Book Review: Citizen Marketers

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba provide plenty of examples of how people like you and me are changing the face of marketing in their new book “Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message.” The book is cram-packed with stories of people who have created their own ads for a company simply on account of being a fan of a product. Or how enthusiasts have created online communities where they and people like them can trade stories and tips. Or how dis-satisfied customers have done irreparable damage to a corporate reputation by sharing with their online audience a bad experience they’ve had.

McConnell and Huba touch on a few key points. First, people are sometimes so moved by their love of a product or company that they are motivated to create their own pseudo-marketing content as a way to express that. Second, people are always seeking out a community of like-minded people and, if one does not already exist, they’ll create their own. Third, customer service is no longer a closed loop between a company rep and the customer. Now bad customer service experiences wind up online for all the world to see. Fourth, a company that knows how powerful their community is can achieve great things, as long as it never forgets that community has the potential to crush them if they start making missteps.

To amplify those points and show just how important it is for companies to monitor what the community is saying about them, companies need to remember a few things:

1) Google never forgets and it is an impartial tool, remembering both the good and the bad.

2) The tools that allow people to broadcast their opinions and enthusiasm have never been more prevalent, cheaper or easier to use.

3) Google loves those prevalent, cheap and easy to use tools.

4) Every company needs to figure out how to engage the people using those tools.

By giving examples of enthusiastic self-publishers such as Mike at HackingNetflix, the guy who runs TiVoCommunity and the two Jakes who run Threadless, Ben and Jackie hammer home the fact that not only are non-marketing people now largely responsible for corporate communications but that these people are creating companies of their own based on a new idea. Mike doesn’t know everything and so looks to the community to tip him off to things. The TiVoCommunity is based around the idea that people contributing to a hive-mind can help everyone enjoy their TiVos more. And Threadless lets members decide what shirts get made by running weekly contests. When was the last time you heard an old-fashioned marketing guy admit he didn’t know the answer to something?

Ben and Jackie hammer home the point that, whatever the motivation, citizen marketers are a powerful and influential group so often and so well that, quite frankly, you’d have to read the book with a sort of willful ignorance to not be moved to some sort of action after reading it.

Just make sure it’s the right sort of action. The book offers examples of companies that fully engage, only do so privately and then disavow that action publicly, offer grudging acknowledgment or ignore completely. It makes me shake my head when I read about the latter three. I don’t get non-engagement. I just don’t.

If you take the opportunity to read Citizen Marketers and really absorb the lessons Ben and Jackie have to offer I’m sure you’ll shake your head at companies like that as well, even if yours has been one of them in the past. And if you want even more lessons on how to do this sort of thing right make sure you’re reading their Church of the Customer blog on a regular basis.

The best thing I can say about Citizen Marketers is that it should be on every marketing practitioner’s desk. That way, when a nervous boss asks why they should engage and embrace the consumer-generated-content being created they can offer this book up as evidence. It offers a counter-argument to just about any skepticism.

It should be noted that I participated, albeit in a small way, in the book. Ben and Jackie put out a request looking for people to read rough drafts of some of the book’s chapters and offer suggestions and comments, a request I was more than happy to respond to. There were a dozen or more of us who did so, including fellow Viral Community member CK and others and we’re all given shout-outs at the end of the book. That’s a great idea they had and certainly goes a long way in showing just how much they believe their own preachings.

Thanks to Ben and Jackie for allowing me to participate in the shaping of the book and for providing a review copy for my perusal.

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