Bloggers live and die by reputation capital. Reputation capital can be built by creating helpful tutorials or quickly posting the latest and greatest news, by collecting relevant links around a topic and creating an annotated bookmark-list or by building nifty tools that save people time.
Often reputation capital is linked to the idea of Lovemarks ... to someone being such a fan of a brand or product, that they extend that brand's essence through their own creation. Lately called brand democratization, this activity is at the heart of what makes CGC (Consumer-Generated Content) so powerful.
Sometimes brands don't like this democratization and/or don't want to help bloggers build reputational capital. But sometimes, they embrace it ... and not just as a marketing stunt, but from a place of authenticity ... because they *know*, fundamentally, that their brand lives and dies by their customers, customers who are loyal beyond reason.
Squidoo is such a brand. Here's a small (yet incredibly powerful) example of how a brand embraced and supported a blogger's reputation capital *while* protecting their interests.
Donna Maher, aka Bizunlim, is an active Lensmaster over at Squidoo. And she wanted blog badges with Squidoo's logo so that she could promote Squidoo and her content on her own site and blog. So, she did what any self-respecting blogger would do. She didn't wait around for Squidoo to do it; she did it herself.
Then, because she'd gone to all this trouble and figured, "Hey, other people might want these too" she posted about them in one of the Lensmaster's Forums over in SquidU (actually in response to another Lensmaster's request for blog badges ... pent-up demand was already clear). In her post, she requested feedback from Squidoo and offered to remove any that were inappropriate.
Both a Squidoo engineer (Gil) and the director of community development (Heath) reviewed her badges and requested that one be removed because of potential infringement on another company's trademark, but praised her efforts and her contribution to the community.
No cease-and-desist letters. No "My Brand. Don't Touch." No FREAKING OUT. Even the request to remove the one badge included a thoughtful, explanatory discussion of why it was necessary to remove. No *telling*. No "just do it and don't ask questions." Inclusive.
Now, I know that you might say, well, Squidoo is new, and is all about community, and it wants to get people engaged, and bloggers will build it, and blah, blah, blah.
Doesn't matter. Any brand. ANY brand could have had this situation arise and could choose to react to it like Squidoo, or choose to send a cease-and-desist letter.
It's about brands recognizing that their power, their allure, their own capital comes from the people who buy them, wear them, use them, *love* them. And Squidoo has shown that it is possible to protect a brand's own interests but still allow a customer to own the brand AND build their own reputation capital. Because ultimately, the reputation capital of brands and bloggers are linked. And the sooner we all realise this and come up with expedient, painless and meaningful ways of recognizing and addressing this, the better.