Whuffie is a concept that was developed by Corey Doctorow is his sci-fi book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Doctorow created a world where the economy has grown beyond cash currency as we know it today. Instead of money, the currency of his world is Whuffie, a “reputation currency”, similar to what we sometimes call social capital. You earn Whuffie by being nice, helping people, and adding value by providing access to ideas, talent, and resources. I believe that, in the world of ecommerce, Whuffie drives business.
Charles Andres introduced me to this book in a comment on my blog last week. The book is available as a free download or free podcast, costing only Whuffie. You can also buy it in the traditional form from Amazon if you aren’t quite there yet.
Tara Hunt has built a following by developing a guidebook of how Whuffie applies to the world of social media marketing, called the The Whuffie Factor. Tara breaks down the process of earning Whuffie into 5 basic steps.
- Stop talking and start listening to your customers. (I might add that you must also prove to them that you are listening by providing feedback and adding value to their thoughts).
- Become part of the community that you serve.
- Create amazing customer experiences
- Embrace the Chaos! Entropy is growing, so you better learn how to ride the chaos wave!
- Find your higher purpose. Figure out how to give to the community and still be profitable.
The more I read about the Whuffie economy, the more I recognize that embodies the raison d’être for web-based marketing for ecommerce success. Historically, retailers were successful by becoming an integral part of the local economy. Merchants were known and trusted as part of their neighborhood, and merchandising was done to accent the best features of products for sale. Whuffie was transparent: We knew the seller, we touched the product, and buying was a great experience. Alternatively, if none of the above was true, say the store was run by a grumpy sales person that we didn’t trust, the business never survived.
For successful marketing online, the challenge, as we know, is how to scale that hands-on reputation and value beyond the local neighborhood. The concept of Whuffie embodies this goal. Cory Doctorow gives away access to his books, making profit on his higher purpose of explaining his philosophy in live talks and future book sales. The Grateful Dead figured this out long ago by listening to the fans’ desire to tape and trade their concerts (an amazing customer experience), thus creating a aura and community that has transcended well past the death of Jerry, selling more tickets and albums along the way, and spawning an entire genre of music (a higher purpose) that rides on the chaos of musical improvisation.
Traditional marketing and advertising can drive great short term results. Well developed TV and radio, or paid placement ads, can drive short term business, and are valuable to jumpstart awareness of your brand. But once you gain this awareness, the only sustainable way to keep it is to rapidly move to a Whuffie currency. You need to think about how to engage that customer, add value, and keep them involved with your product. In other words, scale with Whuffie. Thus, the challenge becomes:
- How do you listen to your customers, and encourage them to listen to you?
- How do you engage them in a community which serves both you and their purpose?
- How do you engage them to make them enjoy visiting and buying on your site?
- How do you move that relationship to serve a higher purpose while earning profit?
The good news is that today, with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media forums, we now finally have the tools to implement these efforts. We can talk and share with our customers and community. But these tools do not replace or embody the underlying Whuffie, they’re just the checkbooks and credit cards of this new economy. The Whuffie itself has to be earned, and that can only happen with hard work and genuine focus on your business.
The formula is simple… 5 easy steps described above. The tools are available, Twitter, Facebook, and other forums. All you need is the awareness of your business’s value, the passion to involve your customer community, the dedication to make it work for you, and some serious investment of Whuffie to drive great sales results.