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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

IDEA NINJA: Mitch Joel on Meaningful Contribution

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mitch Joel at SES Toronto 2008 Conference about social media success and engaging consumers in a meaningful way. Mitch had plenty to say and gave me some great tips that I thought I would share. Here’s the first IDEA NINJA!

For companies who are getting started:

If you’re a company that wants to get started with a blog, the first thing you want to do is make sure that there is an audience who is interested in engaging with you before you make any big investments. So start on a site like or wordpress. Park your domain name so that you can use it later if you decide to go forward. Then just see how it goes.

This method can prove to your board or executives that that people were generally interested. You can also start a social community on It’s free. It might not have all the functionality but you’ll be able to validate your need for an investment.

Then, when you’re ready, you can move. And if people are engaged, they will follow you wherever you go.

For Bloggers Wanting to Increase Audience

You can use Google Reader to share interesting pages and links. If you do this, then Google reader will set up a little page just for you entitled “So and So’s shared pages” that will have it’s own RSS feed. You can then add the url of that page to your blogroll and people can subscribe to your shared items. It’s a great way to let people know about the things that are capturing your interest. You will also be able to grow community in an organic way.

On having or building a following:

Having a set of x number of friends is not the same as having conversations. Friendships are built by authenticity. There seems to be two sides, it’s like a nun/whore relationship in Social Media where one set of people are using these tools to get inspiration and collaborate to bring the industry forward, and the other is a vacuum that sucks value by focusing on link-baiting and inauthenticity in an effort to improve rankings.

On what should drive strategy:

What’s happening is that people are looking at the “what.” (What are we doing on Facebook? What are we doing on Myspace?) There is a rush and people forget the why. Why is more important. The Why is strategy and the What is tactic.

I always use the Bic Pen analogy. Who cares about a pen? None one cares and no one wants to be in scenario where they are being sold stuff. Bic built a community around the power of the written word, and writers loved that stuff. It’s about sharing your passions with people.

On Building Relationships:

Yeah, I have 2,000 Facebook friends. The value of those relationships go both ways. You will never stay my friend if you break that trust. The fact that I get links from this is secondary, my role is to provide and give back good content. I mean I can’t have a strong business without a strong community. And if people try to call bullshit on it then I tell them to prove me wrong. When have I ever not given something back when I good? I blog almost every day, I do a weekly podcast on my own time, I am always available is someone needs help with something.

But at the end of the day, you can’t be friends with someone if you don’t like what they are saying. Mass media is changing into a very personal and direct model. I look at those networks as being a cookie to a great conversation. The great conversation is dinner. Dinner is only amazing if the food is great.

On the balance of the online community:

These social channels are about individuals. Social media marketing is about real interaction between real human beings. If either of components of that equation aren’t there the entire thing quickly falls apart. It also takes time to build. So if anyone tells you that something can be a quick fix it’s a lie. There are no quick fixes in the space. That’s why it works so magically, it’s because you have to take the time to build and trust. You might get results in the short term, but it’s only the short term.

At the end of the day, if that’s your goal then it’s still spam.

To Get More Mitch:

Mitch’s Site

Mitch’s Twitter

Mitch’s Facebook

Mitch’s Podcast

Comments: 2

  • Jeremy

    June 19, 2008

    Very good insight, it really is all about establishing solid connections, engaging yourself within communities, and really promoting your online personal brand as much as your company’s.

    I use blogger as a blogging platform, which works well because many of the great plug-ins available for easy installation. It helps that Google owns Blogger as well. Blogs are just now really starting to get respect from the mainstream media, and are becoming a great vehicle for company’s to have two way conversations directly with their customers.

    It’s not about how many “friends” you have on any of the social networks, it’s the quality of relationships and mutual value created that’s most important. Facebook, MySpace, and Linked In are worth joining. is good for building your own social network, but unless it’s a passionate niche you aim for, it may not take off so well. An average network on Ning has something like 10 users, so without at least a few hundred users, a passionate community likely won’t take off. But it’s always worth a try, hey who knew that or would take off?!

    And don’t forget that online social media means that everything is transparent, so everything you do and say will reflect upon your reputation and brand. Big brands like Dell, and Microsoft have been hammered with negative feedback in many diverse communities, while failing to respond in a timely, and appropriate manner. Make sure to track your brand and products and even employees so that you can get involved with conversations that people are having surrounding your brand. Google Alert is what I use, and I find it to be pretty effective.

    The online world is evolving faster than ever now, and must be correctly integrated with offline efforts. We are now seeing offline efforts tied into online efforts, while this is a good strategy it must be done with consistency, and develop over time as relationships mature through trust and respect.

    The online world is the medium of the future, embracing it successfully will pay dividends like never before possible.

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