Church of the Customer: Citizen marketers archives
September 04, 2007
The sale of TiVoCommunity.com
David Bott founded the digital community in 1999. Back then, it made sense to him to start a community around the digital video recorder since he'd already been running an online community for audio-video enthusiasts.
With TiVo Community now at 161,000 members, Bott sold the site last week to Capable Networks, a Chicago-based company that specializes in online communities, for an undisclosed amount.
We asked Bott to tell us about the sale and what it could mean for other citizen-created sites dedicated to brands.
Q: Capable Networks purchased the community you founded and have been running for several years. Why sell now?
A: A lot has happened in my life over the past year, one of which is health-related. Not that running TiVo Community was a lot of work, but when you consider the other communities I run plus my involvement in the audio-video industry, it adds up. TiVo Community will be better-served by Capable Networks, which has developed a business model on what was started with TiVo Community Forum. I cannot give it the attention it deserves. They can. It is a great fit, and I feel very well with the choice.
Q: What exactly does Capable get with this purchase?
A: Capable Networks received all the domains for TiVo Community, the community itself, the data, the archives, the interest in TiVo Community Store, and the license agreements from TiVo, Inc. Not to mention my thanks for its interest in working with the community along the same lines that I have set into place.
Q: Will you continue in your virtual mayoral duties and moderate the community?
A: I will be around, can't keep away. But I will act as a consultant to Capable Networks on the site itself and on other sites it operates under the same principles. The moderators that help out on the site will be staying on board.
Q: To some outsiders, it may seem a bit disconcerting that a community has been "purchased;" it's almost like saying the city of Austin was bought by a private-equity group. How have the members of TiVo Community reacted to the news?
A: Well, not quite the same really. But an interesting analogy. You need to think of it as a business regardless. If not, you will get very, very personally involved and that could be a very bad thing. Members of such sites have their own thoughts on how things need to be run. And that is fine, but they're not laying down the dollars to keep it running or putting in the time to run it. Unlike a citizen who needs to pay taxes and have a say via votes. The members can just come and go without regard to the site at any time without issue. But a forum operator can not. Bills need to be paid and thus you need to work on it as a business to fund it. If you mess up, it is all on you. Thus you do what you feel is right for the community. You have to have a passion for doing it for it to work.
As far as the community reaction, they seem fine but are of course wondering what changes may come done the road. But then again, they always wondered that. New owners does not necessarily mean major change. After all, it would not be of interest if it did not work well the way it was.
Q: Another party with great interest in the outcome would obviously be TiVo. What has its reaction been?
A: I, of course, checked with TiVo before the sale went too far into the talks. This is not something that happened overnight as we have been working on this for quite sometime. TiVo checked into Capable Networks and seemed to agree it would be good fit; Capable can bring more to the table for the members of the site than I currently have the time to do. I would not have moved with forward without their OK. We have a great relationship.
Q: How has the community changed since we first talked with you in early 2006?
A: Not that much. The site is very attractive to TiVo owners and continues to see over a million unique visitors a month. A store was added to purchase TiVo products and upgrades right from the community site. Other than that, things are moving right long.
Q: Does this sale mean there's a bright future for other citizen-created brand sites?
A: Yes, for sure. Other dedicated product sites could be of interest to companies like Capable. But I think it would come down to product type, membership size, and the number of unique visitors per month.
August 07, 2007
The customer review effect
Some new numbers on what retailers in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe say happened after putting customer-created reviews on their websites:
- 77% reported site traffic increases
- 56% reported improved conversion rates
- 42% reported higher average order values
Personally, I don't buy anything or visit any new merchant today without first locating a number of customer-generated reviews for it. Making it easy for customers to review your products on your site is now pretty much a no-brainer.
July 11, 2007
John tells us about Zuda, a forthcoming project from DC Comics that'll rely on the participation of fans to create a new, web-based comic strip. Fans will also be able to vote on their peer-created favorites.
As the Zuda guys describe it: "The one you guys like the best is the one we'll sign up for a one-year contract."
Products or categories with built-in, existing fanatical bases that probably have the best shots at fostering a participatory community. Comics are a natural fit.
May 25, 2007
Chicken Little pecks again
Citizen-created content is "stressful, costly and time-consuming"... for the brand.
That's the latest fear-mongering about citizen-created content that has wormed its way into the pages of the New York Times. As the paper did with the advent of blogging a few years ago, the NYT is following the journalistic recipe of inciting fear about subjects for which it does not understand. (I worked at a big-city newspaper for eight years and saw this wide-eyed fear writing all the time.)
Don't be too surprised if the pitch for this particular story came from the ad agency owner who's quoted in the piece. Message-creating agencies are threatened most by sharing power and influence with citizen-participants. The loss of control is threatening, but nothing will stop the democratization of participation. There's too much broadband and too many cellphones and laptops and too many people accustomed the idea of sharing their opinions. Better to accept it now than two or three years from now when an upstart gains marketshare because it embraced participation and all of its quirks.
So to the people at Heinz who are in the midst of hosting a citizen-created ad contest, ignore the noobs. Your contest is not about "creating great advertising." It's giving everyday people a voice and a vocation. Those two tactics alone generate word of mouth. Just scrolling through some of the entries I watched 10 different ads for Heinz. Isn't that the idea? Trust me, none of them harmed my impression of your ketchup.
Press on with your experiment and use it as the foundation for building relationships that bypass the black holes of sales channels. Not everything submitted to your contest is going to look polished, like it came from an agency.
Which is precisely the idea.
May 08, 2007
An animated customer experience
Recording your call with a customer service rep and sharing it with the world is one thing; recording it and turning it into an animated video takes the idea to a new level.
That's what Justin Callaway did. He's upset with Cingular Wireless/AT&T because he claims the RF interference from one of its phones blew out a $100 computer speaker on his desk. So with the help of some creative friends, Justin created an animated video that used his call with a Cingular customer support rep as a scene-setter to his four-minute movie that rips apart Cingular's service. Highlights include Cingular's animated icon guy blowing things up around town with his "powers."
There's some debate as to who's at fault with the blown speaker, whether it's Cingular or the speaker manufacturer for not properly shielding its products from interference. But there's little doubt that determined citizen marketers are going to new lengths to create marketing, or anti-marketing, about any brand, product or company.
May 02, 2007
And the winners are ...
Brands have launched a blizzard of citizen-created commercial contests this year, and several have recently wrapped up.
Let's look at the winners:
- Objective: Create a rap video about taxes and Intuit's TurboTax product
- Submissions: 373
- Winner: "It's just a breeze G" by cpulfer
- Comment: Pretty good. Almost too good. Plus, Vanilla Ice needs a speech therapist.
- Objective: Create a video portraying a "wanna get away" moment
- Submissions: 136
- Winner: "The Friend of My Dreams" by BrianKristopher
- Comment: Very funny winner. Southwest should have given particpants the "wanna get away" voiceover and image to embed at the end of their videos.
- Objective: Demonstrate how you would spend your "super sweet refund" this year and include the phrases "TaxCut Online" and "Super Sweet Refund."
- Submissions: 130
- Winner: Wanda Wannermaker's Super Sweet Tax Refund Fantasy
- Comment: H&R Block gets points docked for not allowing winning video to be embedded
These three contests from well-known brands generated an average of about 200 entrants. It seems the benchmark for these kind of citzen-generated contests still is the Converse Gallery with 1,800 entries.
New contests to watch:
- Heinz: Create your own Heinz Ketchup commercial
- NBA: Show the NBA your best moves
- NBC's Today Show: Create a video about why you deserve a vacation [to promote the latest "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" series]
April 23, 2007
Flip This Lawsuit
Fans of the A&E TV show "Flip This House" were dismayed to discover that the show's stars, Richard Davis and Ginger Alexander of Trademark Properties, were evicted for the show's second and third seasons.
Oddly enough, Davis -- a developer who buys distressed properties in South Carolina and rehabs them for a profit -- was ejected from the show he had created. Good ol' creative differences led to the split, but Davis is suing.
Before social media, this may have been a dispute largely handled by lawyers and PR reps hoping to sway public opinion through traditional media. But law school student and citizen marketer Mark Lyon is demonstrating how the game has changed. A "Flip" fan, Lyon created the Flip This Lawsuit blog as a Filter to chronicle the legal battle between A&E and Davis. Fans have been voicing their support for Davis and venting dismay at A&E. Commentors regularly trash the show's new real estate teams. Some are even digging in to their backgrounds and raising questions.
Some fans say they have blocked A&E from their cable boxes and refuse to watch any of the channel's shows. Lyons has posted the contact information of A&E executives so fans can further vent.
Undeterred, Davis created a new show and sold it to Discovery's TLC channel. It debuted last week.
April 12, 2007
Confessions of a B-school citizen marketer
Positioning is a marketing facade that paints a picture idealized by the marketer, not necessarily the customer.
OwenBloggers.com is one of the antidotes to positioning. It has the inside scoop on Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management. Isaac Rogers sent us this note about the site's founding; we thought it was so great that it's practically its own case study of why content and media created by the experiences of customers, or in this case students, can easily trump the stories dreamed up a marketing group.
The idea of customer evangelism is one that business schools in general just don’t get. Before my classmates and I were admitted to Owen, we stood on one side of a vast curtain; on the other side was the actual experience of business school. On the side where we stood, we were afforded only peeks at what would transpire once we were actual in the program. The glossy brochures the Admissions department sent out gave many of us the same impression; they were pre-packaged, made-for-public-consumption marketing vehicles that only told a very small fraction of the actual story.
About a week after being at Owen, a group of three first-year students were talking about how different the experience was from what we had imagined. Even though all three of us had done our research on schools, talked to current students, and met with admissions staff, we were still shocked by what we’d eventually be doing in business school. Our experience was that we were shocked in a good way; Owen was so much more than we had anticipated, we were being challenged so much more, we were having altogether unexpected and better experiences.
Owen exceeded all our expectations--- why? Why didn’t we know this?
Why didn’t admissions paint the right picture? Why did they leave so much of “the good stuff” out of the equation?
We realized the answer immediately; it was impossible for the admissions staff to tell that story -- only current students could. Only current students could capture all the emotion, the hardships, the challenges and the achievements you experience in business school.
We knew that if more prospective students saw the whole picture, they would be able to make more informed decisions about their 2-year investment. We knew if more people knew the depth of the Owen experience, more people would put Owen on their list than had done so previously.
Within a week of this revelation, OwenBloggers.com was born. We’re now a group of 17 current students, 3 admitted incoming students, and alumni, all writing constantly about our experiences here at Vanderbilt. We’re not an official club, we’re not in any way officially tied to Owen. We are just die-hard, dedicated Owen evangelists. We work hours and hours each week (on top of our hectic MBA course load) to write, update, and syndicate our pages to thousands of viewers per week.
Our idea is simple: Tell it all. Tell the good. Tell the bad. Tell the unexpected. Let every prospective student know EXACTLY what they’re in for. We feel better information makes better informed consumers.
The response so far has been overwhelming. Very overwhelming. Every prospective student I’ve talked to said OwenBloggers has made a difference in their decision. We receive emails every week from people all over the map: recruiters, students, faculty and alumni telling us how much more they’ve learned about Owen because of our site.
Jackie, you’re right on target. Customer Evangelists are the volunteer sales force every organization has, but few have the guts to mobilize them.
Hey universities and alumni groups, here are your new storytellers.
CM update: Thomas Middleditch
Thomas Middleditch, the big-sunglasses rapper in the funny citizen-created "McNuggets" ad we profiled in "Citizen Marketers," is now an ensemble member of Improv Olympic, the comedy troupe that has been the launching pad for people like Tina Fey, Amy Pohler and Vince Vaughn.
One big benefit of living in Chicago is easy access to the world's aspiring comedians. We ran in to Thomas last weekend before he hit the stage with a small troupe of comedians in a totally ad-libbed Shakesperean-style play at Chicago's Improv Olympic. It was truly an amazingly funny, even poignant, performance.
Thomas told us he'd recently been signed to a development deal with Brillstein-Grey. Expect great things from him in the future.
April 07, 2007
The 7 Minute Sopranos
Two 20-something fans of the show distilled 77 prior episodes into a manic and hilarious 7-minute video and uploaded it to YouTube. It's a spectacular example of citizen marketing from everyday people who also have a keen sense of tongue-in-cheek fun.
The New York Times gave the montage a glowing review and asked Sopranos' creator David Chase to weigh in, too; he gave his blessings. Now that it's been made, if you will, by the series' godfather, HBO is smart to let the clip accumulate views and commentary on YouTube.
Via Lost Remote.
UPDATE: Virgnia Heffernan, who wrote the original review of the video in the New York Times, now says that the video has a tie to HBO. After the review was published, she found out that one of the "fans" is actually a full-time freelance editor who works for HBO. He claims he put the video together in his free time, and HBO claims they weren't behind the video. Who knows the truth, but it certainly taints the work as not that of an independent fan.