This week I wrote a post for Marketing Profs Daily Fix where I talk about Free 2.0, Sponsored by. I've been thinking about the current economic predicament, the all too familiar chain reactions in market slide, corporate downsizing, and SPA trips for the top echelons. Accountability doesn't go away when unrecognized, it just becomes more obvious and painful to the people it affects.
Many of the current political discussions are also reaching a tipping point. More than conversations, they seem to have degenerated from statements, to sound bytes, to snarls - some of which will indeed bite back eventually. It looks like the marketing machine has been really put at work with this election. Personality brands as extension of personal brands.
In the space between free - the cultural underpinning of the Web to date - and paid for by - as in sponsored, which is what pays for all the free stuff - is social capital. The things you do for free, cost you something - connections, attention, time, effort. What they earn you is advancement in relationships, share of mind and top of mind.
Social Capital, Trust and Authority
The ultimate outcome of activities that earn you social capital is trust, which is built over time, and can crumble in a day. Tara Hunt wrote a post on social capital and the influence of social networks a few months ago. In it she explains how:
the key to attracting and keeping members of a community is to offer them heaps of ways to accrue Social Capital within it. That is, to offer them more connections, more influence, more of a chance to grow their reputation, more bridging capital, more bonding capital, more access and potential access to ideas, talent and resources, more ways to display their accomplishments, more ways to do nice things for others (to build up those favors) and more access to those with loads of Social Capital of their own.
This is a good dynamic to remember for those companies that are building social media assets. We'll talk about an example tomorrow. Let's go back to individual contributors for a moment. Many of us are both - individual contributors (inside and outside organizations) and agents of conversation and trust through our authority.
Trust and authority are two important concepts to bear in mind for marketers. Chris Guillebeau shares an important lesson from the launch of his new project. He provides a data point I'd like to share with all those marketers and companies that are still skeptical about the return on investment for social media. He launched his new product to his readers - those are the people who come to his blog, The Art of Non Conformity. His total conversion rate from the first week of regular readers was about 3.4%. You may be aware that 1% is a general marketing baseline.
Take that in and mull over it.
Julien Smith and Chris Brogan have written a manifesto. It is the seed of a book they are working on together. Their project is ultimately about social capital and trust. It was fascinating to read the comments to both posts about the definition of "Trust Agent" - there were clearly many positive and several negative -- and I thought I was onto something with Conversation Agent. I think words are powerful in that we live them. Our own experiences color the meaning.
In the closing of the manifesto they describe:
Friends are the Wall Street of the trust economy. Can you reach out? Who do you know that can solve the issue? Make and sustain connections with varied people, from several walks of life.
Don’t reserve yourself to your usual fare—people that work in the industry you do, or people that have the same hobbies. Meet everyone, and use the systems that best promote relationship building and sustaining. Share your connections openly and willingly. Make yourself the first name people think of when they ask “Who do I know who might know a good dentist?” Remember to go back, keep your connections active. It’s never nice to get a request for help out of the blue.
Stay close to your network. And protect it with everything you have. Don't just give your network to others. Share it, but only within the circle of trust. If you do this, you’ll see it expand, seemingly by itself. But in truth, you’ve nurtured it.
What do you think - is a trust agent for hire? Is authority the same as influence? Going back to my Daily Fix post, someone has got to pay the bills at some point. The modern concept or Renaissance of trust is part of the economic cycle - we have lost it, and we need to regain it to get unstuck and move upward. As for social capital, what's your definition?
If you think that trust does not matter, you better rethink the whole concept of trust. You better have the guts to hire the right people in the right place and let them do what they do best. Your growth depends on it - that is also part of the trust economy. [See these short American Express Open Forum videos with Seth Godin and Tom Peters on leadership, social networks, and the importance of decency.]