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The Perils of Buzz Marketing

Successful strategies for buzz marketing.

Earlier this year, General Motors Corp. learned the hard way that buzz marketing tactics can backfire big-time. The company invited customers to make their own online commercials about the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV-a campaign that resulted in a slew of negative ads about everything from the vehicle's quality to its contribution to global warming.

Peter Shankman, president of The Geek Factory, a New York City PR firm that creates buzz marketing campaigns, warns marketers to be careful when trying to create buzz. A snafu could lead people to trash your company's name all over the internet or even make your efforts sound disingenuous, prompting customers, prospects and even the media to lose interest. He advises finding people who are fans of what you do and encouraging them to tell their stories to others who will probably like what you do.

In buzz marketing, honesty is key. "If you overplay it, people will know that it's not real," Shankman says. "If, all of a sudden, someone gets a couple of recommendations about a company from people they trust, that's interesting. If they get many recommendations from people they don't know, that's probably not going to ring true." So don't encourage people to say things they don't mean or pummel your target with messages that aren't genuine.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Harmful Hype?.

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