The Role of Evangelist For Web 2.0 Companies

How do web 2.0 / consumer web app-ish type companies generate buzz for their free product or service online? Online promotions? Email blasts? Pray to be TechCrunched?

I’ve seen an increasing number of companies do all this and one thing more: hire low-cost "evangelists" to sit at a computer all day and talk up their company’s free service.

Imagine if you had one person whose sole purpose in life was to personally reach out to potential users, surf blogs and message boards and comment favorably about the company’s service, and attend MeetUps and informal confabs. While this might seem like generic marketing or sales duties, in a web 2.0 word, it’s a different personality: it’s a single person with a friendly face do one-on-one marketing with influential bloggers or podcasters.

The economics aren’t necessarily obvious: Pay someone $30-40k a year to be an evangelist? How do you measure success? I don’t think you easily can. But it seems like many companies are at least giving it a try…with the hopes that with enough critical mass they, too, can reach the tipping point that Twitter seems to have hit at the South by Southwest Conference.

11 Responses to The Role of Evangelist For Web 2.0 Companies

  1. krishna says:

    It’s pure spamming than evangelism and bugs me no end.

    Very soon we’ll realize what is she upto since *leading* pseudonyms (“startup.com” says….etc)are often used. I delete those comments as they show up on my mail/blog and vow never to visit that site no matter what it doles out.

    I prefer viral marketing any day.

  2. Tim Taylor says:

    While I understand the concept of evangelism, I think it’s silly. It seems to me that if an idea is good and a company is solid, its customers will evangelize it and it will survive.

    Did craigslist need to hire an evangelist?

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    Fair point Tim, but I think at the very beginning some companies need to jump start the viral train.

  4. krishna says:

    Ben,

    Appointing someone for a fee to sit around and spam away, unmindful of the receiver’s proclivity is not “viral marketing”. VM aims to optimize ROI for the advertiser by precision advertising on a targeted segment. The so called `evangelim’ is indiscriminate carnage online, which is counter productive and induces annoyance.

    VM could be defined as “word-of-mouth enhanced and delivered online, as a positive comment flowing from a delightful user experience, or any means of contextual advertising intended to infect another interested, wilful user [normally thro tag capture]”.

    Google adsense is a good example.

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    I never said anything about spam. Good evangelism is engaging in communities where people are talking about your product, and reaching out to targeted prospective customers.

  6. krishna says:

    “I’ve seen an increasing number of companies do all this and one thing more: hire low-cost “evangelists” to sit at a computer all day and talk up their company’s free service.”

    What do you call that ???

  7. I agree with you, Ben, that this type of role can be very valuable. I think it needs to be a complete mindset for everyone in an organization, though (with the “we are all marketers” attitude). This is especially true for the CEO / founder of a web startup. Since transparency is the norm for web businesses these days (or so we’d like to think) the CEO needs to be the biggest fan of their product / service. If s/he’s not, it shows, and offloading that role to a low-cost employee probably won’t work.

    I would also caution the “low-cost” part. While a high-energy person early in their career can be a good resource, this person needs to be highly competent and able to be the communications conduit between the web audience and the company. The role isn’t just to talk-up a service, it’s to listen to the users, understand their needs, and effect changes back in the company. A powerless evangelist won’t be very successful.

    Finally, on that note, it can’t always be positive, it has to be real. If a blogger flames your site because of an actual problem, your evangelist should take the heat head-on and address it. Several panels at SXSW addressed the long-term benefits of engaging the negative buzz directly to help win over customers (zappos, flickr, etc.).

  8. Ben, being that I’m one of these evangelists that you speak of, it’s interesting to read the comments of your readers on this subject. I’m completely new to the world of tech and evangelism but was hired because my boss liked my people skills, my enthusiasm and my background in communications. He basically told me to reach out to bloggers and try to get the word out about Lijit. That’s really all I had to go on when I first started.

    So, in order to understand bloggers better, I began to blog myself. From there, I just started wandering the blogosphere, reading as many blogs as possible, trying to figure out where our service fit in and how best to communicate with blog authors. I don’t feel like what I’m doing is spamming, although others may disagree. It feels more like old-school marketing with a new-tech twist. Translating word-of-mouth to web 2.0 can be challenging at times, but I’m figuring it out as I go along.

    I agree with Brian in the need to be real. I welcome all conversation about our service and the negative feedback is often more useful than the positive because it helps us to figure out ways to keep our users happy. Honesty is key in delivering any message and I find that it’s also the only way to connect with people. Fortunately, I work with a team of talented people who are fantastic evangelists in their own right. They make it easier for me to ask questions and make mistakes.

  9. Pingback: CrunchBack

  10. CrunchBack says:

    Perhaps there should be a post on the Top 10 Rules for Web 2.0 Evangelists. I’ve put mine up at http://www.crunchback.com.

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