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Building social capital

Question: What do you call someone who joins communities, adds friends, and then uses social media tools to promote only his or her own interests?

Answer: A community freeloader. Don’t be one.

The little Q&A above is from the book “The Whuffie Factor” by Tara Hunt, and expresses in a simple form one of the key themes of her book, and a central concept of social media, the idea of social capital.

What is Social Capital?

The concept of social capital is not a new one. In fact the concept is as old as the phrase “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. It is the idea that as we do things for others we build capital , and as we ask them to do things for us, we withdraw that capital.

The obvious business examples of social capital are ever present. The tickets to the sporting event a vendor gives out is directed at obligating the recipient. On a more subtle level, the person who picks up the check and gives you a free lunch or dinner obviously expects you to feel obligated to him in some manner. The sponsors at our association events or ReBarCamps hope that they are building capital with the participant, as indeed they should.

The idea that we owe someone when they lend us money, pick up a check, or give us something for free is not deplorable, and the obligation to feel the debt is only what we make it to be, but having a sense of who is doing what for whom is really important in social media and in real life.

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Gratitude is an Attitude

When someone builds their social capital by helping you, or you help others, the expectation of some reciprocity is implicit. That doesn’t mean that they expect you to respond to them immediately or in like kind, but it does mean that on some level we expect the other party to the event to feel kindly towards us, or our product or service.

All of us have people in our lives that run to pick up a check, or help out when we need them, or pick up something when they come to dinner, and we (hopefully) value those people for themselves, and for their contributions, but we also have some of “those people”. And you know who they are.

They are the ‘takers’. The people that never reach for the check, or wait to see if someone else will. The ones that borrow stuff and never return it, or ask for favors, when they are hesitant to return them. These are people with little social capital in their lives, and when they try to make a withdrawal, they often find they have nothing to withdraw. And obviously, when they make requests, we either don;t fulfill them or do so grudgingly.

So What do We do?

Everyone wants to be perceived as one of the good guys. We want to think that others are willing to help us if we ask them. And We all know what the right things are to do. On some level. Maybe Mom or Dad or that special Aunt or Uncle showed us when we were young. But Tara Hunt does such a good job listing some of them that I wanted to give you just five of them;

  • Volunteer at Events
  • Help others promote their events
  • Introduce people for no personal gain
  • Share your work process with others
  • Offer to help someone new

And stuff to avoid? the lovely @Missrogue gives them to us too;

  • Promoting endless events
  • Only being interested in promoting the work you do and in your company
  • Keeping secrets and being closed
  • Continuing to ask for favors without thanking people or performing favors
  • Expecting people to go to your events when you don’t go to theirs

Let me Help You Get Started

At ReBarCampLA Andy Kaufman introduced a game called Akoha during his presentation on Social Media. The motto of this web site is “Play it Forward”. The game consists of a set of cards that give you missions like “”Thank Someone”, “Invite Someone for Coffee”, “Make Someone Smile”, “Send Drinks to a Couple in Love”, or ‘Give Someone a Surprise Gift”.  When you give someone a card, they go to the website to enter the details, and they earn points in the game. When you confirm the mission, you get points as well. Now, not only do you get to do good, you get to play a game with your friends. Go check it out, find me and make me a friend.

Go out and do well by doing good – its fun and fulfilling!

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Written By

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.



  1. Daniel, The Real Estate Zebra

    April 29, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been talking about whuffie ever since I heard about it a few months ago. I think that the implications of the concept are enormous, and it is one of the reasons that I lead a discussion on it at RE Barcamp VA. I think the guys at Dakno have a recorded version of the discussion.

    There are plenty of great examples of folks who use whuffie in the real estate business, many of whom either write for or frequent AG. We can learn a lot from these examples.

    Whuffie rocks!

  2. Missy Caulk

    April 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I just got my three decks of Akoha !!

    Can’t wait to get started, reciprocity rocks. Andy was great at that session.

  3. Bill Lublin

    April 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Daniel; You are a prime example of someone who understood the concept of social capital and created whuffie for yourself by doing the right thing in the right manner

    Missy, I ordered Akoha decks, but found myself in Fan Francisco before they arrived – then I got here and @andykaufman dropped a deck on me yesterday so I was able to play when we had lunch together, and to introduce Matt Fagioli to the game – reciprocity does indeed rock!

  4. Tim O'Keefe

    April 30, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Bill this is well good advice and, well…… common sense I should think. But common sense is also not so common I suppose. Your pay it forward is nothing more than being a good netizen.

    We all have blog posts that say “good one”. Which is sad that someone actually took the time to type that in. One almost would respect the commentor more if they would have done it with an autobot .These things makes for a lousy web experience that I would think no one wants on their site or in their dialogue.

    The challenge most face is to forget that we are not dealing with machines. The recipients of our brilliance or junk are people. What we do to help one another can certainly be a hinderance or boon to our business.

  5. Bill Lublin

    April 30, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Yesterday at the Inbound Marketing Summit, Tim Young said “we’re not addicted to Facebook or twitter, we’re addicted to our friends”

    But even saying that doesn’t address the need to be mindful of our social capital – who is making deposits and who is making withdrawals – in the physical world or the virtual one. Your making a comment is a deposit – my responding is likewise – it shows attention and respect

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