Boingo – Using the Network to aid Sales and Marketing

So how do you apply the network to a conventional business? Here is how Boingo has done this.

What would it be like if your business had a sales, marketing and support force that was 1.3 million strong that you did not have to pay for? What if you could source this leverage with a tiny central force? Sounds impossible? Do you have any idea of how this could work?

Now that everyone is using Social Media – what I am seeing mainly are people who using the new tool in the old way – trying to shout above the noise – “Look at ME!” “Aren’t I cool!” “Aren’t we good!”. I am seeing a Dilbert approach – “Let’s have a Facebook site” “Let’s get on Twitter”.

Most do what most do when a new technology arrives – they apply it in the old way and so get nothing in response.

So what then is the power and leverage that you can harness by using social media well?

Boingo are on their way to finding out how to do this. Oh yes and I am one of the people that are part of this and oh yes I am not being paid and nor do I in any way work for them. I am living the theory.

So how might this work and so how might you do this too?

Boingo have a class of people that are deeply committed to the enterprise that Baochicalls her “Super fans”. They and why they are connected to Boingo and each other is the core of the leverage potential. We will meet 4 of them in this post who agreed enthusiastically to be interviewed by me. As you will see, these Super Fans are attracted first of all to Boingo by the obvious:

  • The service – easy one stop access to Wifi in Airports and Hotels – is now no longer a nice to have for travellers but an essential
  • The support for the service is outstanding – got a problem – you get instant personal help

But a great product is not enough. Nor is good service. What is the differentiator for Boingo is the human nature of the relationship that Boingo has with its customers. Most organizations do not allow their people to be human. Service people are often ciphers working from a script. Boingo have set up an environment where their key point of contact is a real person who is allowed to be herself.

She has a name and a face and we are all in awe and a bit in love with her. We all feel her presence watching over us. It is way more than getting her help when we can’t sign on. She watches out for us. Have a problem – A quick tweet. In minutes she is there. She is like the guy who runs the old corner store who holds your keys when you go away, keeps an eye on your kids in the street, helps you find a new roommate.

As Nuno Montegro, a customer in Portugal says – It is not what she says but how she says things that is the difference.

Nuno is like me, a customer who actively refers others to the service.

Most of Social media is all about Weak Ties – They are very useful but Weak Ties don’t get people to do much – or risk much – or commit much – that is why they are Weak – they are easy.

If you want to do something – Civil Rights in the US – you need Strong Ties. (Nice new piece by Malcolm Gladwell that explores Weak and Strong Ties in depth)

The key to attracting Strong Ties is being human. It is NOT PIMPING your product. It is instead to show that you really do care about ME. It is instead to show that you can indeed be trusted.

How do you show this? Nuno makes the point that every service and product fails at times. The key is to offer the best possible response to the inevitability of a problem. The best possible response is to know from experience that if there is a problem, you can reach a real person quickly and that they will go the distance to help you get it fixed. “I felt as if I was the only customer in the entire world when she was helping me” Nuno told me. I had the same experience.

Attracting Strong Ties is all about “Giving”.

Aaron Strout is the CMO at social media agency, Powered Inc. and is also Super Fan. “Boingo is proactive and they don’t expect a direct return – they are not selling all day – so if they want an inch, I go the mile back. It’s Karmic! I know if I have a problem that they will look after me. If people are good and do good, then good comes back. Not necessarily directly but good gets attracted back. We talk about a wide range of things that affect me not just the product – which is great too – have to have that – they listen.”

What Aaron is talking about here is a very old model for an economy that was the centre of all tribal economies – the Gift Economy. In the Gift Economy, the Big Guy is not the man who has the most stuff but the person who gives the most.

This is the power in networks – this is how Open Source Works too.

Cliff Bremmer is a programmer who works for a company called Carley Corporation that bids on government contracts to develop instructional CD base/computer based training for the US military.  ”In my spare time I help companies understand and navigate the social media spectrum in a professional yet interactive way.  The company I’m currently helping is the one my father works for called the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel“.

The Gift?

Not only is he a fan but in interacting with Boingo he has learned a lot about how to use SM media well. “If there is anything I’m proud of lately it’s that I helped the Pegasus Hotel promote their brand with the help and support of @Boingo and other companies to become one of the most popular brands in Jamaica.” Boingo is  not only helping him with his travel and Wifi but is talking with him and helping him help his dad in his business with advice and Tweet Up prizes such as free access and bag tags. The Gift in action!

He can see the flaws of how most use SM – “They are stuck in self promotion versus communication. I can see through it all – it’s all about them.”

In the Gift Economy that drives Trust and so Strong Ties, the starting point is YOU. In the non network economy the starting point is ME. No small difference!

Shelby Rogers is a flight attendant, a serving soldier (in the active reserve) and the wife of a serving soldier. Travel is her life. When she is not working, she travels. Access to Wifi has made her travel better – “I now know more than the Gate Agent does about my flights!” and it has taken away much of the loneliness that travel brings with it. Who has not been alone eating room service and watching TV in our room? “I can stay in touch with my husband on Skype and every city seems to have a friend in it.”

For Shelby, Boingo is a service that truly meets her needs. But it is how Boingo is connected to her that has transformed a pleased customer into a Super fan.

How often has your service provider taken you out to dinner? “We have even had dinner recently. I am now a walking billboard for Boingo with winking bag tags!”

So what does this mean? What are the lesson for both Boingo and for you?

  • Baochi is no accident – the Boingo senior leadership have created the role and given it the space to enable someone who is naturally humane to be herself inside it. This new way of using Strong Ties to be the centre of a network is all about culture. In most cases senior leadership is too scared to let go. But if you do let go and create this safe place then the power of the network effect can be yours
  • A really powerful network has to have an inner core bound by Strong Ties. This is where the leverage is. One staff person like Baochi can without too much trouble have close ties with 34 people. That gives her an outer network of 1.3 million. If she can handle the Dunbar limit of 144 that creates an opportunity of 400 million! You can see that with the right person, you can have a vast reach – provided you realize that your goal is not to have thousands of relationships but a few Strong Ones
  • The secret is the math of social leverage. Many of you know about the “Dunbar Number”. Some of you know about “Magic numbers – the hierarchy of trust in human groups. If you don’t here is a quick primer.

So what now?

I think that the next stage would be this:

  • At the moment all the Super Fans have a strong relationship with Baochi – I think that the best next step might be to find a way to connect them to each other
  • At the  moment most of the dialogue is still about the obvious and excellent service that Boingo provides – I think that some of the work that the Super Fans could do might be to deepen the conversation – Shelby touched on this in her interview with me – What is it that being easily connected while travelling does? In her case it helped her deal with isolation and loneliness – it helped her do her job better – it kept her in touch with her husband – these are deep issues that I think connect all of us who travel a lot

As I think about networks, I think about the laws of physics. All systems have order and attractors. Some force is needed to keep systems coherent.

Think of the Sun in our own local system. It has mass that provides a gravity that holds all the planets and asteroids and stuff in a pattern. It has energy that creates life in the system. I think that any healthy human social system has to have gravity and light.

At the very centre is the “Right Space” a Trusted Space created by the leadership. In this Space, the Right Person – Right being a person who as part of her natural persona truly cares about others. Connected to her is the fuel and the mass that makes up the Sun – the Super Fans. The closer they are to the centre and the closer they are to each other – the more mass and the more energy. The more mass and energy, the larger and more healthy the network of Weak Ties that form up around the Sun.

What gets in the way is our fear about losing control.


At Disney the surface of the Brand Icon never changes but inside the mask is a person who changes all the time and so is never allowed to speak.

But in the new world we have to take off the costume and let the person inside have conversations with the public – HARD to do.

So then how did Boingo organize to do this internally?

Continue reading

So what is the new organization – the network!

The Ford model is the machine – but we are humans – we are not identical parts but diverse aware living beings. So how can we best organize – as all living beings organize in a network. Many of my posts show parts of this new reality that is here already!


Picture from

Did you laugh when you saw this? I did. I laughed because the picture tells the truth that we dare not speak about. That the only thing that keeps the formal organization going are the informal, unseen, human, social networks that both inhabit it and cross its boundaries.

What really lives and works today are social networks. But all the rules that are used in the traditional organization are based on the central metaphor that it is a machine and that people are merely components.

This is the disconnect that Jon and I wish to talk about in this new series on HR and IT.

There are many reasons why the old model is not a good one any more. The disconnect between the machine model and our humanity makes us ill.

CHD Whitehall

This slide is taken for Marmot’s historic study of the UK Civil Service. (The Whitehall Study) What it shows is that our hierarchies kill us. The issue is control. Those in the lowest levels are 5 times more likely to die of Heart Disease than those on the far left, the Senior Leadership. High demands and low control cause our immune system to be compromised. The traditional organization is all about control. CHD is not the only outcome. At my old employer, a major bank, more than 60% of the women staff used anti depressants. We were typical.

We are miserable inside these kinds of organizations – if a better alternative arrives we will go there. Many of my kids age group, about 30, will not work in such places. They just can’t cope with the control.

These organizations cannot cope with change. And Change is all there is right now. We also know how unresponsive these organizations are to change. I was stunned to know this week that most governments in North America still use Word Perfect! This of course is tiny when compared to facing the challenges that confront us all.

There are new organizations based on natural models that are now at scale and making a difference in the world. They are now ready as a model, to be applied everywhere. You think I exaggerate? Let’s look at these numbers.

Skype has 500 million customers/users and only 600 staff. How many people work for your Telco?

Mozilla has about 350 million and so does Wikipedia. Mozilla has 375 staff and Wikipedia 30.

Back in 2007, Craigslist had the 7th highest number of page views of any web company. It had 23 on the payroll. Yahoo, the # 1 had 10,000. Time Warner #2 had 90,000. No wonder the newspapers lost the personals and the locals and could never get them back.

Here is one I bet you never thought of. It is the grandfather of the natural model – the first Chaord or as Jon might the first Wirearchic Organization.

Back in the 1990’s Visa International had 355 million users, 23,000 partners and operated in more than 200 countries but had only 3,000 employees. The NatWest at that time had 81,000 and B of A 91,000 and a fraction of the scale. Here is more current information

All these organizations are designed as natural networks. They use Group Forming as their value proposition.

In the next few weeks, we will talk about what is it about these natural network models that make them so effective? What are the new rules? Why does social media make so much sense in the network model? Why is it so hard to install any of this in the traditional model?

How can a traditional organization stand up to this? After all an artisan weaver could not stand up to the big mill. So once again, a better model will trump the lesser. The industrialization of the world took less than 50 years to be dominant. How long will it take for the natural model to supplant the mechanical?

Is this something that you should know about?

There will be a lot of pain along the way. Especially for those that get caught by the transition. But there is good news. I think that we are about to return to a world where mankind is no longer separated by his tools and processes from nature but is in fact ironically taken home by his new tool set. The plow took us to a cold inhuman and unnatural machine world – the internet and the metaphor that it embodies will return us home. Home to a world where we live again inside the metaphor and rules  of nature herself.

The Job – the worst thing that ever happened to you – Deskilling!

Everyone wants a job today – but they are not coming back – for when no REAL skills are required, you can be replaced by a machine, a computer or a person who is happy to earn 1/4 of your pay. The job demands deskilling – that is why the job needs managers. This period is ending. This is why.

We all worry about getting or losing a job. When we meet people, they ask us what we do and we give them a job description. When we apply for jobs, we get all fussed about the “skills” we need. When we have a job, we have to be managed and so have bosses. Politicians all talk about getting more jobs. School is all about getting jobs.

But the “Job” as we know it is a 19th century idea. In America very few people as a percentage of the population had job before 1905.

Here is a core idea, especially as we all fuss about skills etc. The whole purpose of a Job is to DESKILL people. What do I mean?

1924 Model T Assembly Line

This picture is the key. Before Henry Ford, making a car was an artisanal activity. Really skilled people created each car. With the production line, tools and algorithms were used to enable the owner to use unskilled people. Yes each person could get good at assembly but that is like saying that because I am good at putting Ikea furniture together that I am a cabinet maker. The men who made the Stanley Steamer could make anything. They had the metal working and engineering skills to be artisans.

This process of DESKILLING has taken place in all parts of ur lives.


Today we can all offer our friends and family an excellent meal. Many of us are Foodies. But in reality, most people today cannot cook. They can assemble but not cook. They have no deeper skills.


Yes it takes a certain amount of skill to do this. Chances are if the tractor breaks, it has to go to the shop. But think of the skill behind this!


The plowing is only a fraction of the skill. Farmers in the day knew what was really going on. Today agribusiness is no different from a production line. It’s all external process and algorithms. It’s Ikea.

It’s the same with white collar work. Sales people are all scripted. All core processes are scripted. There is no room to think or create outside the very narrow range allowed in the Chicken Box each of us live in. We are all working at Highland Park.

So all the skill aspects of the “job” are in effect about knowing how to follow Ikea instructions. They are “assembly” and obedience skills.

What is not wanted are people who really are engineers, or farmers or cooks. The assembly line has no room for thinking outside the proscribed process.

This is why when so many people lose their jobs, they are lost. They are lost because they have no real skills. Anyone can put an Ikea desk together which is why your job can be outsourced or replaced with a machine. Your only chance is to find another “assembly” line that still needs what you can do.

Today that will never happen.

This too is why the Manager is a dying breed too. Managers are in reality factory assembly line foremen who job it is to meet the quota and the rules of the process. Theirs is not the job to think of new ways of doing things. Their job is to keep it all moving and the sheep from straying. But with fewer sheep, who needs the manager?

Again the biggest farce of all are all the managerial skills that are in demand. All those managers that are truly innovative get asked to leave. What is demanded is to be able to keep control.

The skill that managers need to rise, is not to have results, but to be expert politicians. Anyone who has been an outstanding manager who has constantly delivered results knows that this means little compared with others who climb over them.

This system was OK when it really was Highland Park. Then all of this was in the open and accepted as such. People also got paid well. Now all of this is obscured behind a touchy feely facade. On the surface we are all one big happy family. We need your ideas. Innovation is what it is all about. We are all going to cooperate. We are all leaders. This will be bottom up.

And worst of all, it doesn’t work anymore. Highland Park revolutionized how things were done in the world. This process worked very well for a long time. But it doesn’t work for any one now, not even the owners.

Later in the series I will talk about leaving the idea of the job behind. Of what true skills mean and how they protect us. Of how to look for work instead of a job.

Bu in my next piece I will talk about the central business process for the traditional organization. The process that any executive has to master. The key to success for you if you wish to climb what is left of the greasy pole. The main barrier against all forms of cooperation and why 2.0 will fail in most organizations. The Budget!

Your Traditional Company has only ONE core process – the Budget. You are just part of the expenses and all the guff about our people is propaganda.

Continue reading

IBM – Also Moving to the Workplace of the Future

Like Automattic, IBM is getting rid of the old way of working and is moving to be a real network. Here is my interview with Luis Suarez who lives the new IBM life.

What is stopping your organization from creating the kind of work environment where you are in control of your time? What is stopping your organization from allowing you to use the tools and the gear  that you know work best for you?

Of course the answer is culture. But who can you use an example to your organization to give you a chance to shift your organizational culture? The answer ironically is IBM!


Last week I called my old IBM buddy Luis Suarez at his home office in a small village on the Canary Islands. I wanted to find out directly what the new IBM was like.

Screen shot 2010-05-31 at 9.31.06 AM

Here is where the Canary Islands are. I show you this to make a point. Luis’s reporting boss is in Madrid and his team is in the US. Each one of his US team live in a separate city. One lives in Toronto. Luis doesn’t even work in the capital of the Canaries but in a  small village. He is part of a group of 200,000 IBMers who work remotely. He is one of 5,000 who use Macs! The IT group at IBM, far from being the Gestapo have a mandate to serve the workplace of the future. Mobility is the key issue. Everything is done to ensure that the individual is connected to the team at any time. The individual chooses their kit. All laptops are supported. All apps are supported. Skype plays a huge role in the organization. All access is supported. Again the key here is to give the IBM worker the ability to control their own work space and to be connected to the larger whole.

My conversation with Luis focused on two strands – what was this like and how had IBM been able to cross the culture barrier. Let’s start with the Culture Barrier.

The key to the culture was to stop measuring presence – ie punching the clock as at a factory – and to start measuring results and outcomes. This of course is true for any consultant. I am not hired to be busy I am hired to get some specific things done. In reality that is how all work should be measured but in reality that is not how work is measured. We measure instead the appearance of work as evidenced by how much we are seen at the office.

Once you make this cultural shift, then everything opens up. Also the organization gets more focused. After all were we not all meant to be going somewhere and not merely being busy?

The other key to the culture was to get the IT department and the CIO behind their main task which is enabling the people to get the most out of their investment in technology. In most organizations the role of IT and the CIO is in effect the opposite. It is to control the legacy systems at all costs.

Now the full power of all that is happening in the world of tools and apps becomes available. Security is something that you design in rather than make security the only issue.

So what is life like for Luis and for the 200,000 other IBMers who work outside of the “office”?

First of he gets to choose where he lives. Luis is not a native Canarian and comes from Northern Spain. He could have worked in Madrid. One of the worlds most attractive cities. Also right up there in costs. But, like me he loves the Island life. He lives in a place of remarkable beauty that is very affordable too but he is paid a global wage. He has an aesthetic and a surplus that is not normally available to those that choose to live in a major city.

His team is in North America spread over a number of time zones. Luis’s work day begins at noon and ends at 7pm which in Spanish culture is ideal because dinner is not usually until 9.30 or 10pm. Of course these hours are not fixed because he is measured by results. He has a huge amount of flexibility. No fretting about the plumber or the dog going to the vet. If he had been married lots of space to be a great parent. No commute. No office wardrobe.

I asked Luis about that dreaded part of the conventional office – all those interminable meetings!

The team are connected in real time by a variety of chat tools. If you have a question, you ask it. Most issues are settled in real time meaning that they only have one meeting a week and that is very focused. In a virtual meeting like this, everyone is still working in parallel. In a face to face meeting this is impolite, but in a virtual meeting it helps. As issues shift on the agenda, new material is surfaced. There are never any minutes etc because it is all recorded in real time.

The meeting that really count are the social ones. Periodically the team gets together face to face and works and most importantly bonds. Because they are all on the road, they spend a lot of the time socially. THIS is the glue that works better than being “at the office” all day with people that you don’t really know.

So what does this mean?

It means that there is no excuse anymore. If IBM can do this with 200,000 people so can you.

It means that the whole work/life issue can be taken off the table. So long as you have to turn up at the same time at a place far from home, there can be no balance.

The key? Measure results. The outcome, a vibrant engaged, enthusiastic workforce and a focused organization. What could be better than that?

Oh yes and one more thing. Everyone’s costs get lowered. Luis can choose where he lives and plant roots. He has no commuting costs. IBM save on the office costs. My bet is that if we could see the healthcare costs of IBM, they would be much lower than in a firm that insisted on the old ways. For what drives our health more than any other factor is the issue of control.

The old adage used to be “No one got fired for hiring IBM”. Maybe we can modify this today and say “If IBM can do this, so can we”

More here from 25,000 IBMers

Continue reading

The Math of Work Space – All Nature is based on math – so why not us?

I ended my old life as SVP HR at CIBC – one of Canada’s largest banks. The organization was one of the things I thought about a lot. In traditional HR there is no model for structure other than dogma based on span of control that is itself based on nothing. Over the last 20 years I have been looking for the math that must underpin optimally organized work units – here is some of what I found.

Many of us are starting to see that there is math that underpins human community – The Dunbar Number and related math that defines the hierarchies of trust are gaining credence as being “real“.

I think that they should be: for surely all else in Nature that is about relationships has math? Light, Gravity, Water and Heat etc. So why would there not be Math that supports how Human Relationships work?

I was re-reading my favourite text the other day – Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language – and I was stunned, but not surprised, to learn that not only do we humans have a gradient of Trust governed by math but that there are limits in the physical space as well beyond which, we fall out of community. Naturally these limits are hardly known, least of all by architects and maybe hardly at all by any of us who wish to design a physical space that promotes a healthy human community.

Alexander brings up this topic in the section on Small Public Squares (Pattern 61). He asks why so many public squares are dead space?

Here is the Space Magic Number #1 – 70.

  • We cannot make out another face much over 70 feet away
  • We cannot hear another person properly over 70 feet away

Any space that exceeds this – Piazza San Marco and Trafalgar are exceptions because they are a nexus in a large city and get filled to the right density – feels un social.

So here is Space Magic Number #2 – 300

  • Any space with more than 300 square feet per person will feel “deserted”
  • So a space with a diameter of 100 feet needs 33 people in it to feel ok
  • So a space with a diameter of 35 feet needs only 4
  • A space with 60 feet needs only 12
  • It’s hard to get 33 or more people into a public space at any one time – it is much easier to get 4

I wonder – do these numbers then tie into what we know about group satisfaction – (Chris Allen)


My bet is that there must be a link between these two sets of numbers.

Forming the best groups in the best spaces will surely have an impact on the power of these groups. This then raises another question. Might getting the group size and the group space optimized have an impact on group power?

Do these numbers have any connection with Adoption?


Might knowing more about ideal groups and ideal spaces address the question that we all have – How can I optimize my power in the world?

Our model until now has been to use money as a substitute for social power.

Are we close now to seeing the Social Power Model? I think so.

In my follow up post to this, I will share a Fractal Model of how we have found social adoption to work in a university setting. If this is Fractal, then the social design we see in a University should match all fields of social groupings.

We may be getting close.

Automattic – the Company of the Future – HR 1

When we think of work, we think of a job, of regular hours, a place, of lots of meetings etc. But that is not how the organizations of the future will be. Here is what they will look like!

5 reasons why your company should be distributed

I’ve noticed a new trend in Silicon Valley. More and more startups are beginning life as distributed companies, and investors and partners are starting to accept it as normal. Our company Automattic is distributed, and I’m ready to sing the praises of running a business in this way. BTW, I thinkdistributed (“evenly spread throughout an area”) is a better description than the more commonly used virtual (“nearly real or simulated to be real”) for a company that has people working from all over the place instead of a centralized office. In Automattic’s case, we currently have over 50 employees spread across 12 US states and 10 countries.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should consider the distributed model for your company:


I think that this is indeed the future – the full text follows here

As with all good network designs – most of the direct and indirect costs of the organization go away.

The capital costs are shed and are taken up by the nodes. People work from their place. With their gear. Huge expenses off the table. Huge potential to have the best gear for the staff.

Most of those interruptions go away – who can get any work done at the office these days?

Most of those silly meetings go away.

With NO Commute – so they get hours of time back a day. Let’s say 2 hours a day. 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. (That’s a working week). 12 weeks a year! That is a lot of dentist visits, plumber visits, time with kids and spouse, time to nap, time to do whatever. And all this time was pulled out of the air as a result of not commuting.

Then of course there are the direct costs of commuting – the car, the transport. It costs $9,000 a year to run a car fully costed. How about coffee and lunch? What do you spend today? $5.0 – $20 a day. That is $1,000 – $4,000 a year for coffee and lunch! How about clothes? I used to buy 2 suits a year as a man. Women can’t get away with that. How much does going to work cost you in clothes? $2,000 – $5,000.

Daycare – well you might still want to send your kid off to daycare but now you might be able to do this locally and walk there. You will not have that pressure at the end of the day to juggle that project and getting to daycare on time. If your child is sick, you have options. And with all the money you have saved on the other things, you can afford a good one.

They live where they want. Huge choice given back. Not only can you choose what part of town, but what town or even country.

Then firm can also hire from a market of 6 billion versus from the local pool – the full talent pool of the planet is open to you.

The costs of travel to meet and hang out now and then are tiny compared to what is spent on a conventional organization.

The communication tools that connect you all now are all but free as well. The Skype offices have big screens that are ON all the time – so you can look up and call out to a colleague in another city as if she was in the next room – for free!

So why not your office? Well if your organization is all about control, then this will never happen. if your organization is all about process and not results, this will never happen. If your organization hires people who don’t have the skills to deliver, this will never happen. If your organization is like this – why are you still there?