Tara Hunt: "the Internet has made it possible for individuals to increase the size of their networks"

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TARA-Hunt.jpgnote: this article was originally written and published at Bnet.co.uk

Tara Hunt is a name that means a lot to Social Media experts but not only. Enterprise marketers are also - or should be - familiar with her earlier attempts at promoting a new form of marketing philosophy entitled Pinko Marketing, the aim of which was to prolong the work that had been initiated by the cluetrain manifesto team at the end of the 1990's. Beside her involvement in Barcamp and the coworking project, the San Francisco-based Canadian online marketer has got back to writing a new book The Whuffie Factor which is now available in the UK. I have asked Tara to present her new opus to our Orange readers in this exclusive interview: 

Orange: Tara, I saw in Twitter and on your blog that you were preparing a new book entitled "the Whuffie factor". Why did you choose that name and what is the message behind it? 

TH: The name evolved for me and was suggested by the publisher. The working title of the book was 'How to Be a Social Capitalist: building your business with online communities' but the publisher thought that social capital was too vague and meant too many things. When he saw that I told the story of Cory Doctorow's Whuffie(*), John Mahaney (editor) shopped the word around and found that people really responded to it. First they would laugh, then after the term was explained, they would remember it. The Whuffie Factor means, in basic terms, that people should pay attention to their actions in online communities. (*) note: Whuffie is a term taken from SF writer Cory DOctorow's book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 

Orange: And what has it got to do with Social Media and marketing? 

TH: Well, the key point to understand about social media is that it is meant to be social. Facebook and Twitter and Flickr weren't built as platforms for sales pitches, they were built as platforms for human interaction: conversations, relationship building, trust, support, etc. The Whuffie Factor is about how well you do on that level. The 'marketing' part will just happen naturally in these communities because people are talking about their everyday lives, looking for guidance on their purchases and choices and looking to get that guidance from their trusted circle of friends. If you've built good relationships, you will do well. The book is about how you get to that point. 

Orange: Before we delve into social media, can you please tell us why enterprises have to do marketing differently? 
TH: I don't think this is news at all, but people have been talking about this little thing called the Internet for a little while now ;-) And what the Internet opened up was the ability for individuals to increase the size of their networks and expand their conversations. In doing that, the one-way communication of mass media started to lose it's power. There have been a few good studies lately [http://www.bazaarvoice.com/industryStats.html] that show that Word of Mouth recommendations between friends and 'people like me' are only getting stronger. Therefore, the marketing that uses pure bullhorn type techniques (ads, SEO, etc.) are missing out on a huge opportunity. 

Orange: So Social media can help us get to grips with this new way of marketing products and services. Can you explain? 

TH: It's about taking the marketing out of it all together for the time being. I don't even like calling the fantastic interactions I have online 'social media'. Prior to online communities, I didn't call my relationships 'social face to faces'. The way you can come to grips is by taking off your marketers hat and putting on your customer hat. When you hang out with your friends, what do you talk about? I'm guessing you are open and honest with them. You share stuff with them. You ask them about their lives. You figure out what their needs are so you can help out as a friend. And...when the time is right...you can help one another out. There are just more sophisticated tools available so you can do this with more people. That's it. 

Orange: As a consequence, Social media isn't just a toy for geeks, it's serious stuff for serious business people. Does it mean that the role of managing communities is the job of the future? 

TH: I'm torn on that one. On the one hand, having the role puts priority on it. It says, "community is important to us, so we're paying an employee to make sure it is taken care of." On the other hand, by delegating that role to one person, a company loses many opportunities to build multiple relationships between customers and the company.
Orange: So should we start considering pricing our products in Whuffie rather than dollars or pounds? 

TH: Ha. in my opinion, no. I'd like to stay away from measuring it in the near future. Cory Doctorow, who came up with the term, warned us of the inherent problems of measuring whuffie in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. The biggest issue is that, once measured, it is totally gameable. 

Orange: If you had only one piece of advice for our readers to get the Whuffie factor right, what would it be? 

TH: Imagine yourself at a party. How do you act if you want to meet people and make friends? Do you enter the party and just talk about yourself and leave once you get what you want? Or do you slowly enter the conversations, listening to people, joining in when you have something to contribute, asking people about themselves, exchanging jokes and being light-hearted? Probably the latter. That's also how you need to approach online communities if you want to raise your Whuffie. 
Thanks Tara for sharing these thoughts and good luck with The Whuffie Factor 
(Pic Lane Hartwell, all rights reserved)
Yann Gourvennec

I specialize in information systems, HighTech marketing and Web marketing. I am author and contributor to numerous books and the CEO of Visionary Marketing. As such, I contribute regularly on this blog for Orange Business Services account on cloud computing and cloud storage topics.