How Much Social Capital Do You Have?

The Reason I Got Into Social Networking

The Reason I Got Into Social Networking

I got my start in social networking when I adopted my first child.  The adoption agency that I was working with has an online message board I joined in 2001 where adoptive parents could go to lend support, ask and answer questions, and form friendships.  As the wait got longer (and harder), this message board was my lifeline.  I spent hours every day talking with other waiting parents who, like me, wished they could force the clock to move faster so our children could just get home, already.

One of the very interesting things I noticed during this experience was the fact that some people got more responses than others.  Depending on how “popular” you were on the site, you might get 1 or even no answers to your question, or you might get dozens of responses in a matter of minutes.  I wondered at the time how people could gain such a following, and began to track the trends of the power users.  It turned out that the most important trait that the power users had was their ability to connect with people.  They shared information, laughed and cried with people, celebrated others, and just generally made people feel good. When people had questions, they were the first ones to answer. When there was a celebration, guess who was cheering the loudest?

What these people were building up was something called “social capital.” They engaged, contributed, answered questions, and made people feel important. In the real world we would call these social skills. But in the online social networking arena, the result of building up this social capital was that when these people had a question, a problem, etc, they had so many people they had touched who were rushing to give back to them. I watched one woman build a personalized announcement card business entirely through the building up of social capital. Everyone on the social network used her, because they loved HER. Yes, her product was good. Everyone wanted to post a picture of the cards she made for them, and every one was an advertisement for her business. But her initial sales, and all her referrals, came because of what she was willing to give to others on the message board. We knew all about her kids, and she knew all about ours. She had laughed and cried with us. Simply put, we loved her.

For the direct seller, it’s important to build up social capital before you build your business. You have probably heard the adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Well people also don’t care what you have to sell until they care about YOU. And especially in direct sales, this is a VERY important distinction.

So let’s take a look at how this works. Obviously the first thing that people need to invest in order to build up social capital is time. If you want to build up social capital online, you MUST be willing to invest the time to get to know people. I have mentioned in other posts on this blog which tools I think are most effective for direct sellers: Facebook first, then Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as a blog if you can write well. I’ll add that other online social groups can also be good, if people in your target market frequent them. So start by engaging the people you have connected with in the online communities you are a part of. You MUST invest at least 30 minutes daily in engagement at a very minimum. What do you do during that time? Read what other people are saying and respond to them. If someone has a question you know the answer to, answer them! Be helpful, be supportive, be a cheerleader. Take some time to offer a phone call where you give free advice to someone. Be a giver.

In the mood to test how much capital you’ve built up? Post a question. See how much of a response you get. Only 1 or 2? You need to build up more capital.

Eventually, based on how much value you provide to the community, you can begin to share what you have to offer. In fact, you may find others who want to share it for you after you’ve helped them with your product. (Referrals are even better than you doing it yourself.)

At the end of the day, it will be your social capital that matters. If you are going to succeed at all with social media marketing, it will be because you were willing to invest of yourself, your knowledge, and your time, into building others up. Only when they know how much you care, will they care about anything else you have to offer.

6 Responses to How Much Social Capital Do You Have?
  1. Barb Girson
    March 8, 2009 | 10:49 am

    Jennifer
    Nice post. Effective examples and specifics i.e. …be willing to spend 30 minutes a day on being a giver and replying to others.

    Here’s my contribution to the conversation…
    Work on setting up relationships where you respond to each other, respect each other’s network and offer reciprocity to your network. This creates rich social capital for all involved. I found an interesting site related to the social networking concept : linkedinpersonaltrainer.com – there are some intersting article references on The Linkedin Personal Trainer.

    Thanks,
    Barb Girson
    ps sweet picture…your children have kindness and joy written all over their faces.

  2. Kristen
    March 5, 2009 | 4:17 pm

    Very interesting post – not only about the power of social capital but also about adoption. I am hoping to adopt one day and I do a lot of work with a Canadian orphanage in Bangladesh (www.familiesforchildren.ca for any of you who are interested!). I’ve been going there for over 8 years and always want to bring some of the kids home but there is a ban on foreign adoption there unfortunately and I can’t. Off topic I know but it’s great to see such a happy adopted family like yours!

    As for social capital have you ever read Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”? It talks exactly about that and how powerful certain key influencers are and how often they aren’t who we expect.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  3. Lona
    March 5, 2009 | 12:08 am

    First, thanks for sharing the picture of your reason. Cute!

    I think back to our adoption and message board, and I realize the same thing happened as did on yours. I think I noticed it then. Yet I don’t think I made that connection as I started with my networking.

    I have noticed it though. I find the challenge to be when I can’t get to all of the sites I want to get to as often as I’d like. I feel that I’ve missed news I would have wanted to send notes about. And some sites don’t make it easy to go back and see.

    Any tips for when you follow many, like on twitter, and want to keep up with those you want to connect with, yet you can’t get on daily? I try to check status on all sites each time I’m on. I haven’t found an easy way on twitter.

    Thanks for sharing all you’ve learned.

  4. milosmom
    March 4, 2009 | 3:59 pm

    I’m sorry… I was just looking at your babies. Milo’s my reason for social networking. Not to mention that it really opens a lot of doors, not only for my business, but for my family. Just on LinkedIn.com alone, I’ve met a consultant that helps with organizing your business and I’m getting a free session. There are so many people in Vegas that are on that site and they are quick to write a reply. I feel like a kid in a networking candy store. I just love people. This is such a great way for me to become part of the community.

  5. Andi Sherwood
    March 4, 2009 | 2:18 pm

    Another great one! The same can be said for offline – if you want to build a larger team or sell more product, build your personal capital. People are much more willing to buy something from someone that they know and trust than from someone they don’t. Be careful though, if they feel like all you are doing is trying to sell them something, you will loose the trust you worked so hard to build.

    Great post, Jen. Thanks for being such a great asset to a wonderful industry.

    🙂

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