Every industry has them and you probably know a few in your sector. They are professional connectors, people who know everyone in their industry and seem to have their hand on the pulse of what’s happening. They help people find jobs, make deals, form book partnerships, and so on. They know about emerging products and services before anyone outside the development teams and certainly long before many in the press or industry analysts get wind. Those folks consider the connectors trusted sources.
In the Blogosphere, the Connection King is Buzz Bruggeman, and no one who has met him has ever wondered why he’s called ‘Buzz.’ He works rooms at tech conferences, keeps an ongoing email dialog with scores of people, each of them influential in their own way, totes a bag filled with an array of the latest beta devices and software for distribution to friends and industry insiders. In the case of this book, he connected Microsoft’s Andy Ruff who thought of it and its two authors. He’s likely to have been that “informed source” in a recent tech-related article. In short, when you really want to know what’s going on, what’s hot and what’s not in the PC industry, Bruggeman is the go-to guy.
He’s giving by nature. But there is strategy and thought in his generosity. He’s CEO of ActiveWords, a highly regarded software utility that lets users take all sorts of neat little navigational and productivity shortcuts. Sources close to the company estimate there have been about 100,000 downloads, although Buzz won’t confirm it, but he does estimate that Activewords has spent less than $15,000 on marketing since it started. He also says that according to the customers they’ve talked with, blogging has played a role in about half the downloads and has contributed to the company’s abundant national press coverage, including the New York Times, and has significantly contributed to a couple of large OEM deals currently in serious talking stages.
This is all true, despite the fact that Bruggeman by his own estimate is no uber blogger. He posts to his two sites a few times a week rather than per hour as more famous blogosphere denizens like Doc Searls. Searls has described Bruggeman as a “C+ blogger and an A+ blog reader,” a description Bruggeman finds apt. The point is that you don’t need to spend your life posting and answering comments for blogging to help your company. Bruggeman knows how to get the Blogosphere to work for his company and this has proven to be wildly effective for Activewords.
Practicing as a career real estate and trial law, he followed his tech passion into a startup in 1997, when he became one of three ActiveWords founders, playing a key role in raising $1.6 million in venture capital in Winter Park, Fla. far from the mainstream paths for venture investment. In the spring of 2001, he realized that his team really didn’t know much about marketing software. “I decided we’d better figure that out fast, as it was my friends’ money that was funding the company.”
The company wanted press coverage, particularly product reviews more than anything else, but it had no money for a PR agency or even to professionally finish its website. “We needed to start getting people inside the industry talking about our products,” he recalled. Bruggeman determined to figure out an entry point, but it was difficult to get the notice of traditional journalists and emailing download links to product editors just didn’t work. In short, Buzz needed some buzz.
He started spending an increased amount of time attending tech conferences and hanging out where tech community influencers could be found.At about that time he started tuning into blogging. “What struck me early on was that technology coverage had been unleashed from the confines of traditional journalism. In the traditional media, I couldn’t easily get to the guy who wrote the article and talk with him about it. But, I was impressed that I could get to the most influential bloggers. When I reached out to Doc Searls and Dan Gillmor they responded.”
Bruggeman’s instincts told him the most direct route to success for Activewords was through the blogosphere. “I’d always been aware that there’s an incredible desire on the part of people to create and be heard and have a voice. Blogging was water behind the mother of all dams, just waitng to break through. I set out to build relationships with the other bloggers. I tried to figure out what their passions were and I began to funnel stuff related to what I thought interested each of them.”
Searls told him, he needed to be writing and posting so he started Buzzmodo. At PopTech 2001, he teamed up with author-blogger JD Lasica to blog about the conference. They both had ulterior motives. JD was interested in interviewing speakers and would then send notes over to Bruggeman who edited and posted them. JD wanted a justification to access these people would for his book—Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation and Bruggeman wanted to earn a free pass into the conference. “The results, for that period, were phenomenal. Every time we posted something, we’d get about 200 hits, two-thirds from people outside the conference.
This started a trend, of conference coverage that would greatly expand over the next few years, changing the nature of conference participation in which the audience not only became more participatory, but extended from their venues and around the world.
Bruggeman would play a more significant role in a later conference. As Dan Gillmor recalls in his book, “We the Media,” Joe Nacchio, CEO of Qwest a telephone company with a near-monopoly hold in several states was on the dais of the prestigious PC Forum complaining about difficulties in raising capital. Searls and Gillmor were reporting on it live and in near real time via their blogs. After observing in his blog that Nacchio had gotten “seriously” richer while his company’s value ebbed, he and Searls received email from Bruggeman in Florida:
“Ain’t America great” Bruggeman wrote sarcastically attaching a hyperlink to a Yahoo Finance webpage showing that Nacchio had cashed in more than $200 million in stock, while his company’s stock price was headed downhill. … I immediately dropped this juicy tidbit into my weblog with a cyber-tip of the hat to Bruggeman” and Searls did likewise,” wrote Gillmor. The event’s host, Esther Dyson would later write, that “around this point the audience turned hostile.” Apparently, the room was filled with people surfing online and following the two bloggers. Sitting 2000 miles away, Bruggeman, not only remotely contributed to the course of event, but to the future of a CEO he had never met. Nacchio was already in trouble with his job, but after PC Forum, he found an edgier and more hostile press and would be ousted not long after. Gillmor wrote that he considered the
event watershed to people understanding the power of blogging.
Bruggeman cites Mostly McGeeauthor Jim McGee with one of the ideas that explains blogging’s power: Bloggers, according to McGee are the intelligent agents that tech tried and failed to produce with software that was supposed to go and fetch useful information for users. Except bloggers are human and they run around the Internet finding all sorts of stuff and share it interactively with whoever chooses to look for it.
Bruggeman recently questioned in a post if Microsoft had ever intended its Outlook software would become a platform upon which 3rd party developers would build, hence leading to the instability of Outlook as an application. Within days, more than 20 comments were posted by individuals, who by his description, represented “some of the industry’s smartest people, who piled on ideas of how the question I posed was right or wrong. Without a blog, I would never have had access to that kind of intelligent capital. It’s like every blogger can hold an interactive symposium.”
Bruggeman has learned a good deal about what’s effective on a business blog. For years, he had mixed in his industry and Activewords commentary with his impassioned, left-leaning political views. One day a reader posted a comment: “I love your product. I hate your politics, and I will pray for you.” Bruggeman spun a new blog out of Buzzmodo, called Buzznovation, which gave him a venue to air his sometimes controversial thoughts on anything not related to Activewords. He also takes care in Buzznovation blog to only mention ActiveWords directly in about one in four postings.”
“Direct promotions or company commercials, just don’t work in blogging, and people will be smart to avoid the temptation,” he advises. Blogging really is the glue that allows people to tie great ideas together."
Most observers would agree Bruggeman’s two blogs today deserve a better grade than the C+ rating Searls gave him. Few would dispute his A+ rating for reading and, above all, his connectivity.