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Mozilla a peer-to-peer marketing pioneer

It used to be called viral marketing. But the new iteration of creating buzz online and via email has been personalized and updated to capture customer information.

You could say Mozilla is one of the first peer-to-peer success stories of the Internet age. Pioneers of open-source development, its Internet products, like the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email utility, were created and are still being enhanced by a dedicated community of users. So it was natural for the company to extend the community concept into marketing.

"The idea was to take open-source practices out of the technical group and into other parts of the organization," said Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's community coordinator. Mozilla has a membership of approximately 175,000 registered users who contribute ideas and promote Firefox in unique ways.

"Community members take it on themselves to celebrate Firefox," he said, referring to a program called Spread Firefox. For example, Oregon State University students recently launched a weather balloon with the Firefox logo to celebrate 50 million downloads. Users from Stanford University customized Firefox into a "faith browser" that includes a toolbar with Bible verses and promoted it to church groups. It's not just an excuse to get free labor, it's about giving members the opportunity to be involved.

"People are taking small ideas and running with them," Dotzler said. "They are coming up with ideas that show their passion and loyalty to the product." @23967

Dotzler said three things have made Mozilla users connected to the brand. First, the company is a nonprofit, and its sole purpose is to answer the question "What's the right thing to do for customers?" Dotzler explained. "We really have built a product with users in mind. We're stakeholders in the success of users."

Second, Firefox is free, so users appreciate the product. Third, and most important, Dotzler said, is that people are looking for a community -- a place to be part of a social group. What keeps people so involved is that they can see the fruits of their labor both on the technical and marketing side, and it's making a difference. Its latest campaign is Firefox Flicks, a contest that invited users to submit television commercials to be aired. The guidelines were broad: Create an ad based on your passion for Firefox. Dotzler expected about 50 to 75 entries. He received 280 and members voted on their favorites.

Where will the winning submissions air? That's up to the user community, Dotzler said. Mozilla will ask users what they think may be the best places for the ads to appear.

"We want users to feel involved from the beginning to the end of the process," he said. "The most important thing for a community is not to be too controlling." Not many companies want to give up marketing control to users, for fear of a backlash. Dotzler said so far in his experience, the pros outweigh the cons. "When users are involved something magical happens, and the enthusiasm comes across in a genuine way."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide.

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