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Beyond Viral: Using The Web To Nurture 'Contagious Behavior' Among Customers

Leveraging the Web to get customers to do free product marketing and design work for you might sound like a dream come true, but you might not have the belly--or the luck--to succeed at it. Control freaks need not apply.
But the idea of giving up control is so daunting that most organizations might not be able to even consider it, says Mozilla's Baker, who has tried to come up with other ways to frame the discussion.

The phrase she came up with, "extreme delegation," takes the idea of trusting one's colleagues and subordinates with appropriate responsibilities--which has long been recognized as a hallmark of good management--and pushes it to the nth degree.

This can be scary, she admits. "In my own case, people in our community do things that I wouldn't do--or don't even necessarily like," she says. Still, because they share a common goal, "I joyfully hand over control to them." (See related article, "Tracking Down 'Infectious Agents.' ")

She points to Mozillazine.org, one of the earliest Firefox fanzines. "One day, it just appeared on the Web, and it did for our project something we'd never been able to do, which was collect all available information and commentary about our products in one place," she says. The value of the site was its independence. "I would read things that I wish wasn't there or wouldn't have put there, or that didn't tell the story I wanted to tell," says Baker. "But in order to have editorial control, we would have lost all the rest of the benefits."

Indeed, just like the way that open-source software has changed the landscape of how software is created, contagious behavior has the potential to serve as a marketing model for businesses in a broad range of industries, says Always On's Seidner. "It could change the way products are designed. It could change how marketing campaigns are conceived and implemented. It could change how corporate funds are allocated, and how IT interacts with business units. And it could radically alter the way that companies think about targeting ideal individuals to sell products and services to."