Insufficient Funds

Credit Cards

The other day I had a problem. I was having trouble getting something to function properly on a website and I needed help. I tried searching for a solution but search had failed me. Google, Yahoo, Bing…none of the big three engines could produce an answer to help me. I could not find a solution in any search result, on any message board or any help forums. Perhaps my problem was unique? I needed human feedback.

Then I remembered my social network. Maybe my friends could save me? I posted my question as a status update on my Facebook profile and waited. And waited. And waited. Two days went by and nary a single response.

Search had failed me. Now my friends had failed me too.

Social Accounts are Like Financial Accounts

I’ll admit; I was a little bummed out by this (lack of) help. I thought about it for a while. And eventually I came to the realization that the friends in my network had not failed me, I had failed me.

People in the social media fishbowl often talk about a concept called social capital. Think about social capital as you would, say, money in your checking account. With your checking or savings account, you can only spend with what you have stored in the account. If you want to buy something, you need to have the funds. Otherwise, the transaction will fail.

And of course, it is better to make more deposits than it is to make withdrawals.

What is true for financial accounts is also true for social accounts. In order to make a withdrawal, you need to have first made some deposits. In other words, if you want to make a transaction, you had better be properly capitalized.

I Was Drawing on an Empty Account

The problem I had with Facebook had nothing to do with my friends. It had everything to do with me. You see, I keep an active Facebook account. And I accept most of the friend requests I receive. But I spend very little time in Facebook cultivating relationships and participating in conversations. I spend very little time commenting and answering the questions of others.

No, I just showed up one day and started asking for (and expecting) help. I was like the jerk who shows up at a dinner party and tries to get you to switch your insurance policy to his company.

The Lesson for Brands and Businesses

I think the primary lesson here is that it’s not enough to just have a presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter. You have to contribute. Like any community, those who are in the habit of giving when times are good are often the first to receive when times are not-so-good. I want to write more on this later, but for now the lesson is that you have to give before you can get.

The second lesson here is the type of giving you do. The unwritten rules of participation require you to do more than just shout out special offers and the latest update to your product line. Be helpful. Share. Connect. Cultivate.

Finally, realize that relationships require work. This is just as true for you online friends and customers as it is for your friends and customers in the real world. I’m definitely going to follow up on this later but for now think of your Facebook page and Twitter accounts like a garden. They all require maintenance and tending to if you hope to enjoy the harvest.

You? Have any stories or comments you want to add?

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