Reading Log: Oprah as One of Us

In Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, co-authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith describe trust agents as “people who humanize the Web” (p. 20). They go on to organize their book around six overarching but interrelated behaviors that describe what a trust agent is (p. 28).

Making Her Own Game

In the opening chapter on “Trust, Social Capital, and Media,” Brogan and Smith mention Oprah Winfrey, as amply demonstrating the first characteristic of a trust agent—that is, being able to “make your own game.”

In popular entertainment, Oprah Winfrey went from being the local TV weather reporter to a multimillion-dollar media enterprise. Though she used traditional media tools to accomplish this, when you look back on the circumstances of Winfrey’s rise, you’ll recognize all the various points in her career where she made her own game (against some fairly daunting odds). Put another way, making your own game is about standing out (p. 29).

Applying the Archimedes Effect as Gatekeeper

Later in the book, Brogan and Smith describe how Oprah uses the Archimedes Effect—a trust agent principle about leveraging opportunities—by being a gatekeeper for her audience.

Here is a rule of thumb that works really well when it comes to leveraging your relationship with your audience: Don’t ever sell to your audience. Instead, be their gatekeeper.

Think of Oprah Winfrey. She gives and gives, constantly, and leverages that goodwill into bigger and bigger guests and giveaways. But does she ever try to sell to her audience directly? No, Winfrey leverages her audience to provide visibility: to stars, to movies, to car companies. She protects her audience from the bad stuff, and lets the good stuff pass through, making her audience even happier as a result (p. 128).

Being One of Us

For me, even more than making her own game and effectively harnessing the Archimedes Effect, Winfrey epitomizes the trust agent principle, described by Brogan and Smith as being “One of Us.” Being “One of Us,” the co-authors explain, is “about belonging” (p. 29). In David Carr’s NY Times article on Winfrey’s success, A Triumph of Avoiding the Traps, Arianna Huffington observes how Winfrey has always been One of Us:

She was transparent and authentic before those things were cool,” said Arianna Huffington. “When she went through her battles with weight, with her battles to come to grips with her past, we went through those things with her. Now with social media and the Internet, those things are the coin of the realm, but she got there before the rest of us did.

Nice (and Smart) Folks Sometimes Finish First

In my previous review of Trust Agents, I ended with a bit of rhetoric, asking myself as much as the reader, whether it’s possible for nice guys (and gals) to finish first in business. If they are fortunate enough to succeed, I wondered in that post’s conclusion, how often do they remain true to the qualities which brought them so far?

In Winfrey’s case, I find an example that shows it is possible. Here, another quote from David Carr’s NY Times article demonstrates how Winfrey stayed true to herself, and how that genuineness is largely responsible for her business success:

Yes, she followed her heart and taught us we were all pretty on the inside, but Ms. Winfrey also ignored conventional wisdom. As a novice actress, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “The Color Purple,” but turned down role after role because she knew her talk show was the thing that would butter her bread. When she does get involved in movies — she is very much behind “Precious,” a recent release — it is a matter of personal conviction combined with commercial calculation.

Oprah, not Winfrey

And if you want really visceral proof of just how much Winfrey is One of Us, check out this ***amazing*** video of The Black Eyed Peas performance of “I Gotta Feeling,” with Oprah on stage in Chicago, kicking off her 24th season. I mean—just look at Oprah’s face—the pure emotion, openness to both her own and others’ experience, and connectedness to her audience. It’s so real, and it’s so, so cool.

Postcript: I called her Winfrey throughout the more book reportish part of this post. —But when I was looking up quotes that I remembered from the Trust Agent book, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t finding Oprah’s name in the index. Only then did it occur to me that she has a last name. But she’s always been just Oprah to me—because she’s One of Us.

Photo Credit, Vectorlyme

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog


What I Did Over Summer Vacation: PodCamp Boston 4


PodCamp 4 Boston

Along with about three hundred others, I attended PodCamp Boston 4 (#pcb4) this weekend, August 8th and August 9th, at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Harborside Campus Center. If you are interested in podcasting, want to learn from seasoned practitioners, welcome the opportunity to meet others from all walks of life and a diversity of fields, and can spare $50, then next year you can’t go wrong attending this informative and engaging event.

My Goals for Attending PodCamp

My main reason for attending PodCamp was to begin understanding the mechanics of delivering information via podcasts. Whether for purposes of technical communication (for example, see Tom Johnson’s podcasts) or marketing communication (see Christopher Penn and John Wall’s Marketing over Coffee podcasts), podcasting seems to me an information-distribution mechanism that no forward-thinking communicator can afford to ignore.

I was looking especially for specifics on how to get started podcasting, and PodCamp delivered those introductory details, with plenty of resources for further reference. In addition to the nuts and bolts of podcasting, there were also sessions on general social media topics, including SEO and how to measure the value of social media. (The range of topics was probably the biggest surprise of my experience this weekend. I thought podcasting would be the major focus, and though it was a well-covered topic, I would say the spirit of PodCamp Boston is much broader.)

PodCamp’s Unconference Approach

Founded by Chris Brogan and Christopher S. Penn, PodCamp-Boston follows the “unconference” format—meaning that the sessions are provided as only a starting point for deeper and more interactive discussions on not only podcasting, but also general social media topics. In A PodCamp Primer, the organizers describe the event’s “unconference” approach:

If you’re brand new to PodCamp, you’ll find enough on the schedule to make you comfortable (or justify the expense to a boss who isn’t coming!) while letting you experience the unconference format at your own pace.

U-Mass-Boston, Harborside Campus Center

U-Mass-Boston, Harborside Campus Center

The venue itself, in this case UMass Boston’s spacious Harborside Campus Center, is part of the PodCamp approach, as the organizers deliberately promote “the Law of Null Space”:

We do our best to pick venues that have lots of open space, flexible seating, and opportunities for ad hoc discussions and conversations. The formal programmed sessions exist only as support for people not already engaged in great conversations of their own. If you and a few like minded folks want to talk about something, broadcast it on Twitter, yell it in a hallway, and gather people to the nearest convenient space to have the discussion you want to have.

Learning and Sharing

I can vouch for how comfortable the whole PodCamp experience felt to me—somehow being in a university setting made the event feel like learning and sharing, for learning and sharing’s sake…The weekend time-frame also gave the event a very relaxed, personal feel, making even the most high-profile speakers seem approachable.

In between scheduled discussions, I was able to ask a more experienced blogger for some free advice on my approach to blogging and do a bit of job networking with other attendees. It was also great to chat with other first-time PodCampers, who are also just coming up to speed in social media and to hear about the almost universal challenge of introducing these new technologies to their organizations. The most recurrent themes from these off-the-cuff conversations was just trying to figure out what social media means, learning how to convince the boss about the benefits of social media (despite the potential liabilities), and wanting more information on how to monetize.

Unscheduled Discussions (including “Gender Issues in Social Media”)

The sunny, clear weather, especially inviting on Sat., made it easy for anyone interested to join together on the lawn outside the Campus Center, in a sea-side, outdoor classroom that tops any “classroom” or traditional conference setting I’ve attended. Cooler and slightly overcast on Sun., I still noted other impromptu lawn-side and indoor “open space” discussions in progress. (One impromptu discussion, which I didn’t hear about until after PodCamp, has spilled over this week into various lively blog posts, concerning gender issues in social media.)

New to the “unconference” format, I realize in hindsight that I should have been checking the white board or wiki web page to keep better tabs on the unplanned discussions, which according to the organizers are the heart of the PodCamp experience (that serves me right, for arriving late and missing any possible orientation information provided during the opening session). As Twitter-savvy as I am, I also didn’t realize the organizers were tweeting information specifically to @pcb4, which may have helped me better keep my ear to the PodCamp wall, find more like-minded folks, and join more unscheduled conversations.

I almost think there needs to be a scheduled orientation session on PodCamp, on both Sat. and Sun. mornings, just for newbies, that would help reinforce ways to get the most out of the “unconference” approach. Perhaps, too, the white board/s where information was being centralized could be more prominently displayed at the Registration table (it’s possible I missed it somewhere), or some other more visible location.

An experienced PodCamper I talked to, who has attended all the previous PodCamps in Boston, agreed that it would also be helpful if there were  “tracks” in the scheduled discussions, from beginner to advanced, which might help people at the same experience and engagement level, better identify each other.

Scheduled Discussions – Excellent, Highly Recommend

Despite these suggestions, PodCamp was of great value, for the scheduled discussions alone…If you were able to attend even a few of those informative sessions, then your small $50 investment was reimbursed many-times-over. Here is a sampling of the sessions I attended:

Social Media Has Gone Mainstream

There was really something for everyone at PodCamp, and a way to engage in any way, or to whatever degree you were comfortable. And there was such a rich cross-section of attendees. I met folks from insurance, telephony, public relations, geography, science, education, and civic settings. I met men and women from all parts of the country, young to older, new to social media, to more advanced. According to event organizer Michelle Wolverton, a hand count estimated that 75% of attendees were first time PodCampers like myself. Most of us were eager to explore and define the direction of new media. We were all communicators that weekend, excited about collaborating and moving toward the future together.

Thanks to PodCamp Volunteers: The Democratization of Media

Many thanks to the volunteer PodCamp organizers and discussion moderators who made such a community-building and informative event available to so many, at such an affordable cost. In particular, co-founder Christopher Penn set the tone of the “unconference,” offering that we all have a window of opportunity in social media to make connections which would otherwise be closed to us, or at the least, a lot more challenging to make. In the ballroom, at some of the more highly-attended discussions, CEOs were rubbing elbows with more rank and file attendees, and people from all disciplines and fields were engaging, debating, and willing to share their passions and concerns about new media. What Penn refers to as “the democratization of media” —a leveled playing field for information exchange— is, more than anything else, the beauty of the PodCamp ideal, and something to strive toward, while social media is still in its infancy. Penn encouraged attendees to seize the opportunity to engage, while there’s still room to more easily stand-out, based on ability.

Related Links

Did you attend PodCamp 4 Boston? How did you like the “unconference” format? Do you have any impressions, take-aways, suggestions, or links to share? Here are some helpful links I’d like to review more closely:

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Finding the “Abundance Mentality” with Social Media

In a recent guest post, I talked about my involvement in social media, especially Twitter, and how it has impacted my behavior, as both a consumer and customer.

What I didn’t mention in that post are the ways social media has also influenced my awareness of various nonprofit  organizations and their fund-raising activities. As tweets from these organizations move through my Twitter stream, the human condition, with all its implied challenges, including real suffering, also passes by my particular Twitter window into the universe.

Sometimes, even if you are a caring person, which I like to believe most of us are at the core, it’s a little hard not to detach from these many causes—so much need, so little of me to go around, especially these days. And yet, it’s precisely when times are most difficult, that these causes, and the people whom these causes represent, need our help the most.

In a weblog about business, culture and spirit, Tim Sanders (author of Saving The World at Work) offers a Theory on Selfishness, likening selfishness to “a personal recession, rooted in a lack of confidence.”  Sanders explains how to find our more generous sides:

When I see someone behaving selfishly, I see a personal recession in full bloom. If you want to help someone learn generosity or patience, help them find some confidence.  They can seek self confidence or confidence in an organization they belong to. When they find this confidence, they will also find the abundance mentality.

In more spiritual terms, lack of confidence sounds a lot to me, like a lack of hope, trust, or belief—all of these abstracts center on the same abundant principles.

I’m not exactly sure who or what it was this last week or so, that helped restore some of my natural confidence, but it definitely had something to do with Twitter. Maybe it was all the job-seeking tips and leads from a variety of companies and resources on Twitter (look at jobangels on for starters). Maybe it was Chris Brogan shaving his head for charity. Maybe it was the example of Jason Mitchener’s attitude toward life. Whatever it was, I acted on a few charitable requests in my Twitter stream, making modest donations to some causes of choice.

I think in a lot of ways, people who ordinarily like to give more generously in better times, stop giving altogether during harder times, because they think, “What difference can my small contribution really make?” A kind of defeatist attitude sets in. Because we want to give more, we don’t give at all. It’s important to remember that even $10 can go a long way, if everyone contributes.  And though we can’t give every time, to every cause, we can help each other raise awareness, as much as possible.

Social media had the power to increase my personal abundance mentality this week. As companies use social media to foster transparent relationships and trust with their customers, perhaps it will promote that abundance mentality, in business, too.

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A Collaborative Writing Model for the Social Web


In my last post How to Deploy Social Media ~ a Call to Arms, I promised to explore the activities and social media tools that as a technical communicator, I can use at each stage of the product development life cycle to collaborate with members of my user community, as we develop audience-centered content for the social web.

The stages that I am using as a writing framework are “awareness, attention, engagement, execution, and extension” (as described in Chris Brogan’s post: Pirate Moves-From Awareness to Extended Action.)  I am also using as a model the five stages that apply to almost all software usage:  unaware, interested, first-time use, regular use, and passionate use”(see Joshua Porter’s Designing for the Social Web: The Usage Lifecycle).

Both Brogan’s “continuum” of relationship-building stages” and Porter’s “Usage Life-Cycle” mirror the five traditional stages of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and submitting. In the sections that follow, I interweave these related processes, providing specific examples of how I would use social media tools for collaboration, at each stage of the life-cycle. I also incorporate examples of how Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff used social media tools in their collaborative writing process, drafting the BusinessWeek Bestseller, Groundswell.


According to Brogan, “If you’re selling the coolest software [or Peg’s note: software documentation] in the world, but no one knows that, how are you going to sell it? [or Peg’s note: get someone to follow your instructions?] What comes first is awareness.”  For Porter, this is the Unaware stage in the usage life-cycle: “This isn’t so much a stage as it is a starting point.”

Here are some ways technical communicators can use social media tools to increase awareness of their documentation initiatives and to encourage collaboration with their primary and secondary audiences:

  • In addition to traditional Release Notes (the documentation users are most likely to refer to), use podcast or video to highlight information about new features, guidelines for use, inter-operability issues, operational notes and restrictions, and software problem reports.
  • Use podcast or video to supplement the How-To Use this Doc Set (a guide that often accompanies lengthier doc sets).
  • Use a blog or forum to make users aware of legacy docs and to solicit feedback for improvements, recommendations on how to organize the doc set, and input on the preferred medium for delivering online help.
  • Use a combination of social media tools (including the blog, wiki, forum, mini social network, and twitter) to complete an audience analysis & gain more detailed understanding of primary and secondary audiences, as well as the purpose of all content deliverables.
  •  Distribute a documentation plan, via a wiki, so community members can anticipate exactly what deliverables you plan on providing content for and can provide input on what types of content they would most prefer.
  • Welcome community members and ask for their help collaborating on content, by revising content via the wiki, adding new content, and helping to edit content.
  • Use Twitter to announce when you’ve posted any new content, podcasts, or video to your blog, forum, doc wiki, or company website.


Brogan describes the Attention stage as “a bit more than awareness. It means that people are giving you a little bit more of their time. They expect something back for this, be that entertainment, or a perception of value, or a sense of participation.” Porter describes this usage stage as ‘Interested: These people are interested in your product, but are not yet users. They have lots of questions about how it works and what value it provides.”

Here are some ways technical communicators can use social media tool to increase attention and participation from their content collaborators:

  • Post early outlines of the content and solicit feedback on the doc blog, wiki, and user forum.
  • Include “talk pages” parallel to each wiki page, where contributors discuss (and sometimes fight over) what ought to be included (Groundswell, p. 25).
  • Ask users for real-world examples or scenarios that they want the doc to help them solve.
  • Share any bookmarks, related to background research on the technology or product you are documenting, through social bookmarking sites. Authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, of Groundswell, used social bookmarking in this manner to share links about their research and book on [ groundswell].
  • Ask your community members (reviewers and co-authors in the next two stages) to share their technology and product-related bookmarks, allowing them to become collaborators with the technical communicator, not just in the writing, but also in the research stage, of the writing process.


Engagement, to Brogan, is ‘the sustained interaction between you (or your product or brand or service) and your buyer [again for the technical communicator, the doc user]. Use tools to maintain two-way interactions. Look for ways to engage in a participatory way.’ For Porter, ‘First-Time Use’ involves “people using your software for the first time, a crucial moment in their progression.”

Here are some ways technical communicators can “capture, maintain, and manage collective knowledge” (Technical Communication in a Social Media World) and use social media tools to further engage their content collaborators:

  • Post complete drafts to the wiki and solicit comments.
  • Use discussion boards, based on primary & secondary audiences, as a way to discuss topic threads in greater detail. For example:  Intuit’s forum for small business owners, using its QuickBooks product (Groundswell, p. 26).
    As Li and Bernoff suggest, provide users a place to provide tips, similar to (Groundswell, p. 26).
    Collaborate with users to develop a glossary, for example: (Groundswell, p. 26).


In the Execution stage, Brogan states “we’re talking about the actual event, or the purchase, or the delivery of information.” Porter describes this stage as “Regular Use”: “These people are those who use your software regularly and perhaps pay for the privilege.”

Here are some ways that technical communicators can use social media tools to execute their content delivery:

  • Incorporate all review comments from the community and post a completed draft to the doc wiki.
  • Transition into a more moderator-like role, facilitating as community members rewrite the content and directing members to appropriate content.
  • Organize content on the social web through tagging, enabling others to more easily locate the documentation. For example, when creating Groundswell, Li & Bernoff organized the web using delicious “to create a set of tags for each chapter, neatly organizing Web sites and articles we’d found.” [ groundswell].
  • Use RSS and widgets to inform your community members of significant updates to the audience-centered content. According to Li and Bernoff, RSS and widgets “give people the ability to consume and process more social content” (Groundswell ,p. 32).


Chris Brogan describes Extension as “a way of moving from what happened to what happens next” and “the feeling that your buyer was part of something.” Porter calls this stage Passionate Use:  “These people are the ultimate goal: passionate users who spread their passion and build a community around your software.”

Here are some ways that technical communicators can use social media tools to extend their community-building efforts and to make an impact, not just on the next iteration of the content, but on improving the product:

  • Continue to revise and fine-tune the content, acting in a more editorial role.
  • Continue to use the blog, user forums, and doc wiki, as a place to receive documentation feed-back.
  • Actively solicit customer feedback through surveys and follow-up calls.
  • Complete usability tests of the doc with members of the community, showing the live testing process through podcasts, to heighten a sense of participation and investment in the product.
  • Report back to Product Management what documentation topics are most active on the social web and consider those as likely places to review, improve, or add-on to the product’s functionality.


In summary, the life-cycle approach for designing audience-centered content for the social web could work this way for technical communicators (or any collaborative writer):

  • During the Attention and Interest stages, convince community members to locate, follow, and contribute to the user instructions.
  • During the Engagement stage,”capture, maintain, and manage collective knowledge,”  enabling the community to rewrite the content later (see Technical Communication in a Social Media World).
  • During the Extension stage, reinforce passionate usage of both the content and more importantly, the product.
  • Though I propose these examples from the perspective of a technical communicator, the same life-cycle approach applies to most other software development disciplines and is the best framework for deploying social media in the large enterprise.

What are your thoughts on the collaborative activities that I propose for technical communicators, at each stage of the usage life-cycle? If you represent a different discipline, what social media tools would you use at each stage, as relates to your different goals? Would this collaborative writing approach still apply in agile development settings, where both the product and documentation are delivered by module, in short, iterative cycles?