Tara Hunt: The Whuffie Factor

Last Updated Apr 29, 2009 5:38 AM EDT

Tara Hunt is a name that means a lot to Social Media experts but enterprise marketers 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.

BNET: Why did you choose that name and what is the message behind it?
TH: The name 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 was too vague and meant too many things. When the editor, John Mahaney saw that I told the story of Cory Doctorow's Whuffie, he 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.

BNET: And what has it got to do with Social Media and marketing?
TH: 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. 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.

At the same time, the one-way communication of mass media started to lose it's power. There have been a few good studies lately 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 are missing out on a huge opportunity.

BNET: How can marketers get to grips with the new opportunities?
TH: Take off your marketers hat and put 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.

BNET: Is there a role for a dedicated communities manager in marketing?
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.

BNET: 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.

(Pic Lane Hartwell, all rights reserved)

  • Yann Gourvennec

    Yann Gourvennec is head of internet and digital media at Orange Business Services. He is in charge of the international operator's websites and blogs. and has been in marketing and innovation for over 20 years.