So: Congrats are in order to Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, authors of Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message. It’s a thoroughly researched book that provides many examples of ordinary people who
volunteered their time and energy either on behalf of or against a product or service. That it touches on recent, consumer-generated pop cultural phenomenon, such as Snakes on a Plane (here and here)and Lonelygirl15 (here and here) gives it currency.
On the other hand, one of the challenges of the book is that it also feels almost entirely axiomatic. But I’m going to proceed cautiously here, because I want to be fair. While much of the book seemed familiar, I want to step back and try to look at the book from the position of someone who’s not as deeply involved in social media as am I. With that said, let’s assume that the McConnell and Huba indeed wrote the book for all of those people who are just now visiting MySpace for the first time. And, believe me, there are a lot of people in that category.
So, if I were part of that group, what would some takeaways be?
Citizen marketing is going on all around you. Empowered by access to
digital production and distribution tools and a broadband connection,
your neighbors, friends and family members are making their brand
- Should brands embrace citizen marketers, particularly if they’re
supporters or evangelists for the brand? I think so. However, as the
authors point out, corporate reactions to citizen marketing range from
full-fledged support to completely ignoring the community that’s
formed, all several points in between. At best, this is a
short-sighted, head-in-the-sand approach.
- Those brands that do embrace these communities can reap considerable
benefits. McConnell and Huba provide several examples of companies
that were able to integrate the feedback of an active and engaged
constituency into improved product design and service delivery.
Most interesting to me is the idea that this “collaborative
citizenry”—if leveraged properly, delicately—could function as an
“early warning system” for the company, one that can help it spot
trends and cultural innovation that are heading its way. This is
particularly important, given the increasing need for marketers to be
better in tune with popular culture. The authors put it like this:
. . .the Threadless [an online t-shirt company] model of
collaborative citizenry could make it possible for a company to create
a more reliable forecasting system for choosy customers. It could more
accurately gauge demand for trendy products. It could create a
trustworthy source of repeat purchasers. It could help identify a
lemon before it becomes a lemon.
If you’re further interested in this book and its subject, I encourage
you to check out the authors’ blog, Church of the Customer.