Last week I was on a panel with Chris Brogan, author of (with Julien Smith) the NY Times bestselling book Trust Agents. Also on the panel were Robert Cook (founder of Freebase and Metaweb), Gary Slack (Chairman of Slack Barshinger and head of the Business Marketing Association), and June Arunga (partner at Black Star Lines and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business). The panel was moderated by Sree Sreenivasan (Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School and regular TV commentator).
After looking up the kickin’ credentials of each of these folks, I figured I’d better get my act together and do some research so I wouldn’t immediately out myself as the weak bulb. As part of my homework, I picked up a copy of Trust Agents to read on the plane.
Now I must admit, I’m not a big fan of most books about social media stuff. I think I may be allergic to what I call social media meta-marketing: people using social media to show others how much they know about social media. If all the people using social media to talk about social media just shut up for a minute, we’d probably save Twitter some serious bandwidth expense. But I digress…
So I buy this book, sign up for Chris’s Twitter feed, all the normal stuff. It turns out Chris has almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, and almost every post on his blog gets like 50 or 100 comments (and most of them seem really nice and friendly, us open source folks aren’t used to that).
His Twitter feed almost looks like a breathing rhythm, with tweets coming in and out every few seconds. You could probably even calculate how much sleep he gets by putting the times of his first and last tweets of the day for a month in a spreadsheet and averaging out the results. If I hadn’t seen him sneaking some tweeting in under the panel table via his phone, I’d guess TweetDeck was directly wired into his brain.
OK, cut to it. The book is great. I really dug it. It turns out it isn’t so much about social media as it is about building relationships, building trust, being helpful, being useful, being nice, and a bunch of other stuff your mom told you to do when you were younger. After reading the book and spending an afternoon with Chris, it’s pretty obvious how he’s been so successful. He’s just really, really freaking nice.
From the book, here is his strategy:
I spoke on a panel at GE today with Chris Brogan, author of the book Trust Agents (almost finished with it, more comments in a later post…).
After hearing Chris talk about building trust in online communities, it hit me that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make when trying to build communities online, even in the open source world, is that they think like Tom Sawyer.
Here’s how Wikipedia retells the story of Tom Sawyer and the fence:
After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment on Saturday. At first, Tom is disappointed by having to forfeit his day off. However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work.
When thinking about building communities online, are you thinking like Tom Sawyer? Why are you building a community in the first place? When it comes right down to it, do you really just want people to whitewash your fence for you and give you small treasures in return for the privilege?
If you are looking to ideas like open source or social media as simple means to get what you want for your company, it’s time to rethink your community strategy.