One of the great things about the social digital space is that it allows people to cultivate their obsessions while benefiting society as a result. Before going any further, I should stress that there are, of course ways in which obsessions can also be cultivated in this space that do great damage to society, but I don’t think this fact should be used to obscure the positive advantages of obsessional behaviour – for they exist.
Here is an example, which features prominently in the e.book (Social Media and The Three Per Cent Rule) I have just published. There is a chap out there called Kachi Wachi who spends his time in a Logitech customer service community answering questions about Logitech products. He has spent 28,000 hours doing this, writing more than 45,000 posts and has ‘authored’ 421 solutions. Logitech don’t pay him anything but has calculated that all his activity is worth somewhere in the region of $250,000 per year to the organisation. (Check him out here in this presentation by @prelini of Lithium). Take a look at Dell’s famous Idea Storm site. When I last looked the list of its top recent contributors included the likes of people called (or who call themselves) sugarbear, googideas, unstopablekem and rebel333. But ask yourself the question, is someone who calls themselves sugarbear or who spends 28,000 in a customer service forum answering questions for free a normal consumer or even a normal person? No – these are not normal people. Their behaviour might even indicate the presence of a mild personality disorder but they are certainly very useful people if you can harness their unconventional behaviour effectively.
I suspect most of the heavy lifting in the most productive communities within the social digital space is done by these types of people. These places give them an outlet for their obsessional interests or behaviours and we all benefit as a result. The trick, for brands, (as I explain in the book) is to work-out how to identify and cultivate them. One thing brands should not do is think of these people as brand ambassadors or evangelists: they do not want to be seen as such, nor would you want them to become one because they are rather strange. You don’t put these people in the ad. Interestingly though they can make effective consumer ambassadors, i.e. people who represent the customer within a brand, rather than representing the brand to other consumers.
There is a wider point about the nature of trust within social media these people illustrate which is indicated by their names, or rather lack of them. Up until this point, when we look for individuals to trust, we seek out people who are presented as experts. This expertise is cultivated and enshrined in a very clear presentation of their identity: we need to know their real names, their history and the basis upon which their expertise is founded such as the organisation or institution from which they come. We may even want to know them personally, as a friend, in order to feel sufficiently confident to trust them. Someone called sugarbear would not qualify. But this whole situation is reversed in the social space. In the social space we can trust a stranger called sugarbear and this is because we are trusting the process of which sugarbear is a part. It is an example of what I think is one of the biggest social shifts that social media is creating, which is the shift of trust from institutions (or experts) into processes. In social media you can trust strangers more than your trust friends.
Disguising your real identity is both a fundamental part of this process as well as badge of your participation within it. It is interesting to note the extent to which Wikipedia, for example, encourages its contributors to adopt an identity which is not traceable to their ‘real’ lives – possibly born out of the recognition that you cannot create a Wikipedia if your contributors are experts, since its founders tried this (Nupedia it was called) and it failed. In social media it is not who you are that is the source of your credibility, it is what you do. It is not about channels and messages, it is about behaviour identification and response.
(Apologies to Kach Wachi, sugarbear et al – you are doing a very useful job, maintain the weirdness chaps)