Revisiting Emanuel Rosen's 'Anatomy of Buzz'

New Edition of Word-of-Mouth Classic Harnesses New-Media Tools

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A recent survey of Ad Age readers' favorite media and marketing books credits the timelessness of a true marketing lesson: Six of the top 10 titles were published more than a decade ago. Ranking high on the list is Emanuel Rosen's "Anatomy of Buzz," a much-praised guide to word-of-mouth marketing that rode the bestseller lists in 2001 alongside "The Tipping Point" but predates the connectivity age of Facebook and Twitter -- a critical component of buzz-building today. Where most biz books would face becoming irrelevant, Rosen's chosen to rework his text to reflect today's social-media graph. I sat down with the author and his "Revisited" tome.

Berkowitz: A major section of "Buzz Revisited" is your 10 principles of social networks. No. 2 is "People link with others who are similar to them" and No. 3 is "People who are similar to each other form clusters." But your last principle declares "Networks go across categories." Doesn't that last one contradict the earlier ones? How can marketers reconcile this?

Rosen: These principles don't really contradict each other. Marketers like to build categories based on geography or demographics, but social networks can be formed around other dimensions such as area of interest. So news about a gadget that you send to people in a certain geographical area will find its way to techies around the world who are connected to the techies in that area. When thinking about segments, markets and niches can be helpful, but it's hard to know how people in these categories are linked to people in other categories.

Berkowitz: You sent us a copy of this book as a form of seeding, the process of sticking a product in the hands of those you hope will spread the word across social networks to speed up its adoption rate. (And, hey, this interview attests that it worked! Congrats!) You write that seeding large numbers of targets -- thousands or tens of thousands of people in many cases -- often delivers the biggest payoff. The launch of Rick Warren's book "The Purpose-Driven Life" targeted about 400,000 people and went on to sell 20 million copies in its first two years. Did you conduct a huge seeding push for this book? How special was I? And I don't need to feel all that special.

Rosen: The seeding for this edition was modest, so you were pretty special. We sent out around 300 copies because this was what we could afford. In promoting the first edition of the book, Doubleday sent advance copies to over 2,000 people, and it worked very well. Massive seeding can be effective, but I also point out in the book that seeding can work even if it's not executed on a grand scale.

Berkowitz: What else did you and your publisher do to build buzz for this book?

Rosen: My most memorable experience in writing the new book was a day I spent on a bus called Tootsie that runs on recycled vegetable oil and is being used by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to promote their organization and the use of alternative energy. I'll be joining Tootsie and its crew to promote "Buzz Revisited" over two weeks in April; possibly the first-ever book tour powered by oil collected from restaurants along the way. We'll stop at business schools and companies across the Midwest to talk about my new book and about NOLS's wilderness courses. Ultimately, I believe the most important factor that will determine how much buzz the book gets has to do with the book itself. This is where I spent most of my energy. The book tour and our seeding efforts are giving the book some initial exposure.

Berkowitz: How has promoting this book differed from promoting the original "Anatomy of Buzz"?

Rosen: On the one hand, it's harder because our budget is much smaller this time around. So while we could afford to advertise the first edition, we have to launch this book on a shoestring. On the other hand, it's easier because people remember the original book and are much more open to the idea of word-of-mouth marketing than they were back in 2000. Seeding has become a little easier thanks to blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Berkowitz: Have you caught Forrester Research's report on sponsored conversations? The report gives this example: "Kmart gave some bloggers a free shopping spree in exchange for a blog post about the experience -- a practice we call sponsored conversation. With appropriate protections for disclosure and authenticity, this practice will take its place alongside public relations and advertising activities in the blogosphere." What's your take on sponsored conversations?

Rosen: I can't get excited about this concept, but I can see how this type of promotion will help some marketers. Clearly it should be implemented with full disclosure and I can also see how the phenomenon is here to stay. The way I see it, real buzz starts with a great customer experience, and when you provide this type of an experience, you don't have to pay people to talk about you.

Follow Emanuel Rosen, Tootsie and the gang on their veggie oil-chugging road trip across the Midwest here. The "Anatomy of Buzz Revisited" book tour wraps April 13 in St. Louis.

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David Berkowitz is director of emerging media for 360i. He blogs regularly at Inside the Marketer's Studio.

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