Hire Your Customer

Hire your customer. Bring them into the fold. Put them in PR, development, sales and customer service. Vacuum every voluntary offering you can get from them. Engage them, listen to them, excite them.

Web 2.0 is about people, communities and coming together. This has many faces whether it be open source, social networking or viral marketing. The old model was about very structured channels and processes around communications. It was top down and started at the company and pushed its way down to the customer. Sometimes, the customer even communicated back if they could find a way.

Fortune ran a great article on viral video  recently which laid out the strengths and issues with viral marketing, especially video. They discussed the Smirnoff Ice Tea video which has been viewed more than 1.3 million times. This exposure is worth millions of dollars and creates personality around your product. The caveats are somewhat obvious: no one knows what makes one video a hit and another a flop, you don’t have control over where or how it gets consumed, you lose some of the spin control.

I have been a big fan of open source for a while, going back to before our guys funded SugarCRM. Open source is really about a battle of communities. Each segment has its various projects, each vying for the attention and engagement of the development/customer communities. At some point, one of the projects begins to pull away (MySQL, JBoss, SugarCRM) and the movement is off and running.

I love Neuros guys here in Chicago. Collin Anderson and Joe Born are scrappy, creative serial entrepreneurs whose latest effort has resulted in the Neuros MPEG4 recorder which has the media companies all twisted up. They have opened up the code and released it as an open source project for users to hack and contribute. They say on their site:  "We created Neuros to stand for three things: openness, community, and innovation." Kinda sums things up nicely.

Some of customers they hired:
Development: they sold 25 alpha units (literally couldn’t record without crashing) online to their developers who then tested, hacked and pounded away at it. Not only did this help refine and bullet-proof the product, developers also came up with a variety of hacks for product features they had either not thought of or had the time to focus on.

Development part2: they offered Neuros bounties to their development community for very specific features that customers had asked for.

PR: they went to their community and select sites like Gizmodo to drive attention. In seven days, their blog coverage had over 200 dedicated blog posts on just the release of their beta product. Not big by Google or Apple standards, but large on the basis of a start-up with a niche product. Some of these sites have 10,000’s of readers.

QA: they sold 250 beta units to their community for beta testing to get any remaining bugs out. In addition to generating loyalty and evangelists, they are also getting paid for voluntary QA.

Each business is different and many obviously aren’t candidates for open source or social networking. However, the companies that are going to scale exponentially, like Youtube, leverage community to fullest. So, go out and hire your customer…