The 50/50 Rule is something I started sharing with clients a while back. It’s nothing new or earth-shattering and TONS of individuals and companies are doing it EVERY SINGLE DAY. The idea is simple – to connect in the Social spaces where the users live, you need to spend half as much of your time talking about the users as you do about your brand/product/service/website/effort/whatever.
You need to be a neighbor, not Vince from ShamWOW (who I think is AWESOME, but not a good example of starting/having/maintaining/sharing a conversation). If all you do is pitch AT them all day, they will tune you out. If you spend at least half of your time celebrating them, encouraging them, recognizing them, sharing with the rest of the community what they are doing/have learned/successes/challenges, then they might listen to the other 50% of your “stuff”.
Link Love is described in Wikipedia as “the effect that web pages rank better when they have more and higher quality links pointing at them.” It is partly about attribution (making sure you acknowledge where a discussion or quote came from), but it is also about sharing these connections that you value with your users – and hopefully they will check out those links. This is a powerful gesture, because in the digital space, links are a currency. They have intrinsic value, links are an outward, public display of paying attention. Says Doc, “In simpler terms, humans are distinguished no only by their ability to talk, but also by their ability to point.”
Some real examples of Link Love:
- Blogrolls are Link Love: they share with the readers of any given blog the other “voices we like”.
- Trackbacks are Link Love: they create a connection between my blog post and another blogger’s post – a discrete, ping-based connection that says to the user and the blogosphere “hey, these things are related”.
- Twitter posts are Link Love – I think enough of what someone is doing to share it with my circle of followers/friends
- Comments (although sometimes NOT counted by Google thanks to comment spam) are Link Love – I think enough of the ideas in this post to not only leave a note, but also where I can be found later for thanks/feedback/comments/a beating.
How do we connect in with this link economy? Where does Reciprocity fit in?
We need to link to the voices and ideas outside our “four walls”. If our blogroll only contains the other blogs our company has created and not the blogs of the users then we aren’t using that currency properly. If we only comment on other corporate blogs, then we aren’t connecting with our community. If we have a twitter feed with thousands of followers, but only following a few users, then we are missing out on an opportunity to participate. As publishers/pundits/journalists/program managers and “experts” we need to send the link love out there first (real, authentic), without expectations that it will be returned until we have earned it – and earning it is completely in the mind of the user. You either add value or you don’t. You are sponge-worthy or you are not (to use a Seinfeld reference). Reciprocity in this context is less about obligation (“oh hell, he linked to me, so now I need to link to him”), and more about attention and intent (“X is paying attention to my ideas”, or better yet “wow, those guys from Company Y spend a lot of time talking about what the members of their community are doing”). Its about adding enough value that others think you are worthy of their currency (links, attention, comments – whatever your measure of success is).
One of the clearest, fastest ways of seeing the 50/50 Rule in action is on Twitter with users like Richard @ Dell and Zappos. Richard@DELL is one of the leaders in corporations working with social software like twitter and making business personal. He spends as much of his time sending users to other voices and links as he does “Dell Business” with his twitter feed. Zappos uses his tweet time to talk about the people he is meeting with and interacting than he does his own site (along with DMs to users who ask questions about Zappos.
Liz Strauss has this to say in her killer blog post about the 25 Twitter Traits/ Twitter Folks she admires:
Certain value and actions make people who care about having relationships and conversation before transactions easy to spot…
5. talk mostly about the accomplishments of others….
12. shout out good news, help in emergencies, and celebrate with everyone.
16. offer advice when people ask. Help whenever they can.
If you want people to talk to you and about you, then link to them for all the right reasons. Spend the time and the social capital to celebrate what they are doing. Show where you see the value in them. If you want them to link to you, give them lots of opportunities to find something valuable in what you are doing. A shout-out is a personal gesture regardless if it comes from the DJ booth, the radio or a blog post.
Thing to do:
1. If you are building a community anywhere (twitter, facebook, ning, wordpress, Meetup, etc.) spend the time to look at how much you are talking about “Me Me Me Me Me” and course correct NOW.
2. If you have nothing to to link to (don’t really have a relationship with the users beyond their consuming your “stuff”) then start that conversation NOW.
3. Use the features of the community to connect with users: ask them if they have blogs and add ’em to your blogroll (or have a special blogroll for your community members), send Link Love to them through microblogging platforms like Twitter, use the forums as a commons for discussion and to point out the achievements of the users
4. Celebrate your users and set an incredible example that shows the rest of the community just how much you appreciate them – small, simple gestures can have a real impact.
5. Reciprocity is like love – it isn’t an obligation, but something freely given. Hope but don’t demand, ask, but not too often.
6. Be “linky”, use the currency of the web to show your users what/who you think is valuable.
7. Be real. Don’t engage in linkbait, users notice and your credibility will suffer as a result
8. Send half of your time talking about the users, the community, the people outside your org, company, startup (the 50/50 rule)