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whuffie

Is It Book Writing Season Again?

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Is It Book Writing Season Again?

whuffiecake.jpeg

[cake from my TWF Launch Party at Nilofer's]

In November 2007 I received the news that I had a generous offer from a MEGA publisher to write a book. A bloody book. ME! A blogger and frequent user of words like crap, frack and awesome. They were going to sign ME to write a book that would sit on shelves in grown-up bookstores. I was completely flabbergasted. At the time, I may have used the term STOKED.

So over the next year, I wrote and re-wrote (there were a few edits...surprise!) that book and submitted the final draft, signed and sealed in November of 2008...during the election of Obama and the economic crisis hitting the news at 100 stories per second. The official launch date of my book was April 21, 2009 - amidst the big bailouts and general public mayhem.

I thought to myself, "Well, at least I got a healthy advance. Nobody is going to buy this bloody book now."

Unfortunately, my publishers had the same thought.

We had talked about all sorts of cool things for launch -launch parties in various cities, a NYTimes.com community campaign, an Amazon.com feature, bookends in stores, fliers, posters, etc.- they were positioning the book to be the 'breakout bestseller' of 2009. The time was right. Social networking In H+ Magazinewas hot. And mine was one of the first books that talked about the theory and practice behind it for everyone from a musician to a Fortune 500 company. But all of that disappeared with the sound of the US economy going down the drain.

I was heart broken. I felt like a huge failure. I worked really hard on getting the word out myself, but everyone was hurting and it felt like an uphill battle. I had amazing support from friends (like my mentor, Nilofer Merchant, who had that amazing cake in the header made for a Bay Area launch party and my wonderful friends at Office Nomads in Seattle who did a Seattle launch party for me) and even came up with the concept of a karaoke road trip to tour my book (dropped the book bit and just went karaoke because I lost heart).

My publishers couldn't even look me in the eye. I'm sure they felt as heartbroken as me, but what could they do? They are running a business and pushing a book during a national crisis is not good business.

Raleigh-Durham International AirportSo I stopped caring and ignored everything after a point. I stopped looking at my ranking on Amazon (it was dismal) and tried not to sob openly when a year and a half later, a very similar book to mine, Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith (I should note that it was a VERY good book. Well written and very worthy of it's acclaim.) launched and was an overnight New York Times Best Seller. When I noticed my book was in the 'Business Autobiography' section of a major bookseller, I decided I didn't care enough to change it (misclassifications can be murder on sales - this one was particularly bad). One commenter on my book page on Amazon in 2011 wrote, "Whatever happened to Tara Hunt?" Indeed. I really disappeared. I wanted to live under a rock.

(side note, as the awesome Sean Coon replied to the commenter, I was actually working very hard on my startup at that point, but whatever...I actually abandoned that book as completely as my publisher did.)

When asked about my next book, I would grimace and reply, "Nothing in the works!" Truth be told, I wanted to reply, "I'd rather have my tongue removed with a fish hook," but I refrained. I was bitter. Jaded. Completely turned off by publishing. I lost my love of writing completely. Subsequently, I had a 3 year writers block.

Until a few weeks ago.

You know that Elizabeth Tara & Whuffie!Gilbert TED talk where she tells the story of poet Ruth Stone hearing the rumbling of an idea coming over the hills and she needs to run like mad to get to a pen and paper to capture it before it goes away? I had that. I experienced that paranormal experience of an idea flying at me that needed to be captured. And I wrote it down in a frenzy on this blog. And in the minute I hit  publish, I knew it was my next book.

So like a mother who said after her first childbirth that she would never experience that pain again, I contacted my literary agent and started putting together a new proposal. All of my memories of that awful labor and pain and agony went away with this new idea.

And one of the best parts of this story is that, upon receiving my excited email, my awesome literary agent said, "Really? It's going to be a tough sell. Your first book didn't do very well." And though I didn't want to look, I did. And guess what?

My first book actually did QUITE well! The Whuffie Factor wasn't a huge flop after all! I checked the numbers internationally and -much to my surprise as well as my agent's- my sales told a different story than we thought it would. I'm not going to give exact numbers, but the average U.S. book sells less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Only the top 1% sell over 25,000...and wow...TWF made it well into that top 1%!

Take THAT economic downturn. Take THAT no publicity. Take THAT Tara of little faith. I'm no Malcolm Gladwell or Trust Agents, but I sat and looked at my numbers and had a good weep of joy.

This will be a very different book. It will NOT a book on social media. It's more of a psycho-social-marketing book. It's going to be a well-researched with real science and data marketing book about the consumer mind. The main focus is on understanding consumer desires, but as with everything I do, there will be a world-changing undertone to it. I want people to understand their own drives as well, if not better than the marketers themselves. This isn't data that marketers alone should be privy to. And it won't be easy to find. It's going to take serious focus to do it. As I say in my book proposal, I plan to combine extensive research including behavioral psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience alongside real-world examples and strategies that work. Sort of a Dan Gilbert meets Paco Underhill approach.

If nothing else, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of researching this one. I've learnt a LOT in the past 5 years. Patience being the key learning. And I hope that those elves that live in the corner of my office are good to me for the duration.

Thanks for buying my first book. I'm still proud of the fact I wrote it. Thanks for keeping the faith for me even when I lost it.

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Interview: Austin Hill and Akoha.org

I was fortunate to be able to sit down in December with the amazing Austin Hill, Canadian VC and multi-time entrepreneur, to talk to him about the oldest form of economics: The Gift Economy and how Akoha.org (coming soon) fits into this. The video (embedded below) is well worth your time. Austin is a totally good soul and I'm really looking forward to the release of Akoha. (I don't know if you can see the video below in a newsreader, sorry if you can't!)

http://www.viddler.com/player/dd5fb46d/

(thanks to Alyssa Contreras for the editing)

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A Company is the Sum of its People

Microsoft Company 1978! by Brajeshwar on Flickr Thanks so much to my friend, Jay Fichialos, now on Ma.gnolia and sending me awesome links like this one that say things like:

...the one thing I have been able to extract as the core and essential principle is the fact that people are the singlemost important elements in a company. When you think about it, "company" implies that one person is in the company of another. Or an "organization" is a system of people, and certainly not a bunch of computers or other inanimate objects. Human resources are the critical factor to winning a game of basketball (not the basketball itself), to taking a company public (lawyers are people too), to fixing a great bowl of chicken soup (the ingredients do help, but it takes a person to collect those ingredients), and so forth.

This reminded me of frustrations I had a couple of years back and an equivalent frustration I experienced lately when a dear friend told me she couldn't attend this amazing conference on Customer Service/Satisfaction (by the good folks at Satisfaction), which would not only be an excellent boon for her knowledge on the subject, it would also benefit her employer greatly because they would have an incredibly plugged-in, cutting edge thinker on the team. This is not to mention that the customer service executives from every cool company in North America will be hungrily networking there to meet those plugged-in, cutting edge thinkers like my friend.

My frustrations occurred in a couple of different marketing positions I held at various companies, where, even though I was in charge of building community in one particular case, I was expected to hold regular office hours with the rest of the staff. Ducking out for an afternoon meetup or other community-type event was seen as 'frivolous' and something I should do on 'my time'. This was an absurd idea to me and I continued to defy the notion that I should be sitting at a desk creating marketing plans rather than actually going out and meeting people face to face who are part of the community I wished to reach.

Compound this with a very astute tweet by my friend Chris Heuer (another budding author) a couple of weeks back:

Companies don't really have conversations with customers, their employees do. People talking to people is real, beyond marketing and spin... 10:56 AM November 01, 2007

...and something really profound occurred to me: A Company is the Sum of the Social Capital of its People.

When I think about the really 'cool' brands out there there is always at least one person who we know and admire...who has influence and who has reams of Social Capital. You dig deeper into the company employees and you see that really dynamic and growing companies have loads of employees with smaller, but strong networks they influence. Apple, of course is a really great example of this. Who doesn't want to be Steve Jobs, really? I mean, he even has someone who IS his fake self. But there are Apple employees who are influencers everywhere, even if they don't appear in an official capacity all of the time. And how about the influence of the Geniuses and other Apple Store employees on people's interaction with the brand? HUGE. [hat tip to Lloyd for that great link] I would take a leap and attribute a good portion of Apple's fantastic growth in the past couple of years to that one-on-one interaction between employees and customers.

Of course, none of this is news or anything. It's been pretty obvious to many people for a long time that sending your employees out into the world to build relationships with customers and potential customers is really good for your brand. D'uh.

So, why is it that my friend and many others are still expected to clock in at 8:00 a.m. and clock out at 5:00 p.m.? Why aren't social gatherings, community involvement, courses, conferences and events and general networking encouraged more? Why isn't everyone encouraged to blog, be on IM, have Facebook profiles and post their running commentary on Twitter? Why aren't we encouraging every one of our employees to go out there and build the hell out of their Social Capital?

I have a theory. Tell me if I'm wrong.

We don't value non-crappy, paper-heavy, numbers-driven work. As soon as we see someone enjoying their work, we accuse it of not being work at all. If someone takes an extra long lunch to go to a social event where they are meeting industry peers, we say things like, "Must be nice to be able to take such a long lunch break" as if that person's extra 1/2 hour should have been spent sitting in front of their computers, working on some spreadsheet or something that would have been actual work.

Now, OF COURSE there should be some sort of definition of activities and measurements in place to ensure that everyone is accountable. I like to trust my coworkers as much as the next person, but I've worked with enough people to realize that loose, under-defined goals like, "Build Social Capital" are bound to lead to equally under-defined actions. If I used this new structure to hang with my same friends each and every day, it ceases being useful Capital.

According to theorists, Social Capital comes in two forms: Bonding and Bridging Capital. Bonding Capital is what we do with good friends and family: we build deep relationships of trust and care. We can count on those we have Bonding Capital with for our survival. Bonding Capital is essential to our individual survival (so these days when my 14 year old is rude to me, I tell him that he is threatening his survival by testing our Bonding Capital - works like a charm) and is what emotionally fulfills us.

Bridging Capital, on the hand, is the type of Social Capital that helps us grow and builds our careers and businesses. Bridging Capital is what you are building when you go outside of your normal group of friends and meet new people. It's what you do when you go to conferences that have people you don't always hang out with there. It's what you do when you leave your office and meet others in your industry. According to Robert Putnum (Bowling Alone):

(Bridging connections) are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion...(and provide a)...sociological WD-40...(that can)...generate broader identities and reciprocity. (Putnum 2000: 22-23)

But even though these definitions and measurements are not currently in place, businesses can start by recognizing that a certain amount of bridging activity is necessary to encourage for all of their employees - not just those in sales and marketing. Benefits?

  • The creation of Bridging Capital that will positively effect the influence of your company
  • This puts your employees in the perfectly right position for coming up with awesome ideas to please your customers
  • The flipside of that, which is the ability of your employees to recognize potential problems and be proactive in averting them
  • The creation of plugged-in, cutting edge employees in general
  • A happier, more fulfilled group of employees who feel part of their company's growth (which they are)

I really hope that my unnamed friend shows this article to her employer and is able to attend said conference and that it resonates as well with many others. I look forward to your feedback and stories.

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