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Tracking Down 'Infectious Agents'

Finding the right people to create your "buzz" can be tricky. Here's how some companies have approached it.

Marketers frequently use the numbers of click-throughs and site visits to brag about the millions of people they have reached with a viral campaign. "But if they are not the right people, it's worthless," says Anne Holland, president of Marketing Sherpa, which publishes a marketing Viral Hall of Fame.

One of the keys to success in fostering so-called contagious behavior (see main article, "Beyond Viral: Using The Web To Nurture 'Contagious Behavior' Among Customers") is therefore finding the right people--so-called infectious agents--who will spread your message and help build a vibrant and sustainable community. The best agents are self-identified--the most fervent contributors to forums and message boards dedicated to a product or certain type of products.

"You have a whole bunch of people who are in there voluntarily helping other people-- staying up all night solving problems or answering questions," says Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), and author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking (Kaplan 2006). "You need to empower these super-customers, give them something to talk about via blogs, e-mails, newsletters, or private newsgroups. Make them a part of the family and give them a reason to be even more emotionally attached to the product than they already are."

In many ways, finding the right people to infect can be very labor intensive, usually starting with a Google search, and painfully following all the potentially relevant links as they spider out across the Web. "You are acting more like an archeologist than a marketer, opening up the online manhole cover and exploring the world beneath you," says Marc Schiller, CEO of Electric Artists, a word-of-mouth marketing company.

But keeping your eyes open for such people will lead you to exciting new places, says Mitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser. She points to another example of success of extreme delegation, in the tricky area of Firefox quality assurance (QA). "QA testing is extremely difficult for a browser, because it runs across the Internet in so many configurations," she says. As it turns out, there were people willing to help out.

One of the most prominent was Asa Dotzler,, the founder and now the head of Mozilla's Quality Assurance and Testing Program, which grew under his leadership from just a few contributors to tens of thousands of volunteers today.

"Asa emerged early on as a key contributor, and when it became time to hire someone, there was no question of who that would be," says Baker.

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