Book review: Social networking and the Whuffie Factor

The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business

By Tara Hunt

Crown Business


The other week I met with four folks who are doing cool work on the environmental front with support from the Hamilton Community Foundation. We got together in a meeting room at Trivaris and spent the morning talking about social media.

Now, I'm anything but a resident expert on social media. And I'm pretty sure I was brought in by the foundation to prove a point. If this guy can use social media then anyone can do it and probably do it better.

I took the group on a behind-the-scenes tour of the blogs I use at work and for recycling book reviews. Next, we swung over to Slideshare where one of my PowerPoints has been looked at 2,370 times. We made a stop at Wikipedia and then wound up at Twitter, where hundreds of people are following my postings for reasons that still remain a mystery.

It took a while for folks to warm up to all things social media. Already working long hours on shoestring budgets, they asked smart questions. Was blogging, Twittering, writing on Facebook and posting videos on YouTube really worth the time, effort and money? What was the return on investment? Social media seemed to be all noise and no signal, a time-waster that 20-somethings indulged in when they didn't feel like working.

So I tried to hammer home three key points to the folks in the room. Your organizations all have great stories to tell and sell and a built-in audience wanting and waiting to connect with you and support your cause. Social media either costs nothing or next to nothing to use and can actually save you time and money (no more printing and stuffing newsletters in envelopes!). And you can take a leadership role by playing the part of party host and cruise director, starting and joining conversations and connecting smart people, big ideas and best practices both here at home and around the world.

And then I plugged The Whuffie Factor by author and community marketing guru Tara Hunt of Saskatoon. "Catching the social networking wave of Web 2.0 is neither easy nor as straightforward as it might seem at first blush," says Hunt. "Simply spending money and trying to buy your way into online communities works about as well as a dude in a Brooks Brother suit trying to fit in at the skateboard park. To succeed in this Web 2.0 world, you have to turn conventional wisdom on its head and become a social capitalist."

So what exactly is Whuffie, a concept Hunt borrowed from science-fiction author Cory Doctorow. Hunt calls Whuffie "the residual outcome — the currency — of your reputation. You lose or gain it based on positive or negative actions, your contributions to the community and what people think of you."

You build Whuffie by being nice, networked and notable. Social media gives you easy-to-use tools to accomplish all three. And the social capital you build buys you real-world market capital. It raises your profile. Enhances your reputation. Earns you long-term loyalty. Wins you friends and fans who sing your praises, do business with you.

"Market capital and social capital are converging more than many recognize," says Hunt. "There may even come a day that social capital is seen as viable currency in the market economy."

To build Whuffie, turn the bullhorn around. Stop talking and start listening. Become part of the community you serve and then get out of the office and into that community. Create amazing experiences that people love. Embrace the chaos and find your higher purpose. Give back to the community you serve and do it often.

Social media turbocharges your community marketing efforts in a world where we're inundated with sales pitches, burned by false promises broken in the past and overwhelmed with choices. We don't care what people have to say, sell or give away. We're too busy listening to our friends. The people we trust and care about.

"The fact of the matter is that people are talking more and more, and they are becoming more and more conscious of where they are spending their dollars," says Hunt.

"When a person has a choice between two similar products and one has only been executing on a traditional branding strategy of advertising and product placement whereas the other one has really connected personally with the shopper, which do you think they will buy? No matter what industry you are in, no matter how established or early-stage your business is, this shift is going to affect you … if it hasn't already."

So if you're not connecting with your community and building social capital, Hunt will show you how to go and raise serious Whuffie.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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