Do Onto Others – My Take On Tara Hunt’s Whuffie Speech at Web 2.0 Expo

(This post was first conceived on a SFO-NYC flight, and edited and posted several days later).

I am writing this from my SFO – JFK flight (Virgin America has in-flight wi-fi for $12.95 – that’s a good deal considering you are in flight for 6 hours). As I am coming home to New York from the O’Reilly’s Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco,  I am taking a couple of minutes to reflect on the experiences of this week. A definite highlight was undoubtedly meeting all the wonderful people that I had a privilege of meeting for the first time, and reconnecting with folks I had met previously. Although I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every session and every speech I listened to, there were definitely some bright spots. Tara Hunt‘s session, promoting her new book “The Whuffie Factor: the 5 keys for maxing social capital and winning with online communities” was the best presentation I heard at this conference. In addition to excellent content, it was beautifully delivered and engaging. It was the only session that filled every seat in the house, and people were even sitting on the floor.

What whuffie means, in short, is one’s social capital online. Social capital is used to describe how far your online reach goes, how much influence you exert with your followers, and how likely your online relationships are to do a favor for you. Twitter especially tends to bring out this karmic notion that emphasizes helping others and becoming genuinely interested in others. Tara’s presentation encapsulates nicely the common-sense to-do’s that one can follow as a mental checklist to ensure that your social media strategy (whether for your own personal brand or your company’s brand) remains relevant, human, alive, authentic, and the type of brand that your target customers want to interact with.

Since social networking is such a buzz in corporate America, there is a tendency to rush in and just start doing. This is absolutely not the right approach. You must understand how these communities work, and how relationships are built. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is joining Twitter (or another network) as a salesperson and just blasting out your message 1-way (I wrote about this in my previous post), expecting to have people flock to you / your product. This is not the 30-second spot, and this kind of behavior tends to piss people off in the online spaces. You can not join as a salesperson or as an idle observer / market researchers. To really harness the power of the social web, you must join conversations in an authentic way. Relate to others, feel their pain, engage and give. As a result, you can understand consumers better, vet your ideas, turn upset customers into believers and believers into evangelists. Even though most online ties are looser than IRL (in real life), these are not throwaway relationships. In Tara’s words, “people don’t want to be a number, they want to be treated as a snowflake – each beautiful and unique.” Isn’t this a reincarnation of the Golden Rule anyway? Aren’t we supposed to be “doing onto others” already?

And finally you must create amazing customer experiences in order to make connections. This may be common-sense, but you would be surprised how many companies do not do it well. For example, keeping your customers on your site is not consumer-friendly; however, being available where the consumer is, is consumer-centric. For example, if you are a web application, you need to ensure that your consumer can interact with you via mobile device, web, desktop, Twitter, Facebook / MySpace, Flickr, and wherever your consumers hang out. The key here is knowing where your consumers hang out on the web, and what their usage patterns and goals are. Here are some great ways to ensure that you remain consumer-centric.

  1. Dazzle in details – Moleskin notebook does a spectacular job of this by thinking through all the details and accents
  2. Go above & beyond – the TED conference does this by creating a scholarship fund to ensure that all deserving folks without means can go.
  3. Appeal to emotion
  4. Inject fun – Flickr is great at doing this
  5. Turn mundane into exceptional like Method has done to simple house products
  6. Allow to personalize – Moo cards allow you to make personalized cards using your Flickr pictures
  7. Be experimental like Threadless
  8. Simplify like 37singnals did with Basecamp
  9. Make happiness your business model through increasing autonomy, competence & relatedness. Zappos and WordPress are good at doing this by giving their users ways to express themselves and gain autonomy.

It is absolutely crucial to understand that Whuffie part of a gift economy, where you gain only by giving away and not by taking. This can appear at conflict with the money economy, where making money is the focus. However, the two don’t have to be at conflict. The focus on short term gain, as illustrated by the collapse of the subprime market and consequently Wall Street, will only take you so far. Focusing on doing the right thing, focusing on the long term, no matter how unpopular it may be in the short term, is the only surefire way to succeed. This concept really underscores wocial* web relationships, because relationship building, when done right, happens over time, with an investment of goodwill, and results in good karma and Whuffie.

* “wocial” was originally a typo, but as Tara Hunt herself noted in the comment below, it’s a fun mashup of Social + Whuffie. So let’s make a new word. After all, it’s all about mashups!

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5 Responses to “Do Onto Others – My Take On Tara Hunt’s Whuffie Speech at Web 2.0 Expo”

  1. Tara 'missrogue' Hunt Says:

    Great write-up and thanks for the post! I love that you typed wocial instead of social…a mashup of whuffie and social! 🙂

  2. TheMaria Says:

    LOL! I totally meant to type “wocial”.. Not really 🙂 … But I kinda like the mashup. I guess I have mashup on the brain.

    Thanks for pointing it out, and for commenting on the post!

  3. How I Lost Thirty Pounds in Thirty Days Says:

    Hi, good post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for writing. I’ll certainly be coming back to your site.

  4. Gary Vaynerchuk: “Twitter has allowed me to scale my caring” « One Goode Wine Blog Says:

    […] have to say? Will anyone retweet their message? It’s a resounding no, because they have zero social capital. If you care, you will eventually grow your social capital and your […]

  5. PomTonnoupese Says:

    Thanks much for that. It is really good stuff.
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