My closest readers (I love you so much) will remember my Snap review from May 17th. In particular you'll remember how I subtly indicated my enthusiasm for their blog/community marketing contest:

Snap's blog/PR efforts are HIGHLY NOTABLE in that they're bringing LOTS of great ideas together in once place. I haven't done search-one in the engine yet (ok I have now, but I wrote this section first) but I'm flipping out on their blog.

At that time Snaps/IdeaLab's PR maestro Stephan West contacted me and offered me an interview with Snap CEO Tom McGovern. Stephan perhaps didn't realize my, um, profuse writing style.

I whipped up a few questions (640 words worth of questions) and shot them off.

Now, two months later, I've revised my initial questions (trimmed them down to 389 words) and leveraged an interview with Tad Benson, the brilliance behind that blog contest I raved about. Tad is, perhaps in the truest sense of the word, a search engine marketer ;)

And, while I'm still eager to read what Tom McGovern has to say about Snap overall, I'm very excited to give you Tad Benson's community marketing strategy for

**the concept**
Please outline the architecture - and reasoning behind each piece - of this contest/effort.

The background was this:

As a start-up, Snap's marketing philosophies needed to reflect the company's economic realities as well as the massive competitive environment of launching a new search engine.

Snap came up with five guiding philosophies before setting out to create a marketing and launch plan for 2006:

  1. Can't spend dollar for dollar with the big search engines.
  2. Get the community involved. Can't advertise AT or TO Snap's audience. Need to make them interested in the Snap story and become willing evangelists.
  3. Use singular idea/concept and deliver it through all media used. Our goal must be to imprint that Snap is "The other way to Search™."
  4. Creativity is king. Snap's potential audience significantly appreciates innovation.
  5. Be incredibly flexible and fast afoot. Sense, adapt, and respond is Snap's planning mode.

Suffice it to say that we knew we couldn't launch with a huge budget in order to take on the big guys, so we needed to get people buzzing about us and about what makes Snap different.

We wanted to engage the blogger and search aficionado community to get them trying Snap and get their feedback, and then ultimately (and hopefully) get them to tell others.

As to the architecture, check out the diagram below (the webcast isn't going to be a webcast, per say, but it looks like we're going to do more of a hosted video thing – stay tuned for more on that):

What do you call this effort internally? Is it community marketing? Blog marketing? What?

Not to be funny, but we called it the Snap launch. Internally, we just knew the components: get the search engine right, do a press tour, launch the blog, plan and execute the contest. But it's really an interesting philosophical and business question that many of the top minds out there are talking about.

Marketers who are going beyond top-down-bombard-your-prospects marketing (or at least supplementing that traditional marketing), call it conversational marketing, marketing 2.0, open source marketing, Cluetrain-inspired marketing, etc. There are a lot of labels that reference the nuances of what's going on. Why? Because business people are trying to come to terms with what it means.

If you boil it down to its essentials, it's talking to people as human beings (not walking targets), having a real and real differentiated product or service, encouraging people to try it out, getting feedback and making improvements, and then keeping that cycle going. The extreme opposite of that is to rush a half-baked product out the door and spend millions on advertising.

The people this "postmodern marketing" (if you will allow another label) speaks to have been immersed in the Internet for ten years now and feel empowered to get better information faster and to make their own decisions.

It is much more difficult to get your traditionally-advertised brand to infomediate for these people (who as a group -- dare I say segment -- are getting extremely large). It seems as though these people want to decide for themselves, not let some ad campaign tell them what to do. So they seek out that dialogue, that information, etc. in order to make informed decisions. Take political ads for example. We see so many of them and we've become so cynical to them that we discount them all together. To me, they've become campy entertainment. But look at how politicians are trying to use the blogosphere after Howard Dean.

With all that said, however, I'm not a fanatic. I don't think traditional advertising media will die any time soon. If budgets allow, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I think companies need some level of advertising, depending on their objectives and markets, and some level of conversational channels.

Sorry for the long diatribe!

How did the concept develop? Was it a eureka moment or did it gradually build? What was the concept-building process like?

Yes. It was completely concept-building with a bunch of little eureka moments along the way. We started out having a brainstorming meeting with a lot of Snap people, including Bill Gross, and the senior team. We were coming up with creative ideas for what to put inside banner ads.

We then started going down other paths and getting beyond banners and paid search and talking about dialoguing with users. We were familiar with the "Wisdom of the Crowds" book and philosophy and as I said before, we knew we couldn't outspend the big guys, so eventually the group headed down the path of doing a blog and asking users to send us their ideas.

We figured they could come up with some wildly creative stuff if we were willing to give up a little control.

What was the hardest part of the initial execution?

Not enough resources. We're a small company building a world-class search engine. The team didn't have a lot of resources to put onto the blog. Jason Fields, the person I call our "Chief Blogging Officer" is amazingly talented with blogs and design, so he was pulled off his regular UX work, plus Joey Nelson, a top-notch programmer and QA guy was enlisted to write code for the Word Press blog. Joey wrote the very unique digg-style voting mechanism.

What was the easiest part?

Getting senior management to buy off on the program. I thought that would be the hardest part, but the senior team consists of two pretty visionary people: Tom McGovern, CEO and Fred Walti, COO. Not to mention Bill Gross and the Board, of course. They all were on board right from the start.

Now that I've kissed the requisite butt....But seriously, they moved mountains to make it happen in a short time.

What unexpected issues came up during execution - how did you resolve these issues? One very interesting issue came up. People were using the contest launch idea submission function to submit feedback and feature request ideas. Even though we had a feedback link which spawned an email form, and even though we take email feedback very seriously, people either wanted more of a spotlight or they were confused about how to give feedback.

So we decided to go with the flow. We clarified the post submission process and allowed people to choose contest idea or feedback, and either way the posts would end up on the blog as posts, not buried in comments or in email. We changed the color of the feedback posts to a blue tint and the contest ideas a green tint.

It became a multi-purpose blog with three threads: 1) standard company blog posts; 2) contest launch idea posts; and 3) feedback/feature request posts.

The feedback posts were great for us because they also allowed others to post comments to them, and we wanted to get a digg-style voting mechanism on the feedback too, but we ran out of time.

Setting up a blog this way could be great for other companies too. It's like integrating a forum right into your blog. Allowing your user community to then voice their opinions in comments and in the voting buttons allows the company to get even more forms of feedback and learning.

What are you measuring to judge the success of this marketing project?

Prior to the Snap launch, Snap the search engine was functioning in a pre-enhanced version of itself, and no PR or marketing efforts had been done in so long that traffic was low and flat. How much we could make that traffic go up with this kind of launch was anybody's guess.

If we had gone a traditional traffic acquisition plan by buying banners and other traffic distribution, we could do the math and get our clicks, but we knew we needed to do more than intercept clicks. We needed to get in the 2-3 search engine decision set.

The company obviously has business model metrics it is aiming for, but we knew we were going to have to take the long-term view. We knew right from the start that Snap would have to gain traffic by gaining fans who would repeatedly use the search engine and who would tell others.

Both actions keep traffic high and traffic acquisition costs down.

How have you segmented data from your blog marketing effort? (links from *types* of pages? links/mentions from blogs vs. news sites?)

Truthfully, we are not focused on getting that granular on the blogosphere-generated traffic at this time. I can tell you, though, that there were over 1,000 blog sites linking directly to

**crowd wisdom**
How will you determine contest winners vs. marketing ideas you actually use?

The launch contest and the user-submitted ideas are only one part of Snap's marketing for 2006. More on that later, of course, but it's important to note that this blog contest isn't sitting there by itself like a one-trick pony.

There's much more to come and it will be in the same spirit.

In order to pick the ideas that will be executed, we'll take a look at the next phase of Snap's advertising and see which ideas fit best into that campaign. The ideas also need to work within the tone of Snap's brand, and of course, have the best shot at driving more Snap fans to Snap in the most cost-effective manner.

How many ideas were submitted? (I'm seeing 174)

Yes, 174. With 3,200 votes.

How are you mining and leveraging the base of ideas you got? How are you categorizing them for future reference?

It's still too early to tell which ones we'll use now. We have isolated the top 25 that we think have potential. Some we may do now, some later, and some none at all. We're taking a bit of a play-it-by- ear approach.

What would you do differently if you could start over?

We'd start out with the contest ideas submission and feedback submission separated right from the start and we'd add a voting mechanism to the feedback posts.

We'd also probably try and reach out to more bloggers at the beginning.

What would be your top three tips for another company attempting a similar effort?

  1. Have a good and differentiated product or service – if it's bad or boring people won't talk about it – so don't bother giving people a forum in which to talk;
  2. Make sure your management team is on board and sees the vision;
  3. Have experienced technical and blogging folks like Jason Fields and Joey Nelson (the two people I mentioned before) – if you're a traditional marketer making his or her way into this realm, you will need help.

what are the 3 biggest surprises you've had so far (unexpected cool stuff)?

Not sure exactly what you mean, but my favorite ideas came in early and may have been buried by others so they received few votes.

I'm a big fan of creating a creative API contest among developers and that idea only received 1 vote.

who do you read for good ideas?

The best ideas come from being mentally all over the map and then tying things together and/or building on them.

When I have time I skim about 50 blogs, mostly marketing oriented. I like to read books. I recently read Robert Scoble's book and a book on word of mouth marketing.

But now I'm reading a British work of fiction by an author named Patrick Neate. I often find the "business porn" magazines inspiring (Fast Company, Business 2.0) although they often make me feel like a business failure because all of my work experiences can't be so great. ;)

what is your favorite show?

Nice. I'll have to take a look. ;)

WOW! Thanks Tad!

I think there's some great stuff here and I hope you all found his tactics interesting and useful to your marketing efforts. I know I did ;)

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

June 28, 2006

Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., and co-creator of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset, which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most important part of link building: relationships.

Search Engine Guide > Garrett French > Snap Interview: a Search Engine's Community Marketing Tactics Explained