Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Make like Mozilla...with viral marketing

If you want make like Mozilla, it helps to have a compelling product that's a good value and solves an annoying problem. It also helps if you trust your users, and arm them with the tools they need to spread the word.

That's what Asa Dotzler says, and he should know. As community coordinator of the Spread Firefox project for Mozilla, he's been one of the innovators of open source marketing.

Dotzler, who spoke Sept. 21 in Palo Alto, Calif., at the Third Thursday meet-up, first got involved with Mozilla as a volunteer beta tester. His avocation turned into a career.

Compelling? Well, Firefox offered something the dominant browser, Internet Explorer, didn't -- a solution to those annoying pop-ups.

A good value? Well, free is a pretty good.

The result? A lot of people tried it, liked it, and told their friends. (Hey, that's how I heard about it. Thank you, Steve Greene!)

The next step, Dotzler said, is to help your users spread the word.

For example, when positive comments started appearing in blogs about Firefox, Dotzler asked one well-known blogger who'd said he liked the new browser to put a "get Firefox" button on his blog. The blogger agreed. So he asked more bloggers -- about 100 of them -- and within 24 hours, 85 of them had put up a button.

It was working, but it took a lot of time and effort to identify and contact all those bloggers.So they asked Firefox users to help automate the process. Several volunteered and worked together to make it happen.

"You need to put it in their hands," he said. "Let them be that engine."

It was also a Firefox user who suggested asking fellow users to raise money for an ad to celebrate shipping Firefox 1.0. They gave themselves a month to raise the needed funds, but they got twice as much as they needed in just two weeks. So they decided on a two-page ad in the New York Times, with one page listing the names of everyone who'd helped to get Firefox off the ground, and one offering user testimonials about what makes Firefox special.

Dotzler said the ad initially created just a small uptick in Firefox users...but, as the ad itself became news, those numbers kept growing.

Recently, when Mozilla put out a call to Firefox users to create some 30-second ads, it got 280 submissions...about five or six times as many as they'd expected. Of those, Dotzler said, about 60 were broadcast quality and five were truly "top-notch." He hopes Mozilla will be the first open-source company to run a user-made ad.

The best way to go into a volunteer project like this is without any preconceptions, Dotzler said. Otherwise, you tend to end up with token attempts at user the recent Chevy "make your own ad" web promotion. Those kinds of efforts can backfire, he said, like the Chevy promotion did when some folks found ways to create negative Chevy ads out of the promo clips Chevy provided.

A better example, Dotzler said, is CurrentTV, which requires advertisers to let viewers to participate in creating advertisements. The result, he said, has been ads that offer an authenticity missing in most commercials today.

It's really hard to fake authenticity, he added, so why not let your users take the lead?

P.S. For college students looking for internships, Dotzler noted, "You don't have to ask Mozilla for an can just come in and do it, and get credit for what you've done." Dotzler said he writes lots of letters of recommendation for college students who've worked on Firefox.

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