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.

mickey_mouse-7771

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?

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