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Building Online Buzz

An advertising agency aims to take the lead in helping clients deal with online buzz about their companies -- and create some of their own.

Marsteller, owned by international public relations agency Burson-Marsteller, announced the User Generated Media Alliance (UGMA) on Wednesday, saying the group of interactive companies could help businesses deal with all the new forms of online advertising and communications now available.

"We had major clients starting to complain that they were getting nickel and dimed to death by whatever the latest, greatest interactive thing was," said Marsteller Chairman Andrew Nibley. "Right now, it's blogs; before that, it was search engine optimization."

Instead of hiring a specialist firm each time, Nibley said, his company decided to partner with companies in various interactive niches in order to handle clients' needs in a more unified way.

Nibley began talking to CEOs of interactive companies last year. The current UGMA roster includes Intelliseek, a company that measures online "buzz" by tracking the content of blogs; BzzAgent, an agency that develops word-of-mouth marketing campaigns; Converseon, which handles search engine strategy and optimization, and Oddcast, which provides software to create animated characters that can interact with Web site visitors, as well as ones that consumers can customize and use.

The UGMA is offering a Digital Check-up product that's designed to give companies an idea of how they're doing in the various online channels. Marsteller will oversee the Digital Check-ups, develop corporate messages and handle creative strategy and programs. If appropriate, it will recommend that clients work with UGMA partners, but Nibley said they could choose to use other vendors.

"We'll look at everything they do in the Internet and wireless space to make sure they're maximizing each channel," Nibley said. "We'll set a strategy to maintain their positioning, stay ahead of competitors and protect the corporate reputation."

The check-up will evaluate the content consumers generate via blogs, chat rooms, forums or virtual characters. According to Intelliseek, 32 percent of adult online users are now media generators.

User-generated media has moved beyond text, said Adi Sideman, CEO of Oddcast. "User-generated multimedia is becoming more exciting." For example, Bubblicious chewing gum will use Oddcast technology to let Web site visitors customize animated characters, tell them what to say, then email their friends with invitations to check it out.

Nibley thinks companies should offer free multimedia tools to consumers in order to create relationships with them.

"With multimedia blogs created by users, it will be important to businesses to monitor what's going on," Nibley said, "and to engage their customers with branded opportunities to use these sort of products."