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« On the Edge with Seth Godin | Main | Much Ado About Buzz »

May 06, 2004


Peter Caputa

I am gonna have to respectfully disagree with you on this one, Katherine!

I have been a bzzagent since it started up. I actually bought the copy of Fast Company just because of that article. Yet, I haven't whole-heartedly participated in a campaign yet. (I did participate in one to see how the system works.)

For the average bzzagent, the work required to receive the incentive is not insignificant. This has kept me from participating.

Plus, participation is optional in each campaign.
There haven't been a lot of campaigns that have interested me. I am sure there are people talking stuff up just to get free stuff, but it is probably the minority. Most people are probably genuinely interested in the product.

I think it is a widely held belief that buzz must be natural. There is obviously 'natural' buzz. But, I also think there is a need to buy seed 'buzz'. Godin talks a lot about sneezers, connectors and salesman as those people that can seed and accelerate buzz in his book, 'Ideavirus'.

But, I don't think that every company with a good product, has access to those people right off. So, especially for one-time, short-lived items like books and new services, that bzzagent promotes frequently, buying 'buzz' in the beginning is a good tactic.

In fact, I believe 'Free Prize Inside' was promoted through bzzagent... as a way to seed the spread of his book. It is not much different than you receiving an advance copy and hosting Godin for a day on your weblog. Not sure whether you got the book for free? Even if you didn't, you are getting paid by the free association with Godin and the extra traffic that the Book Blog Tour sent you.

Katherine Stone

I know what you're saying Peter, and I appreciate your comment. I guess, for me, the difference is that I've already put myself out there to everyone as a commentator on marketing issues. So I hope I've already established myself as someone who speaks the truth even though I did indeed get a free advance copy. I just wan't sure whether friends and associates of bzzagents always know their friend is actually a bzzagent. And that feels a bit deceiving to me.

Peter Caputa

I got ya. Disclosure of the Value that the bzz agent receives is the issue. It is a hidden agenda. Deceitful might be a strong word. But, bzzagents are actually instructed not to be forthright about the fact that they are bzzagents.

I hadn't looked at it that way. That's an excellent excellent point!

Do you think if bzzagents were forthright about the fact that they were receiving a free sample in exchange for taling a product up, that they'd be as succesful?

Dave Balter

Well, I figured I might as well jump in here. You're bringing up many of the concepts we grapple with every day at BzzAgent, Katherine. We certainly are conscious that there is a fine line between natural Bzzing and Bzzing that is prompted through campaign involvement. I did want to clarify a few things, though:

1) We never tell BzzAgents to not be forthright about the fact they're BzzAgents. That's just plain wrong. As a matter of fact, we make it clear that it's their choice. Evidence of that is the fact that most of our new Bzzagents are people who have been Bzzed, and the concept of Bzzagnet comes out in the communication.

2) We do our very best to keep our population of BzzAgents honest. We never pay cash, and never script anyone, in an effort to reduce any "pay-to-say", shill type efforts. We also review each and every BzzReport submitted to us, and reply individually. This means we're able to identify anyone we believe is being dishonest. Every Bzzagent has an associated credibility rating, and you can imagine how we use that. Finally, the biggest evidence is that most agents never redeem a single point for a reward. Almost 75% have never redeemed a point at all. Truthfully, this wasn't the intended scenario for our service, but it's amazing how it's turned out.

3) Finally, the BzzGuide. Yes, we provide agents with tips, strategies and concepts for Word-of-Mouth. This is structured to help people who have an honest opinion, share it in an effective way with others. Sometimes people don't get a chance to try or pay attention to a product they might really like - there's just too much noise out there to see it all. The question is, if you were given the opportunity to really look under the hood of some of these products, would you form a strong enough opinion to create natural Word-of-Mouth. That's what we seek to capture.

Long and short, I'm hearing you, loud and clear. Our team is really, truly trying to find the best process for capturing this medium, and your commentary and point-of-view certainly helps.

Dave Balter
Founder, President

Bill Doerr

Interesting comments from Katherine on down. I'm a Bzzagent -- and my motivation was not the 'freebies' which are more a courtesy recognition than a substantial value (i.e. I'm involved in Seth Godin's Bzz campaign but I'd already ordered his book and paid my own funds for it . . . so there! '-)

I find the machination of word-of-mouth to be nothing less offensive than sending an employee to graduate school for an MBA so my business can be the beneficiary of that learned competency.

I also find the fact that someone is actually creating a means of accessing a most potent medium -- the opinions of others -- to be both novel and rather intriguing.

Katherine, you raise some good questions but the facts seem to suggest that rather than being a source of Machiavellian manipulation, BzzAgent is really just another tool for helping products or services and consumers get together in an efficient manner.

Finally, I personally tell the people I come into contact with all about BzzAgent . . . I think it's a great idea, apparently well run and serves a key function. That Dave Balter found a way to create a business out of it suggests that there is a need and he's found a way to address it rather nicely.

Arnold R. C. Seefeld

Indeed very interesting this discussion. I think, BzzAgent has in a way, even when it wasn't that much wanted or planned, a good amount of real Mouth-to-Mouth Marketing going on because of the agents who really like the product their promoting. Like Bill Doerr who works in the Free Price Inside Campaign after having bought the book. I do definitely agree with Katherine, that Buzz only can be produced by people, who really like the product and want to talk about it, in fact who are evangelists. But it seems that BzzAgent has a lot of this type of people. Congrats :-)

Peter Caputa

The article is online now.

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