The Whuffie Factor: applied Cluetrain Manifesto for the twenty-first century

Tara Hunt's The Whuffie Factor is a quick, insightful update to books like The Cluetrain Manifesto, the seminal work that described the means by which conversations were conducted online and advised companies on how to join the conversation without seeming smarmy or patronizing. As Hunt points out, Cluetrain preceded the rise of blogging, not to mention Twitter, social networking services, and all the other key elements of modern online conversation.

Hunt's book is a lot shorter on theory and manifesto than Cluetrain and a lot longer on practicalities, devoting a lot of space to explaining how all these tools work and citing examples of different commercial and charitable organizations that have used them to good effect (as well as citing cautionary examples of companies that bungled things badly, usually by being caught out in deceit of one kind or another). Because of this, Whuffie Factor is probably easier to put into effect as soon as you crack the cover, but it's also likely to go stale more quickly, as the specific technologies cited wane (Cluetrain may have pre-dated blogging, but it had enough theory-stuff that it's still worth reading today, ten years later). On the other hand, if Hunt's book does well, she'll have a nice side-line in producing annual updated editions.

Hunt's central thesis is that participating in community and gaining social capital is the fastest, most reliable way to attain success for products, services, causes and movements than advertising and marketing are, and she sets out to re-educate executives and marketing people who haven't cottoned on to this. There's something of a holy mission in explaining the networked, twenty-first century reality to successful but out-dated people, if only so that execs get enough religion to give excited junior people rein to do experimental and exciting things online.

Hunt's book only suffers slightly from having been written before the econopocalypse (writing business books just before a global economic catastrophe is a tricky business), having a very faint air of the commercial excess of the golden days of 2008. But in the final analysis, using conversation and community to succeed is ultimately more frugal and Depression-ready than buying a lot of big, loud, glitzy Superbowl ads.

I've been tracking the progress of this book for a year or so, ever since I got wind of the title. "Whuffie," of course, is the social currency used by the characters in my novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which was incidentally the first novel released under a Creative Commons license, a book that relied quite a lot on community and conversation for its success (I've lost track of how many printings the book's gone through now — I think it's in its ninth edition). I was flattered to hear that Hunt wanted to use the word in her title, and now that I've read the book, I'm very pleased to have my little neologism attached to such a fine read.

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