Citizen marketers take control of marketing

October 1, 2006


“You are your Google results,” says author Jackie Huba.

Huba’s point, despite all of the controlled media we marketers place--from television and print ads, to direct mail drops and cleverly concocted publicity stories--they can all come to naught if we fail to recognize the impact of citizen marketers and consumer-generated media (CGM).

She cites a recent situation facing Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. where former Entertainment Weekly Editor, Jeff Jarvis, grew disappointed with his computer and after-sales service and support.

Says Huba, “Jarvis has a widely read blog called BuzzMachine. He had a terrible experience with a Dell laptop. He paid extra money for a better product and better service. The computer didn’t work and Dell couldn’t fix it.”

“Jarvis wrote on his blog that ‘Dell sucks,’ that ‘Dell is scamming us.’ He continued for several days even writing an open letter to Dell management on how they are duping consumers. The story got picked up around the blogosphere and by news outlets all over the world,” Huba says.

“He coined the term ‘Dellhell,’ ” Huba adds. “If you look online, you are going to find thousands of references.”

“Dell had to respond and commit to invest in customer service,” says Huba’s co-author, Ben McConnell. “They launched a blog, and they signaled to early adopters and buzz spreaders that Dell is listening.”

Adds McConnell, “The people creating content online are contributing to a word-of-mouth jet stream. It shows there is true power that can be created by one person online.”

Marketers need to recognize the balance of power is shifting. In the 1960s, Procter & Gamble 30-second TV ads enabled product managers in Cincinnati to completely control the messages consumers heard about their products and brands. No longer.

With the rise of citizen marketers and consumer-generated media, product managers need to keep abreast of what customers are saying about their products and brands and respond nimbly to quell disturbances and capitalize on opportunities.

What is consumer-generated media? According to Huba and McConnell, “CGM is anything created by an amateur; a blogpost, a podcast, an animation, a video that is posted on the Web and spread by social media.”

Huba and McConnell set out to explore this terrain in their new book due out in January titled Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message. It’s a must-read for corporate executives who care about the way the newest forms of media will affect their companies.

The co-authors chronicle how Dell, Paramount, Logitech and others succeed or flounder at the hands of citizen marketers. They also set out to guide corporate marketers on how to handle this new reality. They even define four categories of citizen marketers they label the “four F’s.”

They point to Fremont, Calif.-based Web cam manufacturer Logitech Inc., which capitalized on the efforts of a 17-year-old girl named Melody, who goes by the screen name Bowiechick (because she likes David Bowie) and posts videos on YouTube.
“She’d talk about the features of her Logitech QuickCam in the videos,” says Huba. Logitech noticed that sales of Web cams spiked when Melody’s videos appeared. They quickly formed a partnership with YouTube to capitalize.

“She wasn’t a plant and she wasn’t a shill. She was what we call a firecracker. She just exploded into YouTube culture and it cascaded,” says Huba.

Los Angeles-based Paramount Pictures Corp. wasn’t as savvy as Logitech. A fan was excited about the upcoming appearance of a new movie about the Transformers. According to McConnell and Huba, “The fan runs a well-read movie blog. He got a few postings with clips from the upcoming film. He was a big advocate and evangelist. Paramount got nervous and sent him a cease and desist letter. They went to his Web host and shut him down.”

When he got his Web site turned back on, the fan was angry and started blogging about Paramount’s action. According to Huba and McConnell, it picked up steam. Paramount recognized the mistake and tried to mend fences, but the damage was done.
McConnell’s advice, “Control is gone. Anyone who thinks about suing or sending threatening legal letters is wrong. Threatening is like pouring gas onto a forest fire.”

To understand this new world of consumer-generated media, McConnell divides citizen marketers into four categories: filters, fanatics, facilitators and firecrackers.

Filters: Filters are people who set up aggregated news sites about a brand, a product or a company. There are filters sites set up for Starbucks, Netflix and Disney.

Says McConnell, “Filters are constantly searching for stories out on the Web that interest them and their readers. Readers are participating with the filters and sending them links to blog posts and traditional media stories.”

Adds Huba, “They are almost amateur analysts. They aggregate every story that comes out about the company and its products.”

Fanatics: Fanatics are people who live and breathe a brand. They get into what the brand is doing really well and not so well.
McConnell describes them as “like a parent. They try to guide the child brand in the right direction--to do right by the customers.”
He points to bloggers for Barq’s root beer and Target stores. “There’s a woman who blogs about Target because she loves the brand,” McConnell says.

Huba points to blogger fanatics who saved HBO’s Deadwood series from an early grave. “They raised money and put ads in Variety and got the show to finish the fourth season,” Huba says.

Facilitators: Facilitators use online forums and bulletin boards to build a community around a product or brand.

“They can become the de facto customer service site for your product,” McConnell says. He points to, which supports users of the Palm Treo and to, which supports users of Apple iPod products. Both are independent sites.
“The TiVo community has more than 120,000 members,” McConnell says. “It’s an amateur creative site.”

“Each of these sites is facilitated by a person or a small set of people who are like the mayor of a small town. They deal with the issues you deal with as the mayor of a small town. Sometimes you have to ban people from the town,” McConnell adds.

“Generally they are filled with excited people who want to come to a central place and discuss everything there is to discuss about a product.”

Firecrackers: Firecrackers are unpredictable one-hit wonders like Jeff Jarvis and Bowiechick. Huba and McConnell call them firecrackers because their work explodes in buzz and then dies out pretty quickly.

Says Huba, “There was a Web video of the Comcast service representative who fell asleep on the couch. It made over 151 media outlets around the world.”

“You saw the AOL cancellation tape (where the service AOL representative refused to let the customer cancel). It was featured on the Today show and Nightline. Those occurred because the firecrackers had technology at their fingertips. They were able to capture a customer experience and post it to an online distribution site that had worldwide reach.”

At a time when Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert promotes his show by asking viewers to post videos to the Web and Wal-Mart explores the power and impact of blogs, Huba’s and McConnell’s stories of citizen marketer are timely.

Now, where’s my Web cam?

Michael Krauss is a president of Market Strategy Group based in Chicago, and can be reached at or


 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners