word of mouth. Fred Reichheld has done a lot of work to say what percentage of a customer base would recommend the product to others. He comes up with a score he calls the net promoter score that measures the value of loyal customers. A lot of people are doing this just because they need to learn about it. I would measure subscribers to your content, people who want to hear about you every day.

How do you get the budget?

We’re seeing a lot of companies not budgeting for this. That’s one reason we see so much interest in contests; the money comes from the promotions budget. A lot of companies are discovering that the value of the campaigns is traffic to their websites.

What’s the next big thing?

I have no idea! How do you predict the next YouTube? All I can say is that the next big thing will relate to participation.

Why most viral video is stupid

Bulldog Reporter‘s Daily Dog has an exceptionally thoughtful and well-informed article on the viral video craze that lambastes marketers for trying to add in viral buzz after a campaign has already been created. Author Andrew Foote’s point is that anything that doesn’t look genuine will be savaged by the community – and rightly so. He cites some excellent examples. If you’re a marketer trying to get a handle on the viral phenomenon, read it.

How ubiquitous media will change our lives

Andrew Gumbel eloquently analyzes the implications of ubiquitous media in this essay in The Independent. Already, citizen media is roiling the law enforcement world as crimes – and police responses to them – are captured on camera phones. From George Allen’s “macaca” comments to Michael Richards’ racist heckler-baiting, indiscretions are no longer secrets and they can change lives. This is still a nascent trend but it will become much bigger as the technology spreads. There’ll be a billion camera phones worldwide in a few years.

Be sure to scroll to the end of Gumbel’s essay for a nice list of viral phenomena from 2006.

A YouTube Kodak Moment

A viral video has made its way out of Kodak and become one of the hottest clips on the Web. In it, a dignified, white-haired speaker starts by extolling Kodak’s contributions to photography and our culture but then morphs into a ranting maniac, raving about the great work the company is doing in digital photography.

It’s funny, but also remarkable for its self-deprecating humor. The clip includes several references to Kodak’s early failures to get into digital photography and the opportunities it squandered. Its honesty reflects favorably on the company. Kodak says the video was prepared for internal use and was never meant to be seen by the public. The company has gotten an inadvertent image boost, though, by admitting to its past mistakes and making fun of itself. Good show.

Blendtec's appealing videos

I hear marketers ask all the time how they can engage with their audiences and build “buzz” in new media. Check out what BlendTec is doing. The company makes mixers, blenders, mills and other appliances that chop stuff up. They took a cue from Letterman and posted a series of videos in which they grind up things you didn’t think could be ground up (like golf balls!). It’s a lot of fun to watch and it reflects very favorably on BlendTec because the videos really show off the power of the appliances.

So think: what do you do that’s really remarkable? How can you demonstrate that with new media and build awareness virally? Blendtec is an example of a company whose product most people consider a commodity using Web 2.0 media to look different.