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The buzz builders
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When a consumer signs up to be a BzzAgent, she fills out a questionnaire that gathers information such as her age, household income, the types of products she typically buys, activities she enjoys and who does the shopping in her household. BzzAgent then uses that information to help marketers find BzzAgents who fit their criteria. For instance, Tesco focused its Easy Home Bake line campaign on Tesco shoppers who enjoy baking, but who also often purchase convenience items. It then sent the roughly 3,000 BzzAgents who fit those criteria coupons for free items from the line. The Tesco BzzAgent campaign costs roughly 60,000 pounds ($91,780).
BzzAgent gives the shoppers it selects for each program talking points about the product. In the Tesco campaign, BzzAgents received recipes that called for them to adapt the new line's products—for instance, using the Easy Home Bake pizza dough to make a calzone. BzzAgents are asked to enter details about face-to-face conversations, such as who they talked to and what they discussed, on a campaign web site operated by BzzAgent. That site also serves as a portal where agents can post to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, along with blogs. BzzAgent then tracks those BzzAgents' actions so that it can give Tesco regularly updated metrics on what consumers are saying across the web, as well as how many consumers see its agents' posts.
In the course of the eight-week campaign, which ran from April to June, more than 399,000 U.K. consumers saw at least one BzzAgent message on a social network or blog, or talked with a BzzAgent about the products. While Tesco can't isolate the BzzAgent's influence, sales for the line during the campaign rose 7%.
The results a retailer sees depends largely on who the retailer can coax to talk about its brand. Just as it is important to have the right people with the right skill sets in a retailer's marketing department, merchants have to find the right people to talk about its brand and products.
Working with content marketing firm Stunt & Gimmick's, home furnishings and bedding manufacturer and e-retailer Jennifer Adams Home used two social influence scoring services, Klout Inc. and PeerIndex, to identify potential brand ambassadors. Both Klout and PeerIndex assign consumers who register a numerical score based on variables such as how many friends and followers they have and how many people interact with the content they post on various social networks.
Jennifer Adams and Stunt & Gimmick's searched Klout and PeerIndex using keywords like "home decor" and "interior design" to find consumers who were considered influential in the home decor space. They reached out to about 50 bloggers, some of whom didn't know the brand but were interested in developing a close relationship with the retailer, and after initial conversations trimmed the list down to about two dozen.
While the retailer doesn't pay the bloggers, it does work with them on promotional giveaways, which helps boost the bloggers' traffic and exposure, says Jennifer Adams, the brand's president. The bloggers receive the merchandise for free. The bloggers, in turn, agree to occasionally retweet the brand's posts and reference the brand.
On Twitter, Jennifer Adams Home often retweets its bloggers' original posts, and the bloggers do the same for Jennifer Adams Home. Those retweets help build a following.
Jennifer Adams Homes also uses Twitter lists, a tool on the microblogging service that enables the retailer to organize the handles it follows into categories like "home design reporters," "mommy bloggers" and "influencers" to see what people are tweeting about on the social network. By spending time listening to what people are talking about and what gets them excited, the brand can figure out when and where it can add to the conversation. "That makes for a more genuine conversation," Adams says.
Finding ways to spur real shoppers to spark real conversations—even if they're prompted—enables retailers to get word out about the brand in a less promotional, more genuine way, says Duane Reade's Peters. "It adds a different voice to the conversation."