Happy Birthday to Me, and How Distributed Cognition Enhances Relationships

It’s 9am on my birthday, and already, 65 people have posted birthday wishes on my Facebook wall.


Several more have Skyped me.


Sure, it’s just a simple act – some might argue it’s only slightly more social than a poke, but I disagree. Frankly, I think this is really what the social web is all about: using distributed cognition to truly enhance relationships.

How so?

Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Basically, it’s the theory that the size of our social network is limited by the size of our neocortex, and for human beings, the maximum number of “close” relationships we can theoretically have – the number of people whose names and faces you remember easily, who you can remember details about them, like what they do for a living, the last conversation you had with them, etc.

But what happens when our capacity for social relationships is no longer limited by our brain capacity?

Some people think that tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even CRM or contact management systems have created an illusion of having more “real” friends than we actually do. I suppose, for some, that’s true.

I look at it differently, though. I look at these tools as distributed cognition. Essentially, we’re making our brains larger by using external tools to enhance our memory. I can “remember” hundreds of people’s faces, because they’re right there when I interact with them. I can call them by name – one of Dale Carnegie’s most important tips for winning friends and influencing people. I can easily recall the last conversation I had with them with a couple of mouse clicks. I can see what they’re up to and ask specific questions about it rather than wasting my time and theirs with small-talk questions like “So what are you up to these days?”  LinkedIn already knows, so I already know.

Social media isn’t just a way to have a bunch of trivial relationships; used properly, it’s a way to treat more than 150 people that you truly care about like you treat those 150.like you would if you were smarter, or had better memory.

To put it in Virtual Handshake terms, using Information well demonstrates your Character and helps you increase the Strength of your relationships.

This isn’t a new concept, by any means. It’s the same principle behind The Mackay 66, a collection of 66 questions that uber-networker Harvey Mackay used to build the strong relationships that allowed him to build a phenomenally successful company in the face of much larger competitors. It includes information such as the client’s college fraternity/sorority, children’s interests and birthdates, their immediate and long-term business objectives, health conditions, etc. Before every call, Harvey would pull out the client’s file so he could have that information at his fingertips. As he gleaned little bits of information during the course of the conversation, he would note it in their file.

As a result, his customers were constantly amazed at his apparently great memory, and the remarkable personal interest he took in them.

Cynics might say that it’s just a brilliant ploy to manipulate people. Harvey will tell you that it’s just the only way he could keep track of the information that helped him show how much he truly cared about people. And that’s also good business.

So this is why you should wish your Facebook friends happy birthday. Congratulate your LinkedIn contacts on their promotion or new business venture. Comment on their blog about how adorable their new baby or puppy is. It’s not being manipulative. It’s not being trivial. It’s acting like you want to act towards people you truly care about, and like you would on your own, if you were just smarter. Let social media make you socially smarter.

P.S. In the 30 minutes it’s taken to write this post, 7 more people have posted to my Facebook wall and 4 more have Skyped me. What a great way to start the day!

Pay It Forward Wave – Let’s Get Our Friends Back to Work!

HireMePlease Yup, the economic news for the new year isn’t what any of us had hoped. U.S. unemployment held at just under 10%, but only because 661,000 workers have “removed themselves from the workforce”, a euphemism meaning they’ve given up looking for a job because they believe none are available. The picture’s not particularly brighter in the rest of the world either.

This hits close to home. Odds are good that you personally know at least 10-20 people who are currently unemployed, or as is increasingly common, under-employed, i.e., they have some part-time work, freelance work, or a full-time position at significantly lower pay than they’re accustomed to.

Sue Connelly wants to do something about that. As founder of KIT List, “an email job posting service where employers and recruiters advertise permanent or consulting job opportunities to over 58,000 high-quality professionals,” she knows that the jobs are there – she sees them come across the list every day.

So what’s her big idea? Simple, really – a “pay it forward wave“, this week – a concentrated effort to be proactive about getting our friends back to work. Here are some suggestions she has for simple ways to help:

  • Forward a job lead
  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation
  • Review a friend’s resume and give objective feedback
  • Set a time to meet for coffee or a drink (heck, we all need one these days!). In-person meetings are important, it buoys spirits and sparks ideas and energy – plus it’s fun!
  • Make some calls on a friend’s behalf
  • Pass on a link to a good job site or a great article on job search
  • Make an introduction to a friend in a company he/she is interested in
  • Reach out to a colleague who has been laid off from your company to see how he/she is doing and offer to make connections for him/her
  • Become a “Job Buddy” – commit to meet on a regular basis to set goals and provide gentle accountability (if you are both looking for jobs, there’s a double benefit)
  • Offer to do some role playing for a job interview
  • Tell (and write down!) four strengths/qualities you see in your friend
  • Review or help write a strong cover letter
  • Invite a friend to connect to you on LinkedIn with the purpose of giving them access to your network so he/she can see if you have contacts in companies on their wish list
  • Help with career ideas, brainstorm on other ways to use their skills, suggest good companies to target, how to transition into a new industry

And, of course, you can share about this on email lists, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

If we each just did 1-2 of these things every day, we may not end unemployment completely, but we might at least help the people we know and care about get back to work sooner rather than later.

Image credit: Photomish Dan

If You Want to Be Known as an Expert, Act Like One

Seems like a simple enough concept, right? If you want to be thought of as an expert in your field, besides just knowing your stuff, if you could figure out how experts — not wanna-be experts, but true “A-list” experts that people respect, quote and hire — act, then acting like them, rather than acting like a wanna-be, should boost your credibility even more.

Fortunately for you, there actually are a few things that those A-list experts have in common regarding how they behave in online communities, and this has been a key focus of my study over the past five years. I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while and finally have as part of the launch of the new collaborative blog, Tribal Seduction:

5 Ways to Act Like an Expert in Online Communities

Now please understand… this isn’t about gaming the system to pretend to be an expert when you’re really not. This is about making some smart decisions about how you use your time and how you engage people in online communities. You’ll find, as you put these into practice, that not only will they slowly but surely enhance your reputation, but they’ll also give you more time than your typical engagement pattern. You can use that time to go do the same thing in another community, or to go do other things to enhance your expert reputation, like write a blog or better yet, a book.

ReputationDefender Protects Your Online Reputation

One of the major themes of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online (see Chapter 16) is the need to preserve ones corporate and personal virtual reputation. I’ve long thought that there was a need for a business that would be a personal PR agent, which would monitor what’s being said about you and destroy any negative information.

That business has been launched: ReputationDefender. What I like about the model is that I think it addresses a real concern that people have (or should have). 10% of Internet searches are for proper names; you are being evaluated every day online. ReputationDefender’s main competition will be the same competition that PR firms have: people providing the service in-house instead of using an outside provider.

An interesting question they’ll have to address as they scale is verifying the identity of the person using the service. If I say that I want to monitor the activity of my child, who verifies that that person is my child? And this is a great tool for stalking and identity theft (as are ZoomInfo and many other online network services): perhaps I fill out a form indicating that I want to monitor the online activities of a certain individual, who may not be me personally. Verifying that a given credit card ties to the name of the person being investigated is an obvious way to verify identity, but of course large numbers of credit card numbers are stolen every year.

I agree with Pete Cashmorethat it would be preferable to offer a very basic automated tracking service for free to get people into the system – “entering your credit card details is a massive barrier for the casual visitor”. After all, people can easily use any search engine/blog reader to view discussion of their name across the net.

More here and here.

Overall, I’m positive on the company’s prospects.

Unwitting Exposure: Does Posting Personal Information Online Mean Giving up Privacy?

“People who access the Internet for what have become routine functions — sending emails, writing blogs, and posting photos and information about themselves on social networking sites — do not realize how much of their personal privacy they put at risk, according to Wharton faculty and legal experts. Nor, they add, have the courts fully addressed the ways in which the Internet can be harnessed for questionable purposes that encroach on privacy. ”

Kevin Werbach observes:

…[L]ots of situations that used to be private are now public. It’s not a question of privacy but of social norms. Perhaps the answer is just, ‘That’s too bad.’ If someone had snapped a photo of [the Korean girl who didn’t clean up after her dog on the subway] robbing a bank and she said, ‘You can’t take a photo of me,’ most of us would say, ‘Too bad, you were robbing a bank.’ In a perverse way, we’re going back to the small town where everyone knows what everyone else is doing by virtue of the global information superhighway. My point is, right or wrong, this is going to happen. Google is not going to go away.”

I agree that we may be moving to more of a “small town” environment, where your actions are known to many people, instead of you benefiting from the traditional anonymity of the big city. However, unfortunately so far there’s very little evidence that this is resulting in an increase in standards of behavior, which would be my preferred outcome. Unfortunately, for broader societal reasons, we seem to be steadily defining deviancy down.

More at http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/1567.cfm

Rapleaf Transactional Trust Survey Results

My focus is normally on how people build trust over the course of virtual relationships, but the fact of the matter is that millions of transactions occur online every day between complete strangers, initiated through sites like craigslist, Elance, and dozens of other online auctions, classifieds, social networking sites, and so on. It’s one thing to do business with a well-established brand like Amazon or Best Buy, but how do people create “transactional trust” in these person-to-person situations, when they have so little to go on?

I was recently commissioned by Rapleaf, creators of a portable reputation system that allows you to develop and show your reputation across multiple sites, to conduct a survey to answer exactly that question. The following is a press release going out today that highlights some of the findings of the survey:

Survey Shows Ratings Are the #1 Way Classified and Auction Buyers Determine Trust (When Available)

In an independent survey of users of online classifieds, auctions and social networking sites commissioned by Rapleaf, buyers said that posted ratings are the most important factor in determining their level of trust in sellers.

“I like to see seller ratings and reviews,” said one buyer. “The social proof is very valuable.”

Among buyers, 67% selected ratings of the seller as “very important”, with an additional 25% labeling it “somewhat important”. The reputation of the site itself, rather than of the individual seller, was also an important factor for determining trust, with 63% rating it as “very important”. The payment method being used was a close third. Other factors considered included the quality of the ad, an e-mail or phone call with the seller, endorsements and testimonials, web research of the seller, and intuition/prayer/gut reaction.

For sellers, the payment method being used was the most important factor, with 81% rating it as somewhat or very important. Posted ratings of the buyer was a close second at 77%.

Trust is definitely a challenge for these sites. Over 70% of buyers reported not doing business with a seller because they didn’t get a good sense of trust. 50% of buyers reported an experience in which the product wasn’t accurately pictured or described. Rudeness, defective goods and non-delivery of goods were each cited by more than 20% of buyers.

“Credibility is key,” wrote one respondent, “and I think it’s difficult to establish in a classified ad. How can you develop trust in you, your product, your service, in just a few lines?”

For some, the trust issues prevent their participation entirely:

“I have never done it because I am afraid,” said one respondent. “Not only do I worry that I will lose my money, but I am not sure of the quality of the product or that I will even get the product delivered. Anything that will remove fear, ensure quality, build trust into the transaction would help!”

Sellers also frequently experience problems with buyers. Almost 50% of sellers reported having an experience with flakey buyers. Other top problems sellers cited included rudeness (38%), refusal to pay previously negotiated price (32%), and harassment (19%).

Several respondents expressed a desire to have ratings be available across sites. In response to the question, “What one or two things do you feel could be done to best increase the trust between buyers and sellers,” replies included:

“I like eBay’s feedback concept, although I wish there was a centralized version of this, so I could see how their feedback looks from other places (craigslist sales, Barnes and Nobles used book sales, etc.) and so people could take their feedback scores with them.”

“Reputations systems are important, and being able to understand a person’s reputation across multiple sites would be a boon (in other words, to blend, say, MySpace ratings and eBay ratings).”

“Some sort of due diligence, much like eBay’s rating system. I think also that it would be good to have some sort of overall trusted vendor rating for use on the entire internet.”

“People want to build trust with those that they buy, sell, and barter with,” said Auren Hoffman, CEO of Rapleaf. “Ratings are a proven way of doing that. We rate books on Amazon, electronics on shopping.com, and restaurants on Yelp. As more and more business is done between individuals on the Internet, rather than just with large e-tailers, rating people is the natural next step.”

Rapleaf is a free portable reputation system for e-commerce that allows buyers and sellers to rate one another. Getting rated and getting a Rapleaf score can help facilitate a greater level of trust among other buyers and sellers.

For the complete results of the survey or more information on Rapleaf, contact:

Auren Hoffman
(415) 578-4562

UPDATE 7/21/2006: The full report of the survey has now been published:
Transactional Trust in Social Commerce

The Mourning Began By E-mail

Boston Globe senior business editor Mark Pothier share his experience of e-grieving. If you’re one of those holdouts who still thinks that e-mail is cold and unemotional, read this:

It occurred to me that a means of communication often derided for being impersonal and casual to the point of carelessness somehow suited this sorrowful occasion. For me, e-mailed sympathy had become acceptable. These electronic notes conveyed genuine emotions. Consoling by computer was fast and effective – perfectly normal. The thoughts people tapped out on keyboards did not strike me as a way for them to avoid the process of composing a handwritten note, addressing an envelope, and affixing a stamp to it. They responded electronically because they cared. E-mail offered an immediacy not possible through the US mail and a level of intimacy that can be difficult to achieve by phone, especially when one or both parties is in a workplace.

I Have Been Joe Jobbed – Need Your Help

It seems that an evil spammer (who shall remain nameless pending further investigation) has developed a personal vendetta against me and is maliciously trying to smear my reputation by posting bogus blog comment spam in my name (and my wife’s – that bastard!), linking to this site, my About.com site (entrepreneurs.about.com), and another domain I use just for e-mail.

This is a blog variation on a tactic employed by email spammers called a Joe job, “an incident of spamming designed to tarnish the reputation of an innocent third party.” (Wikipedia) While this tactic has been around for at least ten years, its application in blog comment spamming is new and presents a whole new set of issues in identifying the perpetrator and fighting it.

If you don’t want to read the whole story…
Click here if you have received one of these spam messages
Click here if you’d like to help me keep my name clear and stop this perpetrator

The posts are that genre of innocuous spam that doesn’t actually say enough to trip off the spam filters. Here are a couple of examples:

Posted on kcyap.com/wordpress-16-theme-design-competition:

Comment by Scott Allen

Hi. I’ve got some really good stuff for download at my site at http://snipurl.com/tvhamazon.
Not to be boasting or anything, but I am the coauthor of this little gem. Come on by and have a look.
BTW, your blog is just okay.

Posted on www.simonwaldman.net/2005/12/30/these-are-a-few:

Scott 512-215-9720 Says:

Hi. I’ve got some really good stuff for download at my site at
https://www.thevirtualhandshake.com/ Come on by and have a look.
BTW, your blog is great.

To anyone even remotely familiar with my work, it’s obvious that this is totally antithetical to everything I teach, everything I believe in, and couldn’t possibly be from me. But I’m not a household name to the vast majority of bloggers out there, so to someone who’s never heard of me, this is incredibly damaging to my reputation, to the book, and to my co-author David Teten by implication. In fact, I first learned this was occurring from a blogger who sent me a message saying:

Hi. I’ve got some really good spam on my blog from you – I really appreciated it. Thanks for visiting, I’m sorry your last name is “512-215-9720”

Does your book really sell that badly that you must spam blogs for more attention?

Never having visited their blog, I was shocked to see the least. I can’t say that I blame them. Comment spam pisses me off too.

So how did this all start? I wrote to a comment spammer asking them to stop and telling them I was going to expose their site publicly as engaging in spam marketing if they continued.

So how do I know they’re the ones behind this?

  1. The fake posts started within minutes after sending that message.
  2. The site that was doing the spamming has comments right next to the fake comments in my name on all the same sites. Talk about a smoking gun!
  3. Other evidence I can’t disclose at this time.

What I’m Doing About This

I’m not an expert on spamming, or internet security, etc. But fortunately, a lot of really smart people in my network are. I’m not a lawyer, but a lot of smart people in my network are. I’m a bit of a PR expert, but I haven’t really ever had to deal with a smear campaign like this. Fortunately, some really smart people in my network have.

I turned to that network of really smart people that I’ve built up over the past few years and asked for advice. While there were certainly some differences of opinion, there were a few things that stood out as consistent advice, all of which I’m following.

  1. I’ve reported this to the FBI as a case of identity theft and fraud.
  2. I’ve reported it to About.com’s legal department, since they are now implicated by the impersonator linking to my site at About.
  3. I’m going on a counter-PR campaign to make sure my name stays clear and that this person is caught and prosecuted. This is what the vast majority of the people who gave me advice said to do. The legal process will be long and arduous. Counter-publicity is the only way that I can immediately combat the damage this person is doing to me right now.

I would never have wished for this. It’s going to be a pain in the rear to monitor this, collect the evidence, and take appropriate action. It creates a lot of work for me, and will damage my reputation with those people who never hear about this and just assume that I’m a spammer.

But ironically, in the process of trying to create negative publicity, this whole fiasco will probably end up generating far more positive publicity for me. As a result of my posting on one list, I ended up doing a full-hour interview on The David Lawrence Show last night. You can listen to the whole thing for just a quarter, or to the 10-minute podcast for free. Thanks, David!

How You Can Help

If you have received one of these bogus comments in my or my wife’s name (Jayne), please do the following:

  1. Leave it up until I can capture a screen shot as evidence.
  2. Make a note of the raw IP address.
  3. If you can, please make a note of any other comment spam from the same IP address. This is particularly important.
  4. Contact me with the information.
  5. Once I’ve confirmed back to you that I’ve got the screenshot, delete the comment.

If you would like to support me in helping keep my name clear and catch this perpetrator:

  1. Please post about it in your blog and link back to this post.
  2. If you see fake comments in my name like the ones above, please contact me with the URL so I can gather evidence and contact the blog owner.

Thanks for your understanding and support. I don’t know what I’d do without the support of the network I’ve built in the past few years — yet again another lesson in the importance of building a diverse and powerful network.

Campaigning for Blog Awards – Is This Ethical?

WizBang is currently holding voting for their annual Weblog Awards. Apparently a number of the nominees, particularly in the Best Business Blog category, are campaigning for votes. Now, I’m not just talking about posting in their own blog and encouraging readers to go vote, I’m talking about going out into mailing lists, social networking sites, etc., and encouraging people to vote for them.

Is this ethical? I think it’s a gray area. I certainly think it’s reasonable to let your readers know about the voting and encourage them to go vote. Maybe you even contact your immediate friends and colleagues. But at some point there’s a line, isn’t there? If the voting ends up being a result of campaigning, does the winner really deserve the title of “Best”, or just “Most Popular”, or perhaps merely “Most Effective Campaigner”?

Anyway, they are what they are, regardless of my opinion. I just encourage you to go vote, not just for your favorite, but use this as an opportunity to explore some blogs that you may not even have known about and then vote for which one you truly think is best. That’ll take a little more time, but you might learn about some great resources, and besides, it’s the honest approach.

Five Rules for Balancing Business and Friendship

From RLI Corp. Vice President, Executive Products Group, A. Q. “Skip” Orza:

1. Never renege on your handshake. Multimillion-dollar, complex deals are sealed by handshakes or verbal agreements on the phone, and you live by them. If you don’t honor them on paper afterward, you’ll lose longstanding friendships that are productive business-wise and socially.

2. No ethical shortcuts. Be open and honest in everything you do, go the distance to make sure all that you do is on the up and up. By the same token, make sure you associate with colleagues/friends with the same ethical and moral compass.

3. Defend the inner circle. Watch the people around you; see if they try to cut corners or find an easy way out of things — cheating on taxes, taking financial shortcuts. If you notice that they do these things in their personal lives or in social situations, they’re almost certain to do it in their business dealings.

4. Stick to win-win situations. Make sure every deal you make is mutually beneficial — to you and your company, and to your colleague and your colleague’s company. In short, make sure each deal makes good business sense for all involved.

5. Don’t ask, don’t sell. Never ask colleagues to compromise business standards for you just because you’re down and need the business. And they should never ask the same of you.