Skull Jackpot

Various thoughts of minimal interest to others

Review: The Whuffie Factor

April 26, 2009

I first saw Tara Hunt at SXSW last month. She was giving a talk on “Making Whuffie”, and setting a land-speed record for number of slides during a single session. It was a great presentation, and was so well-attended that the Austin fire marshall threatened to shut it down unless all the people who weren’t seated in chairs cleared out (I managed to find an unoccupied seat, and catch the rest of the talk).

Tara’s first book, the Whuffie Factor, was published this past week. It’s focused on social marketing, more participatory and conversational than traditional mass marketing (which by its nature tends more toward monologue than conversation).

Cory Doctorow coined the word “Whuffie” as a term for social capital in his excellent sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. In Cory’s book, social capital has completely replaced traditional currency, and people who are well-esteemed by others have privileged access to material goods. The Whuffie Factor takes this concept and grounds it in contemporary reality. Social and traditional capital aren’t interchangeable (at least, not yet), but they are strongly correlated, and businesses ignore this fact at their own peril.

At its core, the Whuffie Factor is a guide to social media for businesspeople, walking the reader through some of the more interesting highlights and opportunities, while helping them avoid missteps like the recent Pizza Hut Twitter intern ruckus. The tone is friendly and helpful throughout, without being condescending – if you think of it as a Lonely Planet guide for Web 2.0, you wouldn’t be far off.

Tara provides clear steps and caveats for companies wishing to engage their customers (and potential customers) online. She also does a good job articulating the rationale behind different practices. There is never a point where the justification for something is reduced to blindly following what other companies have done or hand-waving generalizations. Even admonitions to “embrace the chaos” are carefully illustrated by numerous examples. For embracing chaos, examples include the Library of Congress opening up their photo archives to Flickr, JetBlue having an active and honest dialog with passengers via Twitter, and Tara’s own experiences facilitating a sometimes-contentious conference on Bay Area transportation issues.

We may have fallen a little off the scorchingly-fast “internet time” pace of the early internet, but things still move quickly enough that the challenges of creating a paper product relating to an online medium intrude, as with the discussion of ma.gnolia.com, which had a high-profile collapse earlier this year.

What we think of as traditional mass marketing may turn out to be a minor blip – an artifact of the interval where media had progressed far enough to have wide reach, but not far enough to provide feedback channels for people to become co-equal participants, rather than simple consumers.

When Tara tweeted offering to send folks an advance copy of her book the Whuffie Factor to review I responded right away, though I didn’t expect to be chosen.

  • I’m not a business person
  • Virtually nobody reads this site
  • I’m strongly introverted an not an “influencer” offline, either

The fact that she sent me a copy in spite of those considerations shows me that Tara definitely practices what she preaches. That earns her a ton of Whuffie in my book.

2 comments to “Review: The Whuffie Factor”

  1. April 28 2009 at 5:02 pm Estelle wrote:

    “Virtually nobody reads this site”…
    I read this site!
    Great review. Thanks.

  2. May 2 2009 at 12:35 am Callum MacEwan wrote:

    Not sure I like being refered to as virtually nobody and I wish I had got that tweet from Tara. Well done on the summary I look forward to my copy arriving from Amazon

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