The #1 Thing You Need to Know from this Post:
Personal reputations are more important than corporate brands.
The More Detailed Explanation:
Most of the world went about its normal affairs this weekend unaware of Chris Brogan, a blog post he wrote on December 2, and a swarm that formed around it yesterday and today. For a networked group of people (including me), this was THE topic of this weekend, with people assailing Chris Brogan, defending his actions, following the conversation, and/or trying to put the uproar in context.
So why the uproar?
Chris has built up a strong personal reputation teaching others how to use the Internet and social media to grow their businesses. For those in the trenches of social media, there is great premium placed on authenticity, transparency, and the celebration of the individual’s voice being more important than the controlled messaging of corporate brands.
Earlier this month, Chris accepted a $500 gift card from Kmart in exchange for a blog post about the experience of spending the money. Chris did so in full disclosure of the fact in the post with most of the goods bought going to charity, facts he has emphasized. Yesterday, a comment on Twitter from Jeremiah Owyang called this decision into question. That meant something, because Jeremiah is a social media analyst for Forrester Research and has also built a strong personal reputation using social media.
Both are highly connected to those on Twitter and other social media. Jeremiah has over 18,000 people who follow his Twitter comments and Chris has over 26,000, so a lot of people were automatically part of the conversation. Helping brighten the spotlight was the fact that it was Saturday, a day when more people have the breathing room to track the conversation as it unfolds and add their voices to the mix.
[If you missed the various strands of the uproar, see below for a Condensed History of Chris Brogan's Kmart Moment.]
The Underlying Issue
History has shown that uproars stem from a deeper issue, not just the surface event. That is true here, as well. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in how we communicate, connect, and collaborate.
With over 1 billion people on the Internet and over 3.3 billion owning mobile phones, we have entered the Interconnected Age. Ideas spread instantaneously, self-organized swarms mobilize out of nowhere, and transformational events happen faster than before. These components of the Interconnected Age are redefining all aspects of our lives and businesses.
During the broadcast era, businesses had to invest large amounts of resources into artificial constructs called corporate brands to gain enough trust to sell their products to people who they had never met in person. Today, you can use the Internet to have authentic conversations with people all over the world from your home or office. You have an amazingly robust platform to tell your story, understand your customers’ needs, and conduct business at a fraction of the cost of broadcast media.
Here’s what you can learn from Chris Brogan’s Kmart moment:
- Personal reputations are more important than corporate brands - If you have any doubt, just try to find how many people are up in arms about Kmart’s role in this matter. The vast majority of the conversation is about Chris Brogan, how his post affects his reputation, and how Chris Brogan has handled the situation. It seems we all expect corporate brands to buy influence, but lament when people sell theirs.
- Trust is the most important currency in any economy - Trust is something made on the unconscious level based on emotion, not logic. Neuroscience research shows that humans are wired to judge how much to trust others this way. We are more inclined to trust our judgments of individuals than an intangible brand. Heck, we base our judgments on corporate brands by the interactions we have with the people who represent them. It’s the mosaic of these individual experiences that determine our trust of individuals and corporations alike.
- Most still haven’t fully figured out how to make money with social media - The sanitary term is “monetize”, but let’s use more meaningful terms. How can you use blogs, social networks, Twitter, and other social media to put food on your table and meet all your needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? That’s worthy of a separate series of blog posts.
- Your character defines your reputation – Abraham Lincoln said “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Chris Brogan stayed on top of the dialogue (probably to chagrin of his wife and kids since it was a weekend) commenting on blogs, replying to Tweets, and even writing a response on his own blog. He used the light of social media to show us his true character, thereby shaping our perception of his personal reputation.
The Broader Revolution
It’s not easy to know when you’ve just witnessed a seminal moment in history. Just ask those who supped at the table next to John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Boston. Who could have known whether they were just blowhards whining about the Crown or men really capable of fostering a broader revolution?
We won’t know for a while how important this weekend’s uproar was, if at all. I think history will judge it as a part of a much broader conversation among a circle of revolutionaries. This broader conversation is what is laying the foundation for the Interconnected Age. It will help us move away the artificial world of corporate brands and back into a more authentic world of personal reputations.
What do you think ?
Reply with your own comment below or catch me on Twitter (@scottyhendo). I welcome your thoughts and opinions.
Condensed History of Chris Brogan’s Kmart Moment
This is not a comprehensive history, just the strands of conversation. Feel free to add your links in the comment section below. Twitter handles of each are listed, too.
Chris Brogan’s initial post from December 2, 2008 – @chrisbrogan
Jeremiah Owyang’s December 13, 2008 comment on Twitter that sparked the conversation – @jowyang
Twitter stream for “chrisbrogan” (especially comments starting on 12/13)
Barb Gibson’s December 13, 2008 blog post “What is your integrity with worth” with a robust discussion in the comment section – @Barb_G
Ben Kunz’s December 13, 2008 blog post outlining the problems he sees with Brogan’s post -@benkunz
Chris Brogan’s December 13, 2008 response to the uproar – @chrisbrogan
Jeremiah Owyang’s December 14, 2008 blog post (ADDED 12/15) detailing the uproar and his thoughts on sponsored posts – @jowyang
Mack Collier’s December 14, 2008 blog post pointing the discussion towards the broader topic of monetizing social media – @mackcollier
Amber Naslund’s December 14, 2008 blog post entitled “Sanctity of Social Media?” that explores risk Kmart took in buying the spotlight, not an opinion – @ambercadabra
Gennefer Snowfield’s December 14, 2008 comments on Amber Naslund’s blog post – @acclimedia
Geoff Livinston’s December 14, 2008 blog post comparing the uproar to a French Revolution mob – @GeoffLiving
Lawrence Liu’s December 14, 2008 Twitter comments on the subject, Brogan’s replies, and others talking about Liu and Brogan – @LLiu
Karl Long’s December 14, 2008 blog post (ADDED 12/15) stating that personal networks are the future of advertising – @karllong
Karl Long’s December 14, 2008 reply to Chris Brogan’s December 13, 2008 response encouraging everyone to focus on the greater revolution – @karllong
Shannon Paul’s December 14, 2008 blog post recapping the events and sharing her thoughts on taking a more holistic view of experiences – @shannonpaul