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Is the Bank of Social Capital… Broken?

bank-of-social-capitalHave you ever seen a bank run?

You know what I’m talking about – people are afraid that the bank will run out of cash, so they want to withdraw all their money. Ultimately, this forces the bank to shut down.

I’ve seen two and a half. The two were both fictional: one in It’s a Wonderful Life, and the other in Mary Poppins.

And the half?

That’s a bank run that hasn’t happened yet, but I think it might be coming.

I’m talking about the Bank of Social Capital – the one that everyone in the social media world is paying into on a regular basis.

I’m afraid that we might be unable to make withdrawals…

The Bank of Social Capital

I’m not sure who came up with this concept – maybe it was Dale Carnegie or Stephen Covey.

The idea is pretty simple – relationships function like bank accounts. By being helpful or caring, you make deposits, and when you ask for favors, you’re making withdrawals.

This informal social economy is what drives most human interactions, and the rule of thumb that generally comes with the metaphor is that – just like any good savings plan – you should always be making deposits, so that when a rainy day comes, you have enough in the account to make a withdrawal.

The bank metaphor even works to the point of extending credit, which we do when we take a chance and help people who haven’t earned it, but who we trust as being “good for it”. 😉

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that you should be keeping records somewhere of your “deposit accounts” with each person – at least not formally (if you did, there might be cause for concern!). But informally, we do keep track of these accounts. For example:

“I helped him move into his new house, so why isn’t he helping me now?”

“She cried on my shoulder through all of her break-ups, and now that I’m having a hard time, where is she?”

“I helped him land his first job, and now he can’t even make an introduction to his colleague?”

Thoughts like these are common, and reflect the fact that we feel cheated and even betrayed when these social favors aren’t repaid. It isn’t about opportunism, it’s just about fairness – someone who takes from everyone, and never gives anything back, is a social parasite.

Deposits and Withdrawals in Social Media

What can you learn from social media to help with your online business? Well, social media lessons and online business lessons are similar- both worlds function in the same way, and we all have deposit accounts to maintain. To be successful in this world, you’ve got to make a lot of deposits, for example, by:

Of course, there’s more, but this is just a sampling of the ways that my favorite bloggers from all over the world and web make deposits on a regular basis.

While it is in bad form to ask people to buy your stuff (a withdrawal) before making enough deposits to reach the trust point, bloggers are more or less on the same page about the acceptability and necessity of monetizing their work.

After all, we spend lots of time and energy making these deposits, and a small, occasional withdrawal – in the form of an offer to purchase a valuable product or service – is completely reasonable (as long as you don’t overdo it).

But whereas the blogger’s deposit account is fairly well understood, there’s another deposit account that doesn’t get nearly as much attention…

Audience Members Have Accounts, Too!

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the blogger does all the work – after all, we write, we engage, and we contribute, and we do it all for free.

The truth is that our audience members have deposit accounts, too. Here are just some of the ways in which they make deposits:

  • Giving up their valuable time to read our content on a regular basis.
  • Leaving insightful comments on our blogs, and becoming engaged members of our communities.
  • Sharing our content with their friends and networks.
  • Promoting our special offers to their audiences (like how you can get a free copy of Presentation Zen).
  • Cutting us some slack when our quality isn’t as good as it could be, and giving us feedback.
  • Contributing to our communities by writing guest posts.
  • Buying our products and services.

I think that many bloggers feel that these “deposits” are simply repayments of the deposits that the bloggers are making – if the content is good, the audience shares it, and if enough free content has been given away, the audience might buy something.

It’s always a matter of the audience becoming indebted to the blogger, and then wiping that debt clean (or at least making a payment) by doing something in exchange.

But is that really true? Is it fair?

Can bloggers be indebted to their audience members?

If someone has been an engaged and loyal community member for months or even years, has it all just been an effort to repay the efforts of the blogger? Are their “accounts” really in the same standing as someone who has just joined the community?

What about someone who works overtime to share the message and grow the audience? Is that just repayment for the great content that the blogger has been produced?

And what about someone who puts hours and hours into writing quality guest posts for you? Is that just repayment for access to the blogger’s audience?

I think the answer should be no.

I think that if you’ve been an engaged community member, you’ve earned the right to ask for more input and advice than is offered to a newbie. I think that if you’ve shared a blogger’s content and grown their audience for them, you’ve earned some reciprocal promotion.

While some bloggers argue against favoritism, I think that if you don’t favor those who have gone out of their way to favor you, you’re just asking them to stop. We’ll have a run on the Bank of Social Capital, and people will look for a safer place to make their deposits.

But then, it doesn’t really matter what I think…

Masters of Social Media and Opinions of the Masses

This post isn’t meant to be a statement of fact – it can’t be, because I can’t dictate facts.

Rather, this post is an invitation to engage in a discussion about the dynamics of the online and social media world – our world. Our expectations and behavior will help to shape these dynamics, so let’s discuss: what should those dynamics look like? How should they function? Who should they favor, reward, and punish?

Discussion among ourselves is an important start, but it isn’t enough.

“We the people” are only half of the equation, and to be perfectly honest, we are the less influential half. The people who really dictate the dynamics are those at the top: the Brian Clarks, Darren Rowses, and Michael Stelzners of the world. They lead today’s social media landscape, and their opinions and actions shape our world’s realities.

I’d like for them to weigh in on this conversation, and I need your help for that to happen.

A small withdrawal to fuel the conversation…

I’ve spent the last several weeks thinking about this, and the last several days writing this post.

You don’t have to agree with me, or have found any value in this post at all – but if you did, then I think my work on this post constitutes a “deposit”.

And I’d like to make a small withdrawal.

I want the leaders of our industry to weigh in on this conversation, and for that to happen, we need to get their attention. (Yes, it’s shocking, but I don’t think that Brian Clark, Darren Rowse or Michael Stelzner are regular Mirasee readers!)

So if you have time, and it’s not too much of an imposition, I’d like you to please tweet this line: Is the Bank of Social Capital Broken? @Copyblogger @Problogger should weigh in & RT: via @DannyIny

Update: Mike Stelzner has weighed in – how great is that? 🙂

And of course, please take a moment to leave a comment. If this works, then there is a decent chance that at least one of these guys will be reading the comments, and I’d love for them to see what our community thinks about this!

So what do you think? Do you agree with me? Should audiences be able to make withdrawals? Is the Bank of Social Capital in trouble? Am I just misguided? Have I overlooked something important?


About Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the CEO and founder of Mirasee, host of the Business Reimagined podcast, and best-selling author of multiple books including Engagement from Scratch!, The Audience Revolution, and Teach and Grow Rich.

158 thoughts on “Is the Bank of Social Capital… Broken?

  1. The rule of reciprocity (as Cialdini calls it) is indeed broken in the world of marketing.  Too many marketers (i.e., bloggers) wrongly think that if they do something for someone, people will be compelled to return a favor someday.  I say hogwash. 

    People are smarter now.  Your readers know what you are up. They can smell a rat.

    It’s now time to give gifts unconditionally. So, rather than making deposits in other people’s accounts that you will someday “cash in,” rather consider giving real gifts without expectation of anything in return.

    I write about this in my new book Launch. When you give real gifts, people will become fans and love you. Some real return the favor, but don’t expect it.

    By the way, your tweet is missing the http:// in front of the URL so people can come here in one click.

    • Michael, thank you for stopping by and reading the post – I really appreciate it!

      I completely agree with you that we can’t try to strategically make deposits with the expectation of making withdrawals later – that’s sleazy, and almost sociopathic behavior.

      But what about situations where we have already made the deposits – with only the best of intentions, and not expecting anything in return. And then we need something, and as for a small favor – much less than the deposits that we’ve made.

      Is it unreasonable to expect some support and/or accommodation from the people who we have helped and contributed to?I added the http to the link in the post – hopefully it’ll be caught in time. 🙂

      • hi Danny,
        Thanks for getting this conversation started!

        I think there is a part of all of us as writers + entrepreneurs that sometimes thinks like this:  “I’ve done all this great work, and my audience owes me.”

        This quickly devolves into, “Why aren’t they repaying me for the time + effort I’ve put in?”

        Whenever I write + act from this viewpoint, I feel an unpleasant, ‘grasping’ energy. When I move to a standpoint of giving real gifts (to borrow Michael’s phrase) and making real connections and friendships (as Vic highlighted), I find I receive real gifts and real connections in return.

        • Thank you for joining in, Caroline! And yeah, I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes – but it’s better, as you say, to come from a place of giving real gifts, and making real connections and friendships. It’s just important not to feel like those friendships are betrayed. 🙂

        • Good point, Caroline!

          I had this experience at a state university. I promoted a woman nutritionist who had no Ph.D. My boss told me to stop doing this, although her speaking and writing skills were excellent. She ended up co-writing a national bestseller. She got mentions in all the right places, including the Oprah magazine.

          Yet she’s never acknowledged my role in getting her on this road to success. I finally had to let it go.

          The negative energy you’re feeling isn’t worth wasting your time. Just move on down the road and find clients who will appreciate you. The beauty of working for ourselves is that we don’t have to work with anybody we don’t like.

    • Michael, thank you for stopping by and reading the post – I really appreciate it!

      I completely agree with you that we can’t try to strategically make deposits with the expectation of making withdrawals later – that’s sleazy, and almost sociopathic behavior.

      But what about situations where we have already made the deposits – with only the best of intentions, and not expecting anything in return. And then we need something, and as for a small favor – much less than the deposits that we’ve made.

      Is it unreasonable to expect some support and/or accommodation from the people who we have helped and contributed to?I added the http to the link in the post – hopefully it’ll be caught in time. 🙂

      • No, Danny, it’s not unreasonable at all. But some dorks don’t have manners. It’s out of your control and you have to blow them off the next time they want a favor.

    • Couldn’t agree more!  Some people get way too wrapped up in “Oh, I did this for ___ and they haven’t  so much as thanked me so now I’m mad and blah blah blah.”  They’re spending all their energy doing stuff for others with this expectation that others will do something in return.

      I say think about the audience you are building and give them things that are valuable.  Think about doing everything for them and their benefit, not what you’ll get in return, and you’ll be surprised to see you’ll start getting things in return organically.

    • Couldn’t agree more!  Some people get way too wrapped up in “Oh, I did this for ___ and they haven’t  so much as thanked me so now I’m mad and blah blah blah.”  They’re spending all their energy doing stuff for others with this expectation that others will do something in return.

      I say think about the audience you are building and give them things that are valuable.  Think about doing everything for them and their benefit, not what you’ll get in return, and you’ll be surprised to see you’ll start getting things in return organically.

    • You’ve nailed it Michael:

      “Some real return the favor, but don’t expect it.”

      I think that’s the bottom line. You create value and build an audience. Tons of people will consume your information without ever retweeting, commenting, or even buying your stuff. That’s totally okay. A small percentage will. Luckily, since the distribution model of the web is so vast, you can still make a great career from it. 

    • You’ve nailed it Michael:

      “Some real return the favor, but don’t expect it.”

      I think that’s the bottom line. You create value and build an audience. Tons of people will consume your information without ever retweeting, commenting, or even buying your stuff. That’s totally okay. A small percentage will. Luckily, since the distribution model of the web is so vast, you can still make a great career from it. 

    • Nice.

      There are favors, then there are favors.  If someone reaches out without you implicitly asking and perhaps loves up your post with some comments or tweets out your articles- that’s awesome.  Should their be an implied expectation to return the favor? Absolutely not. Often, that “favor” was really an attempt for an established author to promote the commenter.

      • You’re right – the laws of reciprocity break down when it becomes too calculated, because the tone shifts from one of helpful reciprocation to one of manipulation – I don’t advocate that, and I don’t think it would work if people tried it.

    • I think Michael pretty much shut down the argument. In a good way. He called the concept of a “social media bank” what it is: BS.

      The rules have never changed. Reciprocity is in our fabric. And will always be. When you start calculating you become the relative who sells Amway–a person you avoid because they’re motives are bad. 

      And you really have to ask yourself a serious question: What am I really good at? Do I love to do it? And will it make me a living? 

      Then do it.

      With a little advertising and viral power, people will find it. If it’s good, more will come. 

      Here’s the thing. People don’t love Steven Tyler because he gave them “little gifts.” They love him because he’s a great performer. 

      People don’t love Stephen King because he gave them little gifts. They love him because he scares them out of their gourds. [Some people call that entertainment.]

      And people don’t love Obama because he gave them little gifts. They loved him because he was a sophisticated statesman. 

      The gravity of social media causes us to think more about social media than what we were actually designed to do. [You were not designed to be a social media expert, by the way].

      Get back to creation. Our world needs more of that and less social media. 

      The curmudgeon is done now. 😉   

      • “They love him because he’s a great performer.”  Now that’s some serious Yoda level wisdom right there! 

        If you are always waiting for something in return, you’re going to be dissapointed a lot.  Why not focus on being the best “you” that you can be?  You will attract others that share your ideals and repel those that don’t!

      • Well put, Demian, and I agree with you about the importance of focusing on the work, and letting the rest take care of itself. That only works when everyone is playing by the same rules, though, and that isn’t always the case. I guess that’s more an argument about choosing your audience?

        • Sure, market research isn’t a bad idea. But I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket either. The muscle should be behind the act of creation. And making that muscle stronger. 

    • I think you and Danny agree more than you think. I don’t think Danny is saying that someone who makes deposits can then expect/demand an involuntary withdrawal or “cash in.” I think the metaphor here was that when you consistently provide something of value to someone without asking for anything in return, you are better positioned to approach them with a more sales-oriented/self-promotion oriented goal rather than a hard sale or pushy cold call.

      For a less than professional comparison, there’s a difference between buying a girl a drink with the expectation that she now “owes” you and buying a girl a drink because you want to get to know her and if she does accept your date invitation, then yay. Those two scenarios are not the same thing. One relies on exploitation of social expectations and emotional manipulation, and one is a clear interaction where one person offers something of value to another in hopes of maybe establishing a partnership that’s mutually beneficial – and if not, there’s no hard feelings.

      The gifts/deposits are still REAL and still come from a place where you want to want to share. A relationship built from that value offering – that demonstration of “walking the walk” – will go farther in establishing those partnerships/making sales/whatever you want to call it than hard sells and cold calls.

      For example, you mention your book in the comment above. You could have simply provided commentary in response to Danny’s post (demonstrating no expectations by providing no opportunities to “give back”), but you know you can elicit a reciprocal response in those who find value in your comments by directing them to an additional resource.

      And that is NOT a bad thing. I’m checking out your book on Amazon right now, as a matter of fact. Do I “smell a rat”? Not even a little!

      If you had just left a link to your book in the comments, there’s no way I would have clicked on it. That’s self-promotional spam nonsense. But your comment had an added value to the conversation, and you strongly established your position. Those are both “deposits”/”gifts”/”donations” or whatever you want to call it. They make me want to seek out more – not necessarily to benefit you as a thank you but to participate in a mutually beneficial transaction.

      I don’t think Danny implied anything about expecting or demanding anything. It’s about positioning so that if you CAN have a business relationship, you are already viewed as valuable to a prospect. That’s one of the reasons why we’re nice to the people that serve our food, and we send thank you letters after interviews. Yes, there’s a that’s-just-what-nice-people-do component to it, but there’s also a component of it that you know contributes to possibly benefiting you.

      And it’s time that we stop feeling guilty about it.

      • Jana, I really like that ‘buying a girl a drink’ comparison! Maybe it’s just because I’ve got a knack for metaphors 🙂 Don’t focus on the outcome, show genuine interest instead!

      • Thanks for sticking up for me, Jana! 🙂

        Yeah, you’re right – from the blogger’s perspective, I think the giving is just a way of building a genuine relationship, which means you can be considered as someone the reader will work with.

        On the reader’s side, though, I think that going the extra mile – as long as it is done for the right reasons, and not as a way of manipulating the blogger – should earn them some consideration and/or reciprocation.

        Does that make sense?

        • No problem, Danny. Although I don’t see it as “sticking up” for you so much as showing that you two seem to be in agreement more than you think. 🙂

          I’m wary of using the word “earn,” because it implies that there was a formal agreement between the reader and blogger. You do X for me, and you earn Y. I EARN a paycheck because my supervisor and I have agreed on specific responsibilities in exchange for money. If something is given freely, there should be no EXPECTATION of reciprocation. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a TENDENCY toward reciprocation.

    • OK so trying this again, Danny’s comments don’t like me. LOL I agree it’s broken and Mike nailed it right here- “It’s now time to give gifts unconditionally.” That pretty much sums things up for me right there. 

      People who give with the intention to get, often screw things up for themselves without realizing it. People who give from the heart, with no expectations of a return wind up much happier and in my book more successful.  

      The perk? They are pleasantly surprised when people DO reciprocate, instead of choosing to be frustrated and angry because their expectations aren’t being met the way they think they should be. Hopefully this comment makes sense, it’s late and I’m uber tired.. night FirePoler’s!


      • I think I’ve got that particular kink worked out of the comment system. 🙂

        I think it’s a fine line, but an important distinction. Giving without expectation of return is key, but after the fact, if reciprocation is called for and not made (and that lack of reciprocation is consistent), then it raises questions about whether the giving is happening in the right place.

        • Yes that’s true, if you find yourself feeling consistently let down by someone you feel you are regularly good to in whatever fashion, resentment can begin to occur and it’s possible you are engaged in a somewhat parasitic relationship.

          That ultimately winds up making you miserable, and the relationship should probably be reevaluated. I’ve had to do that in the past with guest bloggers b/c I felt they were too blatantly trying to use BGB to further their own ends, and posts consistently didn’t meet guidelines I set up for a reason. 🙂 and that principle applies to every area of life, not just the biz and blogging world.

          Definitely a fine line to walk and ultimately it’s up to you to make the call as to whether you’re giving and being used or taken advantage of as a result or whether you are giving just to give and are ok with the gesture never being reciprocated.

          OK hopefully that made sense, it seems I’m destined to leave comments late at night when I’m half asleep or early in the am before my coffee hasn’t had time to work! It’s all your fault Danny! :p LOL


          • Gee, sounds like I’m a bad influence… 😉

            Yeah, that’s the rub – it’s a very, very fine line – not just in blogging, but in life in general.

            (We all have those parasitic relationships somewhere in our past, and hopefully not in our present!)

            I wonder if it would make sense to call someone on it before ending the “relationship” – something like:

            Dear Big Blogger,

            I’ve been a member of your community for the past year and half, and I’ve really enjoyed my time there. I’ve learned a lot, and made some great connections, and I’m very grateful for that!

            I’ve also done my best to help you spread the word about your work. I’ve shared and tweeted your posts, and I’ve mentioned you on a lot of other sites. I even wrote a product review when you released your training program.

            That’s why I was a little surprised when I asked you for a bit of help with my new project, and you turned me down. I don’t feel that I was asking for a lot, and while my participation in your community all this time was not with the expectation of getting something back, I feel like your response to me was the response you’d give to a stranger.

            You blog about relationships, and connections, and engagement with your community, and this led me to expect a little more consideration as someone who’s “been in the trenches” with you for so long.

            Were my expectations unreasonable? Does my active involvement in your community not warrant a little bit of consideration?

            Best regards,

            Blogging Community Member

            It’s a bit forward, but maybe sometimes warranted? What do you think?

          • Yeah, I definitely think sending that letter would be too forward and even damage any future relationship Blogging Community Member would have with Big Blogger. Blogging Community Member indicates that he EXPECTED something in return for his contributions to the community. He goes on to imply that he did not receive any consideration at all from the Big Blogger.

            A few things:

            1) Big Blogger could have turned down the project for tons of reasons – anything from lack of resources to an insufficient link between the request and Big Blogger’s expertise. Blogging Community Member’s tone implies he was blown off entirely and undervalued, which may not have been the reason.

            2) This kind of letter could lead to a bridge burning in a circumstance where perhaps THIS project wasn’t doable for Big Blogger but the next one might be. Or maybe the Big Blogger can introduce you to someone who CAN help out.

            3) A better approach may be writing a response to a refusal where Blogging Community Member acknowledges the refusal and asks if Big Blogger has any other ideas on getting Blogging Community Member’s needs met.

            While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with contacting Big Blogger and asking for help (even if you do a bit of “excessive admiring”), responding to a refusal in this way may be indicating that Blogging Community Member feels there is more of a relationship there than Big Blogger. And it kind of reminds me of Fatal Attraction.

            So please reply to my comment.



          • Haha, I guess it depends on what the original refusal from Big Blogger looked like. Did you see my response to Ryan Critchett’s comment?

          • I did. I think that would be a fantastic way for  Big Blogger/Blogger A to respond to a request from Blogging Community Member. But even if it’s a less “helpful” refusal (e.g., “Hey, I don’t have the time right now – but good luck!”), there’s still no benefit in the “but but but but” and quivering lower lip tone I perceived in the Blogging Community Member’s letter.

            What’s the best case scenario to come out of that kind of letter? Big Blogger’s guilty feeling makes him feel obligated to shoehorn in this new responsibility. Doesn’t sound like a solid relationship to me.

            On the other hand, Blogging Community Member – if he feels he’s not going to get anything out of the interaction – may participate less in the community. However, if his initial participation was without expectation and in response/reciprocation to the value he derived from the content Big Blogger is putting out, it shouldn’t matter at all that Big Blogger said no to this project.

            Just my two cents. 🙂

          • Hey Jana, that’s a really great distinction; if they say “Hey, I don’t have the time right now – but good luck!” it at least implies that later might be different. That’s a little different from a flat out refusal, and it also feels a bit personal.

            I guess what I’m saying is that the big blogger isn’t expected to always help out the little guys (that’s completely impractical), but there should be some kind of relationship… when you ask a friend for help and they say no, they are usually apologetic, and explain why they can’t. They usually still wish you well. If they were to say “sorry, but that’s not our policy”, you’d be pretty pissed, right?

          • But what if it’s *not* their policy to do whatever it is you’re asking? Blogging Community Member is getting angry about not getting an opportunity *that was never offered.*

            Being disappointed that things didn’t work out because you hoped they would is different from being angry because things didn’t work out like you felt you’ve been wronged.

    • Certainly a good point Michael, and cool of you to stop by Danny’s blog. I think what you’re explaining here is the most ‘ideal’ form of gifting, but certainly the minority in terms of what is most often done in the blogosphere. I’d be lying if I didn’t often wonder how many people supported me because they truly care and appreciate my content, and how many are hoping for the reciprocity.


      • Marcus, that’s one of those nagging feelings that won’t ever leave you after you’ve crossed a certain threshold. Time will tell!

        • Actually, I would think that it would only get worse with time… if someone comments on your blog that gets 3 visitors, you know they’re doing it because they’re interested. If someone comments on your blog that gets 3,000,000 visitors, though – maybe they’re interested, and maybe they’re just trying to get your attention…

  2. I absolutely favor readers or community members that have interacted with me not just over a longer period of time, but also more in depth.  I do quite a bit of work in the weight loss niche and there are a small handful of people that I have connected with on a level that can be termed as no other way than “friends”.  When I see their email in my inbox, it gets the fastest response.  Some of them have my phone number.  I’ve shared in their ups and downs not only in regards to their health and fitness but life in general.  Yes, they are my friends but not in the “Facebook friend” social media sort of way.  They are people that I care about and am happy to hear from that I just happened to initially connect with via social media.

    • This is so right on I can’t express it!

      I, too, often make personal friends of my students. Actually, I always try to but some won’t have it, for one reason or another. I try and when I find not response I back off. After all, that is what they have told me, one way or the other, to do.

  3. I absolutely favor readers or community members that have interacted with me not just over a longer period of time, but also more in depth.  I do quite a bit of work in the weight loss niche and there are a small handful of people that I have connected with on a level that can be termed as no other way than “friends”.  When I see their email in my inbox, it gets the fastest response.  Some of them have my phone number.  I’ve shared in their ups and downs not only in regards to their health and fitness but life in general.  Yes, they are my friends but not in the “Facebook friend” social media sort of way.  They are people that I care about and am happy to hear from that I just happened to initially connect with via social media.

    • Hey Vic, thanks for weighing in. That’s exactly what I’m saying: by interacting with us, engaging, and helping us out, they become our friends – more so than a stranger who happens to follow us on Twitter.

      It’s just natural for us to help out our friends before we help out other people, and to do things for our friends that we wouldn’t do for strangers.

      I think the attitude of “not playing favorites” is tantamount to a friend asking you for help, and your answering that “if I did it for you, I’d have to do it for every Joe Shmoe on the street” – if I were a friend, I’d find that offensive!

  4. Danny,  I believe you need to give before you get. While you don’t expect to get — the giving is a gift — there is an implied expectation that someday your favor will be returned. I think the key is the relationship. Do you have one? Was it a one-off gift given long ago? People in relationships — both personal and professional — don’t keep a scoreboard. I did you a favor now you do me a favor. If you care about the person you don’t hesitate to offer favors and don’t hesitate to ask because that’s the nature of the relationship. You’ve built trust over time and that’s the real “bank.” If you’re overdrawn, so what? You’ll be making more deposits in the future and both parties in the relationship know that.

    • Yes, exactly – thanks for that, Jeannette!

      You don’t keep score, and the favors are reciprocal and ongoing – relationships are about ongoing give and take.

      It’s the situation where one party keeps on declining to make that move that eyebrows start rising in question – is this really a relationship?

          • True, true! I’ve been supporting some big names for years via sharing, RTs, etc. and recently reached out to several with a small request for a RT of a certain project I’m working on. I got very nice replies from assistants saying “he’ll consider it when he has time.” Ouch. Didn’t make me feel like part of a tribe.

          • True, true! I’ve been supporting some big names for years via sharing, RTs, etc. and recently reached out to several with a small request for a RT of a certain project I’m working on. I got very nice replies from assistants saying “he’ll consider it when he has time.” Ouch. Didn’t make me feel like part of a tribe.

  5. The concept of making withdrawals because we, as content publishers, are entitled to (since we give away so much) is nonsense. We aren’t entitled. We don’t deserve to make sales or have our audience promote for us “just because.”

    It’s a give-take balanced relationship (as are all relationships). As Michael said, people are savvy these days. They can sense a pitch coming around the corner. If we’re going through the motions of pushing content in order to get something, we’re doing it wrong.

    Give first. Give often. When the time and opportunity align, make the offer. But don’t assume or expect a thing. Do all things in service to the audience first, not your wallet.

    (It just so happens, when you put their needs first you will benefit as well.)

    When my regular commenters and readers ask for my advice by direct messages or emails, you’re darn right I prioritize them. Maybe I do favor them. I Skype with them for free and brainstorm. We don’t make transactions, we develop our relationship and it’s amazing what we’ve learned on those calls. To be clear: casual readers, readers who don’t comment, and random traffic are welcome and appreciated as well.

    If your reader approaches you (they make a withdrawal) it’s the reward of your job well done. Take pride in serving them. It’s okay for us publishers to make withdrawals as long as we honor the ones made by others. Disregard that balance and you risk diluting your relationships and trust.

    Achieving this balance, Danny, is an art unto itself.

    We’re social beings. This Bank of Social Capital works both ways. As content marketers we’re in service to
    those who read, bookmark, share and buy our content. Let’s not forget without our audience we are
    just typing words, filming video or recording audio and publishing it into the ether; it’s the audience who breathes life into our work.

    • “Give first, give often” is very good advice, Jon. It’s kind of like the “tit for tat” strategy in game theory classes – you start by being the good guy, but eventually you revert to behaving towards people in the way that they behaved towards you. In other words, you make the first move, but you can’t make every move – if they don’t take a few steps here and there, eventually you’re going to stop making moves, right?

      And that’s exactly the point – casual readers, readers who don’t comment and random traffic are all welcome, appreciated, and respected. But the people who comment on a regular basis, engage, and offer whatever value they can – they have earned some prioritization, at least in my book. 🙂

  6. Hi Danny,

    Great post, very engaging! I think that the idea of social deposits in the realm of marketing fits within reason. We are inclined to support others whom we respect, appreciate, and who add value. As long as we add value and offer something to help people get their needs met we are doing our part and hopefully will get reciprocated. From my position I’m just trying to provide helpful and inspiring information and if people respond I am grateful. I guess I don’t hold as much of a marketing perspective as I could. 😉

    • Hey Joe, I think you’ve got the right idea.

      I hope this post doesn’t come across as advocating a cold and calculating “keeping of ledgers” with everyone – that’s not what I believe in, and it’s not how people interact.

      It’s just a matter of having the best of intentions, and doing what you can to create value. Sometimes, you’ll need a bit of help to continue to do that – that’s the situation where you should be able to “go to the well”, as it were, and get some help.

  7. I’ve thought of this recently – about a week ago I listened to the entire “7 habits” book by Stephen Covey.

    I think an important question to ask here is – what do the readers want? After all, they are the ones to be catered to. The readers, just like consumers of any product, are the boss. If they don’t like something, they’ll leave (or not buy) it.

    This post is poking at an underlying “feeling” I think. You wouldn’t outright say, “hey I have tweeted your last 5 posts and you’ve only tweeted 2 of mine. Therefore, you’re at a deficit of 60%.” But you might take note of a discrepancy such as that.

    The key factor as I see it is the motive of the one “depositing.” I agree with Michael in that the best perspective to have is to give without expectation. If everyone is giving without expectation, things work themselves out. Readers read and share what they like most and bloggers try to produce the best content they can. In the real world it isn’t quite that simple.

    It’s also one thing to ask a favor of someone (i.e. can you tweet this?) vs. sharing their content as manipulative tool to make them feel indebted. That might sound crazy, but it happens all the time. It comes from viewing blogging as a game or system instead of a community. 

    People know that the more they give, the more they’ll receive. But what is the quality of giving? If I’m going to every blog in the blogosphere and sharing everything – that adds zero value to the blogging community. If I go around leaving long, in-depth comments like this one and share the posts that are worth sharing – I think that adds value.

    So…I seem talkative this morning. 😀

    • Hey Stephen, I think you really nailed it here: “You wouldn’t outright say, “hey I have tweeted your last 5 posts and you’ve only tweeted 2 of mine. Therefore, you’re at a deficit of 60%.” But you might take note of a discrepancy such as that.”

      It’ s not about keeping score, so much as it is about a feeling that while you may be giving with the best of intentions, the other party may not share those intentions, or be giving as open-heartedly.

      The trouble really starts when people treat it as a game, or try to “work the system”. This is a HUGE turn-off, because it shows that the person doesn’t really buy into the relationship or social dynamics, but rather they’re just “playing along”. This behavior is usually exhibited by psychopaths and sociopaths, which is a scary thought!

      There’s really a karma component to it – the more you give, the more you receive, but not in a 1:1, “you owe me” kind of way.

      Thanks for sharing, Stephen, you’ve really got me going! 🙂

  8. I’ve thought of this recently – about a week ago I listened to the entire “7 habits” book by Stephen Covey.

    I think an important question to ask here is – what do the readers want? After all, they are the ones to be catered to. The readers, just like consumers of any product, are the boss. If they don’t like something, they’ll leave (or not buy) it.

    This post is poking at an underlying “feeling” I think. You wouldn’t outright say, “hey I have tweeted your last 5 posts and you’ve only tweeted 2 of mine. Therefore, you’re at a deficit of 60%.” But you might take note of a discrepancy such as that.

    The key factor as I see it is the motive of the one “depositing.” I agree with Michael in that the best perspective to have is to give without expectation. If everyone is giving without expectation, things work themselves out. Readers read and share what they like most and bloggers try to produce the best content they can. In the real world it isn’t quite that simple.

    It’s also one thing to ask a favor of someone (i.e. can you tweet this?) vs. sharing their content as manipulative tool to make them feel indebted. That might sound crazy, but it happens all the time. It comes from viewing blogging as a game or system instead of a community. 

    People know that the more they give, the more they’ll receive. But what is the quality of giving? If I’m going to every blog in the blogosphere and sharing everything – that adds zero value to the blogging community. If I go around leaving long, in-depth comments like this one and share the posts that are worth sharing – I think that adds value.

    So…I seem talkative this morning. 😀

  9. Wow Danny! This is some concept. I love the idea. Very nice of Mike to share his opinion underneath. 

    The best example I can think of is this (something I’ve been thinking about recently) – How often should a person comment on a blog before expecting a comment from the other guy to comment back? Does this deposit/withdrawal system affect us because someone keeps “depositing” comments on our blog and we reciprocate just to be polite instead of because we actually want to comment? Is it guilt that drives us when they have left several comments and we have not even visited their blog yet. This can definitely happen.

    Advice I’ve given and followed is give with no expectations. But yes, I understand that there is a limit. Particularly if we’ve done someone a number of favours and we ask them for one little thing and they refuse to do it or ignore is, where should we go from there. I’m a very giving person but if I think someone has the wrong intentions or is a douchebag they will get shut off before you can say “piggy bank” lol. 

    The social parasites are like the scumbags that go bankrupt unnecessarily, they didn’t try to pay thee bank back, they just took everything they could. All take and no give.

    I have to say that I believe we dictate the dynamics just as much as the guys at the top. In fact, a successful mid-sized blog such as yourself may dictate the dynamics even more, purely because you still control everything on your own blog and do all the usual effective strategies for blog growth and engagement such as regularly commenting on other blogs.

    Like a business, on a blog I definitely think it’s extremely important to treat everyone with respect but of course you make a special effort to look after the most regular visitors and commenters. 

    I just think that this theory is good to acknowledge but should not be adhered to strictly. If we treated the “Social Web” like a bank we would expect too much out of it. I definitely think the concept exists though, I just think that excessive focus on it will be negative. After all, who really cares about the bank? We just want what we can out of it. We CAN NOT afford to do this with Social Media;

    Our deposits must be greater than our withdrawals.

    • Yup, I really appreciate Mike’s comment, and especially that he was first on the scene!

      That’s a good question – do you mean a reply to your comment, or a comment on your blog from the blogger in question?

      I try to click through and look at the blogs of everyone who comments here (or on any of my guest posts), but it doesn’t always happen – there isn’t always enough time. I definitely do it for repeat commenters, though. As for commenting back – it really depends on their blogs, and their content – if I like it, I’ll comment back, and interact. I might offer very rare comment just out of being polite, but that feels phony to me, and so I try not to do it.

      And yes, that’s exactly right – give and follow with no expectations – but if you keep on giving and giving and giving, and there is no reciprocation or acknowledgement (or you are greeted with a sense of entitlement), then eventually you start to feel that you’re being taken advantage of.

      You raise a really good point about scale – when blogs (just like any other organizations) get larger beyond a certain point, other people have to get involved, along with layers and hierarchies and systems and policies. The scale makes it impossible to review everything individually (it’s just impossible for Howard Schultz to review the feedback of every Starbucks customer, for example). That’s the scary part – even though this is the case, I think they still have a lot more power than we do.

      That being said, I don’t think I’m a “successful mid-sized blog” just yet, but I’m working on it! 😉

  10. Giving someone a gift in the hopes of getting something in return can sometimes be heartbreaking for the gift giver.  

    As bloggers.  Writers.  Business owners…Sometimes people care, but don’t always show it (until you’re gone).  Until you’re in desperate need of help and then it’s almost as if people come out of the woodwork to help.  It’s a great balancing act and what people must remember is that if you’re not making any money, the gift giving runs out.  The free eBooks stop.  The free posts stop.  And the free everything runs dry. 

    However a great mentor of mine had said to me when I was involved in music, “You’re not in the entertainment industry at all. You’re in the people business.  So become a person that other people like to be around.”  

    I think more time should be spent on that, then on the gift giving because anyone can be whoever they want to be online.  Offline, very few people can be tricked.    

    • Very true, Jared… if there’s never anything coming back, then eventually the free stuff is going to have to stop.

      But more to the point, it really is a social business, and it’s all about people. Which means we have to treat people the way that people should be treated – and expect them to treat us in the same way.

      • Hmmm…I deliver great content in a limited niche market – It is a music market. It is all about entertainment. And who gets entertained? People. Who moves everything? People. Everything is about people. All of us delivering info products are in the business of communicating with people. I’m reading this long chain of comments with the hopes of finding out more about people.

  11. I agree with Michael in that people are smarter than we sometimes think…they can definitely smell a rat. 

    I definitely think we are approaching a different time in social media and internet. SoMe still has a bit of exclusivity to it. When I interact with certain people (and vice versa) it’s almost like we are part of a special club, we share a unique bond. Those days are coming an end as the SoMe space gets more cluttered and eventually housing everyone.

    No longer will be the days that if I interact with you on Twitter and I’m building a bunch social credibility – because everyone will be. It would be like saying hi to someone when walking down the street. It’s nice but you don’t get much out of it. It will be the person’s (or brand’s) ability to take that interaction offline and provide value in everyday life that will be the true champion. 

    What do you think?

    • I think that it doesn’t matter so much whether interactions happen online or offline, but rather it matters more what the substance of the interaction is.

      I have very good relationships with some people that I have connected with exclusively online, and I don’t see that as a problem or contradiction. There is a lot of mutual give and take, and I try to look for more opportunities to give than to take. It isn’t a calculated strategic thing – it’s just a matter of wanting to help your friends, which is normal and basic for all of us.

      The question is, do we draw a line and say that people we connect with in some ways aren’t friends, they’re just followers or readers, irrespective of the level of engagement?

  12. Danny, I’d be happy to authorize social media withdrawals for you anytime. Thanks for being a consistent resource for me and for my team! Blogger reciprocity concerns all of us who spend time sharing content and trying to add value to people’s lives, but it shouldn’t be the sole reason we do what we do. Michael Stelzner nailed it when he indicated that we should make “deposits” for the right reasons! It’s not about sharing to get something in return, it’s about sharing so we can deliver the best content possible. If that thought process is reciprocated, then that’s a great bonus! 🙂

    • Yes, exactly – it’s about sharing so that we can deliver the best content possible – and I think the flip-side of that is that you want to share with people who have the same values about it. 🙂

  13. Danny

    Interesting post – my take is a mix of the old fashioned with the ‘new’ fashioned.  Old fashioned in that every thing that’s given away for free (so blog posts, email advice, skype consults etc) helps build my brand and hopefully the perception of my expertise.

    And then when I come to launch my first ebooks and/or workshops, then hopefully enough of the audience that will have been exposed to what I do will consider making a sale based on the principle of: if the free stuff is this good, how good will the paid stuff be?

    But it’s new fashioned in the sense that I’m working on building relationships with people like yourself – and I do stuff that is NEVER going to give me a return.  And I don’t do it for a return – I do it because it’s an opportunity to learn.  One of the almost never said truths of teaching anything is that if you approach it with the right mindset you’ll learn more than the student.  So actually when i teach someone something for ‘free’ I’m actually being selfish because I learn more than them!  (And when I get paid to teach it’s win-win!).

    Great post – looking forward to see where the conversation goes.


    • That’s a really good point about teaching, Paul – we really do learn a lot more when we teach, because it makes us think through our ideas in so much greater detail.

      At the same time, you’re right – we give in order to build our brand, and in order to be helpful (and in order to build a brand that is about being helpful!). And yes, a big part of it is the “taste” – if this is good, then I want more.

      Giving stuff away for free doesn’t oblige people to buy from you, it just earns you the right to make the offers without having others complain – that seems to be the cost of admission in our social media community. 🙂

  14. Insightful post and great discussion Danny!

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I was
    “trained” as a kid to follow the law of reciprocation. If I was
    invited to spend the night at someone’s house, go out for pizza, or attend a
    special event, then I had to offer an invitation in return. This system ruled
    the neighborhood social order. Then someone new arrived on our street and we
    became friends. I always invited her, but she never invited me back. My mom
    would say, “Why can’t you spend the night at Jenny’s house this
    time?” It seemed that Jenny didn’t understand the laws of our
    neighborhood, but reality turned out to be entirely different. Her mom worked 2
    jobs and her mom’s boyfriend was prone to verbal abuse that sometimes elevated
    to physical abuse.

    This experience taught me that you have to give because you
    enjoy giving, not because you expect something in return. I apply this lesson
    in the social media world. Yes, I read blogs, comment on them, and promote them
    in other social media channels. But I don’t do it because I expect the blogger
    to do the same for me. When I read something interesting, whether it comes from
    a friend or someone I don’t know at all, I want to share it. No expectations. I
    just hope the people I shared it with will find it interesting too.

    I agree with Michael: we should consider everything we give
    as a gift, without any strings attached. This is the way to build trusting
    friendships and business relationships that will be beneficial for both

    • Marianne, that’s a very insightful story that really puts things in perspective – thank you for sharing it!

      Yes, we expect people to reciprocate, but everyone is operating under different constraints and different expectations – we have to remember that and temper our own expectations accordingly.

      At the same time, ultimately *someone* should acknowledge, appreciate and eventually reciprocate when we do things, because otherwise, it means that it doesn’t matter to anyone that we’re doing it – I think we could make the argument that reciprocation is a benchmark for the impact that you are having with others.

  15. Hi Danny,

    I am new to blogging and like you have mentioned, it would be nice for the top guns to weigh in on this 🙂  However, I am still going to share my two cents. 

    I believe that giving is not because you have to but rather you want to.  This is a result of building a relationship that makes you want to give fully without the idea of payback.  Having said this, I don’t think there is anything wrong with favoritism towards your regular readers.  I reward my top commenters by showcasing them and if taking the analogy of a bank, they too offer their top and loyal customers, premium cards or special status.  That’s not favoritism, that’s just showing appreciation. 

    A simple answer to your question: Yes, audiences should be able to make withdrawals but more in a sense that we are all supporting each other rather than keeping score of each deposit you make.  Hopes this makes sense!

    Great post and tweeted!

    • Very well put, Diana – “that’s not favoritism, it’s just showing appreciation” – and yes, it makes sense in that we are all supporting each other rather than keeping score of deposits. Thanks, Diana, I appreciate it!

  16. Humans always take behavioral cues from their leaders (leaders in mind, not necessarily in title) So, bloggers take cues from superstar bloggers. This is a wrong mindset.

    If you as a blogger are taking your cues from superstar bloggers then all you can hope to become is a copy of a copy. I say fuck that. Be an original. Dont fit in. Dont take your cues from anyone but that tiny inner-voice that screams to get out and start a fire.

    • Yes, exactly – we follow the lead of those who are in power, but this is a mistake. Not because they’re setting a bad example – usually, their example is very good (there’s a reason for the instinct, after all). But occasionally the example isn’t as good, and we need to be more independent thinkers.

      Thanks for stopping by, Dino, much appreciated. 🙂

  17. Danny, what a great post. Very thought-provoking, especially as we move from “early adoption” mode to more mainstream use of many social networking venues. I appreciate your thoughts and insights, and have retweeted the link!

  18. Danny,
    I like the creativity that went into your social bank analogy, I’m just not sure how well it works.

    I don’t expect my readers to share my content to earn a favor with me or for the purposes of making a social deposit with me.  They share my content because they like it and they think their friends and followers will like it too.  You see the difference?  The primary relationship is not between the blogger and reader when it comes to SHARING, but the reader and their own circle.  If it doesn’t work like this, the sharing is actually pretty meaningless, because it’s not of value to that circle.

    Comments are different, and you can debate who is making the deposit.  Asking a question is the same as making a withdrawl, but every blogger sees a comment, question or otherwise, also as a kind of deposit. 

    What about buying products? First, while good will make people more likely to buy from you, alone it’s not enough. You have to solve a problem.  While it seems like a blogger or business is only making a withdrawl (in this case, literally and figuratively), if your product actually solves said problem, the buyer is likely to be thanking YOU.

    It’s a two-way street.  Every interactions invovles both sides giving and taking.  As long as everyone emerges from the interaction happy and feeling like they got value, all is right with the world.

    It’s actaully this demand of reciprocity based strictly on social credits that I think screws things up.  Take Twitter.  I’m supposed to follow everyone who follows me, regardless of whether I’m interested in get rich quick tweets or advice on restaurants in Chicago.  Some people expect if that they comment on my blog, I’ll comment on theirs, even if the topic is of no interest to me or the quality is, frankly, not impressive. That’s not the way the social economy works and the sooner people, whether bloggers or readers, understand the realities of fair trade the better.

    • Hey Jen, I don’t think readers should share your content in order to earn favors – that’s too calculating. But if they do share your work on a regular basis, because they’re plugged into the networks that will appreciate it, then over time that action should earn some appreciation from you, shouldn’t it?

      You’re very right that every interaction involves both sides giving and taking, and as long as everyone emerges from the interaction happy, all is right in the world. The thing is that sometimes one side feels that the balance is off, and that becomes a problem.

      I don’t believe in a strict 1:1 sort of reciprocation; I don’t comment on the blogs of everyone who comments here, because I’m not interested in everything that everyone writes about. Likewise following people on Twitter. That’s fine, though – the thing is that when there *is* a substantive interaction, it should deepen the relationships. That makes sense, right?

  19. I’m new to your blog, and I’m glad I found it (thanks @copyblogger!). I agree. Social media is a give and take, and I devote the most time to my older friends who helped me get my platform started and to the new followers who do the most to support my blog. We need to treat the people who promote our sites like gold! Who else is willing to help us without prompting and for free? I appreciate them very much.

    • Thanks, Jill (and thanks @copyblogger!). Yes, it’s give and take, and the more we’ve interacted with someone, the more opportunities there will be for more give and more take. 😀

  20. Hi Danny
    Great post.  I belive that any long term relationship (in order to work and grow) should be win-win.  Which is why i think what you say here is so relevant.

    Blogging is about giving and receiving.  As bloggers we tend to think we do all the hard work and fail to realise just how important our audience is.  I loved the ways you’ve come up with to payback. A bank exists to meet our needs as and when they arise which is why audiences should be able to make withdrawals.

    What you are sayingis blogging is a process and there has to be a give and take as well as value generation for that relationship to last.

    • Thank you, Mariam! Yes, exactly – I think that business at it’s core is a creative process, in the truest sense of the word – win-win transactions are the ones in which the benefits to each party outweigh the costs, which means there is a net gain – *creation* of value.

      In that situation, everyone’s making deposits, so everyone should have a full bank account on the rainy days. 🙂

  21. Hey, Danny!

    Thanks for giving me the head’s up on the post. I’ve gone ahead and authorized your withdrawal from my social account by retweeting your post via the @QualityLogo:twitter Twitter and am leaving a comment here. And you can also go ahead and withdraw from my social account for opening up this exciting line of inquiry for discussion!

    We agree on a lot of the core concepts – you have to put in a lot of deposits to make a small withdrawal (although when you define a withdrawal from your own social account as someone reading your blog post and getting value from it, the bottom lines are a little more event), and it’s not some horrifying social transgression to ask for a withdrawal from anyone.

    It may be my blogger bias speaking here, but all of these social withdrawals and deposits can be calculated and social currency can be shifted around, but it all comes back to the same thing: GOOD CONTENT.

    Want to make more withdrawals from your followers’ social accounts? Have GOOD CONTENT. Get away with fewer deposits by stocking your account with hundred dollar bills, not fives, so even though the quantity is the lower, the natural tendency of people to share GOOD CONTENT doesn’t feel like a withdrawal; it may even be seen as a deposit in their own social account for being able to spot and be seen as a resource to wade through the intertubes and find good stuff.

    The best way to make a withdrawal from someone’s social account is to make your content so solid that it feels like a deposit.

    All right, this comment has gotten long enough. I have to go balance my Excel sheet. Let’s see, this is about 250 words, so that equals maybe two retweets, but only for industry-specific posts, and uh oh, we might have an overdraft here, so let’s go ahead and carry the one… 😉

    • I guess that’s a big part of the “problem” – what one party considers a “deposit” might not be seen as such by the other party. That’s when it gets really tricky… but I think that whatever we might think about the “baseline”, when people go above and beyond, they should start racking up points. 🙂

      And yes, of course, the best way to make sure you’re always in the black is to keep on putting out great stuff, and making your new deposits of greater value on an ongoing basis.

      So let me know what the results are once you’re done crunching the numbers… I’ll update my ledgers as well… 😉

  22. Danny,

    Man, you put together a great post here. This is going to make for a great discussion (as it’s already started out to be).

    As a blogger, I try not to base my reasoning for doing things on what I may get in return…but what others may get out of it. So when I “pay deposits” I don’t do so thinking that I’ll get a favor out of it. I think naturally that’s a dynamic that occurs, but it’s not within my expectation that it occurs. I’m more so in line with doing what I do, with the only expectation of appreciation. What naturally happens, at least for me, is that if I do need a favor, or have a request, then in most cases it’s handled. Sure, I think the deposits I made along the way played a piece in that – but more than anything, it’s the overall relationship that really drives it.

    When I think of reciprocation, I think of giving and receiving. However, I don’t think that that I can call the shots on what I will receive in return. If it’s truly authentic, then I will be given to in some way, which may not be according to my plan.

    Now this brings me to the conflict…it’s often against our nature to give, without the thought of receiving anything in return. And I think the key think that I try to think about is that I will get something in return, I just can’t always gauge exactly what that is, unless I ask something specific.

    Great topic Danny. I’ll be by later to catch upon the conversation updates.

    Thank you for putting this together.

    • Jk, I love this insight: “I don’t think I can call the shots on what I will receive in return.”

      I think that’s a really great way to look at it. If you keep on giving and receiving absolutely nothing, then it’s worthwhile to examine whether you’re focusing on the right audience; either they don’t value what you are giving them, or they just don’t have a good attitude about it.

      But if they do value it, it is arrogant to feel that you can completely control the nature of the relationship. With friends, for example, we expect that if we need something specific, they’ll be there for us – but most of the time they’re nice to us in ways that we didn’t “script” for them.

      You’ve really got the wheels in my head turning, Jk! 🙂

      • I agree Danny, JK’s comments are some of the best I’ve read so far of this discussion. Because the thing is, let’s face it, those of us interacting in the online world – we all want some form of reciprocation – it’s called SOCIAL media for a reason.

        It’s really no different than real life. Would we keep hanging around the same person socially if they never talked to us at all? Of course not. And if we did, the dynamic would be pretty weird! 🙂

        Does every blogger that I read respond to my comments or tweets? No, but in those cases, I may choose to keep reading, commenting on and sharing their stuff because I find it informative and interesting – just like reading a newspaper or magazine, and I’m not expecting anything in return.

        I think the basis for doing anything has got to start with a genuine desire to do it and enjoyment in the activity first, but I think we’d all be lying if we didn’t admit that we want some sort of reciprocity, whether it’s comments, tweets, subscribers, customers….or just meeting new friends that we enjoy talking to or spending time with.

        Bottom line is that we should make sure that we absolutely enjoy sharing information, blogging, writing, creating products, etc. FIRST and then worry about whether or not we feel the need for reciprocation from certain channels. Then, just as in life, if we feel the relationship is too one-sided, we can always move on if that feels right.  

        It is perfectly fine to have reciprocal need within any relationship, but as JK said, we can’t always, nor should we try to, gauge what that reciprocation should be.

        • Hi Tisha, thanks for stopping by, and it’s great to make your acquaintance!

          Yup – Jk can’t help but stand out, no matter what crowd of people he’s in – the man has a gift!

          You make a really good point – there are media outlets online that we follow without the expectation of a response, but in those cases it’s really more like reading the news than it is social media – just because someone is using WordPress doesn’t mean they’re building a community!

          That being said, you’re right, the starting point (for any genuine relationship, not just online) is to like the person, and want to genuinely make a contribution – without calculating an ROI for the move.

          It’s great to connect with you, Tisha, and I hope we’ll see you here again. 

  23. To be honest I don’t really believe that we should be treating every online activity like a business transaction (deposit-withdrawal ratio, calculating some kind of ROI and so on). If we’re talking results the fact is that most of the activities we do won’t get us any (pareto rule).

    So if I were to expect a measurable positive result from everything I do I would get discouraged very quickly because more than 80% of my actions would end up bringing me nothing. And it’s difficult to identify the 20% high-reward activities right from the get-go.

    What you can do instead is just to keep giving your best stuff while being a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist at the same time. So whenever I do something new I literally don’t expect anything, but at the same time I know that if I keep doing it for a longer period of time the results will appear because that’s just the way it is.

    So in a nutshell – I don’t prefer “doing deposits,” I prefer “donating to charity.”

    • No, no, I agree with what you’re saying, Karol – interpersonal interactions (online or offline) are not transactions, and don’t come with a clear ROI that is important to measure.

      That being said, though, if you keep on giving your best stuff, above and beyond what is the baseline, and particularly if you do it to a few specific individuals, then I think reciprocation is in order.

      I don’t know how I feel about “donating to charity” as opposed to “making deposits” – some of the people that we help don’t need charity!

  24. What up Danny!

    As humans we thrive off validation. Every comment, rt, like, personal email etc… is a form of validation that our stuff is the sh*t. Which may be true and in your case it is Danny. At the same time we get full of this ego boost and we start to think in expectations. We expect that people should buy because we put out a ton of good will and everyone thinks it’s awesome! 

    Today expectations shouldn’t be in our minds even if we really do deserve something in return. Expectations should be in 2 places:

    1) Family & Friends – If I help my best friend move you better believe he’s helping me move too. I can say this because he’s my friend. We can’t talk that way to our customers or potentials because that would just be weird. There’s a fine line between customers and friends. While our customers or audience can become close friends, it does take time. 

    2) Business transaction – If customers give you money for a quality product or service, you give them a quality product or service. 

    Look, it’s free to search and read blogs on the web. Heck all the social platforms are free as well. You don’t get the vibe that Facebook expects us to join or Google expects us to search with them. They just put out a ton of good will mixed with remarkableness and voila, they are seeing the returns. I mean Google has put out a ton of free tools and HubSpot is also a great exmple. It does take hard work and persistence but it’s well worth it.

    Great post Danny and keep rocking bro!

    • Hey Eric, you’re right, our customers are NOT our friends – but the people who read our blog and interact with us aren’t really our customers, unless they’re paying us for something. At that point, the lines get a little more clear, but before that, social media is so called for a good reason – it’s social.

      In that sense, I think, as you said that “if I help my best friend move you better believe he’s helping me move too”, but the same token when we do favors for people online – not just the basics or reading their blogs, but going further and out of our way to help them out, we expect some reciprocation.

      Does that make sense?

      • Even if it’s our audience, their still not our friends but they can be. We definitely have to build that relationship over time.

        Do I think people should give reciprocation for going out of our ways? Sure I do. But if we put stuff out there for free we shouldn’t expect anything in return even if we totally deserve.

  25. I think if you’re taking a business approach, there HAS to be some sort of favoritism. Pareto’s law (the 80/20) rule dictates it. And it has become pretty accepted that this law holds true. And if the minority of your readers/contributors are bringing in the most return, you should favor them as well by giving back to them in some way. 

    Of course, I can also see the other side of the argument. Jens Berget had an interesting post about going to shows (like comedy shows for instance). The audience members hooting and hollering are exactly what the performers want at the show. But just because you don’t have that personality type, and sitting quietly in the crowd, doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable. 

    Of course in that instance you still paid for the ticket. So then the question becomes, is the guy yelling out cheering in the crowd more valuable then the person sitting back quietly and enjoying the show even though they both paid for a ticket?

    • Yes, exactly – there has to be some sort of favoritism. I don’t think it’s just a matter of expediency, though – I think it isn’t right because when a minority of your audience does the majority of the work for you, it’s only fair for you to reciprocate.

      I like your example about the comedy show, but I think it’s a bit tricky, because the dynamics are very different when you’ve paid for something, and when it’s free – though likewise, even if you’ve paid for something, there is still behavior that is above and beyond.

      If we take the example of the comedy show, for example, if there’s a really funny and clever guy in the audience who riffs with the comic and adds to the show, the comic should thank them after the fact, and even go so far as to incorporate him into the act, if he’s really good. 🙂

  26. I really think this post is awesome and if only every blogger could read and think about this, then the blogosphere will be a better place.

    There’s nothing bad in giving some readers more access compared to others because we all want to be appreciated for our time or efforts, even if we don’t admit it. A reader that has been following me for years, bought all my products, comments regularly on my blog and shares my posts regularly shouldn’t only been seen as a reader but also as a friend and supporter so readers should definitely be able to withdrawals.

    • Onibalusi, thank you for weighing in, I really appreciate it! The idea that there is some side of social currency, or obligation of reciprocity seems to be distasteful to some people, but I really don’t get it – that’s just how people interact, isn’t it? 🙂

  27. Hey Danny!
    This is an interesting issue. I’m on the fence about it to some extent. For the most part, I do believe that reciprocity is still in play in most social media interactions. I think the key is whether or not the interactions are genuine to begin with. If someone does something in hopes of receiving something, as others have stated it, it shows. 

    That said, I believe the rule of reciprocity only works when it’s paired with sincerity. If you can’t do something for someone, some organization, or otherwise simply because you want to, you shouldn’t. 

    • Genuine is the key, Marlee, you’re absolutely right about that – if it’s genuine and we informally track it all after the fact, then that’s fine, but if it’s a calculated move from the start, then that just isn’t cool. 🙂

    • I’m going to agree with Marlee here in saying that this is a toughy. Let me pose this question: Let’s say that you only have time to help or give to one person, although there are two people you’d really like to help. Knowing that one usually returns the favor, and the other doesn’t, who is going to receive the help? Obviously, the reciprocator. My point is, we all have finite time to help, promote, share, and all that jazz. With all things being equal, except the return action of the other person, that is what usually is going to make the final decision.

      Great conversation Danny, and some smart promotion here too. Well done my friend.


      • Marcus, thank you for stopping by and being so supportive!

        I’d agree with you, but I’d temper that with consideration of the people’s situation; i.e. how much do they reciprocate relative to their ability to reciprocate (I don’t expect the same things from everyone, because not everyone is in a position to do very much, regardless of intentions).

        But yes – all things being equal, we want to help the person who is likely to reciprocate… not just because of what they’ll do for us, but also because if they reciprocate to us, they probably reciprocate to others, too, and we tend to prefer interacting with people who are generally cultivating good karma. 🙂

  28. Interesting post, Danny. 

    Huge topic. I could write for an hour on this, or I could make it real quick. First, great contributions. All of your comments were enlightening. 

    My place is this: If you promote my content, and help my readership grow, that’s incredible. I’ll thank you for days but here’s the important part, I’ll mean it. I’ll sit and think about it, and be grateful for it. 
    But sharing your stuff, because you shared mine, is.. 

    wait. I don’t even have to say it. Because all of you know what that is. It’s not genuine. It’s awkward if you ask me to. Just like push marketing. You’re forcing people into awkward situations, and people inherently don’t like that. The thing that a great majority of web people lack is this thing called sensibility. Be perceptive, understand people to a great degree, and you’ll always do well. But don’t, even for just a second, and people smell the bullshit from different countries.

    If you have cool stuff, I’m all about it. If I wouldn’t retweet it to the people following me, I won’t share it. It has to be natural. That’s why I dipped out of Triberr. Great tool, but too many things were going out that I would never ever share with my audience and I didn’t have the time to go and filter all of it. And, I’m not really for auto anything. (but Dino rocks, and I love the guy)

    At any rate, I feel really kumbaya right now. Like we’re all sitting here by the fire, hashing stuff out. And I love that. That’s really what I’m here for. 

    Loved reading what you guys had to say, thanks for letting me give my opinion on this. Danny, sweet post bro. 

    • Hey Ryan, thank you for your comment – very thought-provoking, and you’ve raised a very important question.

      Let’s say that there is Blogger A, who runs a big successful blog about blogging. And then let’s say that there is Blogger B, who runs a smaller, niche blog about vacuum cleaners. Blogger A might really like what Blogger A is doing, and want to help out – so he engages in Blogger A’s community, interacts on comments, tweets and shares Blogger A’s stuff that he likes, and even helps spread the word when Blogger A’s book comes out.

      Then Blogger B asks Blogger A to help him promote his vacuum cleaners. Of course, I don’t think Blogger A should say “yes, of course” – it’s irrelevant to his audience. But Blogger B has been helpful, and made an effort, and cultivated a relationship – so instead of just ignoring the request, or sending a form response saying “Thank you for your interest, but unfortunately that is not consistent with the content that our audience values here at Blogger A Blog”.

      Instead, maybe something like this:

      Dear Blogger B,

      First of all, thank you for thinking of me for this project – I’m flattered.

      I’d love to get involved, but I don’t think it’s going to work. My blog isn’t about vacuum cleaners, and I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project right now.

      That being said, here are some people that you might want to talk to, and here are some things that you can do to make this work.

      I appreciate your help over the past months and years, and while I don’t think I can work on this project with you directly, please feel free to shoot any questions that you have my way – I’d be happy to do what I can to point you in the right direction.

      Best regards, Blogger A

      Do you see what I mean? The help and reciprocation doesn’t have to be 1:1 (“I tweeted you, so you tweet me”), and it has to fit with what each side is doing. I’m just saying that there should be *some* reciprocation.

      Does that make sense?

      • Totally makes sense man. I get what you’re saying but you’re still implying that no matter what, even if I can’t reciprocate the exact way, that I should in another way.. and that would be the “right thing to do.” 

        That’s something that we leave in the hands of blogger A. Whether or not he/she tries to help you, they’re still cool. It shouldn’t be expected, either way. It makes it a lot more authentic that way. 
        AND, what about the real substance of the relationship? What if there isn’t any? Do you know what sales people do when they ask for things when there isn’t a “trust point?” 

        They’re forcing people into awkward situations. There has to be substance, a lot of interaction, a positive association and a strong link. Then, helping someone is natural. (and they also have to have something they think is worth helping, because it’s solid, and agreeing with who they are and what they’re about is a big thing too). 

        I’m on this right now: If it isn’t natural, don’t do it. Be natural. 

        It helps me tremendously. The bottom line when it comes to human business is that some “marketers” are going to have to get the “substance” and “trust point” touchy feely stuff to be able to survive the next 10 years. Human business is about being natural, not forceful or awkward. Sensibility is king.

  29. Danny, here are my thoughts on the matter. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

    Social media is and should only be all about relationship building. 

    Relationships are built by people. 

    In order to have a good relationship with someone however, they must either know, like or trust you. 

    If you “make a deposit”, like retweet a post or even mention, with the expectation that you should be able to later “make a withdrawal” (they should return the favor),you are deceiving yourself into thinking that you are actually building relationships with people and what’s worse is that you;re doing it entirely for all the wrong reasons. 

    • I agree with you, Hector, it doesn’t work if it’s premeditated. But if you share, comment, and are supportive of someone’s work, and do so with the best of intentions, I think you will have earned some appreciation and recognition? N’est pas?

  30. Danny, really well done.  As you know, this is something I spend a lot of my time thinking about…

    What sorts of values are monetizable and what sorts of values are intrinsically social?What sorts of interactions lend themselves to a strict accounting and what sorts lend themselves to intuitive mental record keeping?

    I have actually made a lot of progress on these questions in the last few weeks, thanks in no small part to conversations with people like you, and I am finishing up a long post tonight documenting that progress.

    For those who are interested in a long systematic answer, here is the teaser version as relevant to your questions:

    Your post acknowledges three distinct types of economic arrangements.  The first we all understand very well – the transactional (monetary) economy – the exchange of money for some good or service with a clearly articulated value proposition, generally (but not always) occurring between parties who are relatively anonymous.  This last point is important.  The closer the relationship between two people the more awkward it becomes to, as you say, keep records and balance out your deposit accounts.  

    The second form is the relationship economy…the polar opposite of the transactional economy.  The relationship economy consists of exchanges occurring within ongoing trust-based relationships.  The values exchanged in this context generally do not have a clear tangible price, but instead are of a more fuzzy intrinsic variety.  It would prove quite difficult to put a price on that ‘shoulder to cry on’ or the advice from a friend, particularly a priori.

    The third form, where all the confusion sets in, is the middle ground – the attention economy.  The attention economy is the set of interactions in which goods that are difficult to value are exchanged between people with relatively weak relationships.  Blogging sits squarely in the attention economy.  Most of your readers are people with whom you have little to no relationship.  It would also be extremely difficult for those readers to assess the monetary value of your blog posts, particularly prior to reading them.  Just to emphasize the contrast here – you don’t get to decide how much to pay for a meal at a restaurant after you have eaten it – the ability to monetize (directly) relies on the ability to convey value prior to consumption.  Most activity in the attention economy is designed to get you out of the attention economy – i.e. to drive conversions.  The failure you are identifying is that many people ignore the fact that their are two ways out of the attention economy.  The obvious way out, which everyone focuses on, is through monetization.  In order to monetize you refine your value proposition.  Take your difficult to value free content, clean it up, package it nicely, make the benefits super obvious, and then you can put a price on it and a subset of those relatively anonymous readers will buy it.

    The other form of conversion is rarely talked about in the same way but amounts to the same thing – conversion from anonymity to relationship.  Instead of refining your content and moving into the monetary economy, you could deepen the relationship and move into the relationship economy.  This type of conversion leads to collaborations, intrinsically motivated reciprocation, and friendships.  When you convert in this direction you don’t need a highly refined value proposition; your close relations will be willing to take your speculative ideas and help you build upon them…but they aren’t likely to pay you for the opportunity.

    So finally to address your questions…
    Yes, the social capital bank is broken, and that is because many bloggers ignore the second type of conversion.  When a reader consistently interacts with your content over an extended period of time, it is pretty damn likely that that reader would rather be converted into a relationship than a sale.  If you close the door on relationship conversions then you should expect to lose these readers.  They are in it for the relationship, not the value proposition…and failing to reciprocate that interest is the equivalent of saying “Sorry, your money ain’t good here.”

    • Greg, thank you – I’m looking forward to reading your post!

      I agree with your breakdown of the transactional, relationship, and attention economies, and I think the trouble starts when you blur one with another – for example, as you said, when the transactional economy becomes too friendly, and relationships start getting involved. Or likewise, when people interact above and beyond in the attention economy, making it more of a relationship economy kind of situation.

      One thing, though – just because it’s hard to put a price on elements in the relationship economy doesn’t mean that we don’t have an intuitive sense of relative value – and by extension, an intuitive sense of when we’re being screwed. 😉

      So what’s the solution – how can we convert people to relationships, the way that they want, and still be happy with the outcome (and make a living)?

      Over to you, professor… 😉

      • Danny, absolutely agree that the relationship economy has its own form of intuitive accounting. A lot of other commenters have criticized people who have quid-pro-quo expectations. I would suggest instead that the problem isn’t when people expect reciprocation but when people expect the wrong form of reciprocation. To use your words, the relationship economy lends itself to “an intuitive sense of relative value”. If you act on the basis of “a Like for a Like and a tweet for a tweet”, then you are using a transactional ethic in a relationship context.

        Obviously I can’t provide a one-size-fits-all solution.  The first step though is recognizing that you are engaged in two distinct processes – converting sales and converting relationships.  There will be some overlap between the two populations but many readers will have a strong preference for one side or the other.  

        A lot of the disingenuous behaviors that other commenters have mentioned are what I would call pseudo-relationship-building tactics.  They are behaviors that give readers the impression of engagement without any genuine intention of actually forming a relationship.  Instead the intention is to bait readers into continued giving (shares, comments, etc) with a minimum of actual engagement from the blogger.  

        If I see a blogger who only follows 50 people on twitter or replies to comments with trite one liners (“That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing!”), that is a major red flag.  But it begs the question: 

        “What are your ultimate goals?”

        Some bloggers recently have been disabling comments.  That seems a bit crass at first, but if the reality is that you are Leo Babauta and you simply don’t have the bandwidth for further relationship building then it is the honest thing to do.  

        If you do have the bandwidth to engage but choose to do the psuedo-relationship-building thing instead, focusing on monetary conversion above all else, then that is simply short-sighted.  The relationship building types may not ever buy your products but they might help you refine your ideas or introduce you to new opportunities.  Moreover, real relationships have a value in and of themselves even if they never contribute to your sales funnel.

        • Very good points, Greg – a lot of it really does come down to being honest and transparent about your goals and intentions.

          I want to just emphasize to anyone else reading this that Greg’s related post is really fantastic, and you should check it out right away. 🙂

  31. It’s hard for me to say when it comes to blogging Danny, as I know I have been pretty slack with replying to comments, returning favours. The intention is there, but I haven’t always put it into practice.

    In an ideal world however, I don’t believe in favoritism at all. As Michael A. Stelzner said, giving unconditionally is the name of the game, and if we aren’t prepared to give unconditionally, we must ask ourselves, “Why?” What’s holding us back from giving? What are we afraid of? These questions can help us become more than better bloggers, we can become better people.

    This is one aspect which I think some bloggers forget – that life comes before blogging. What we do in blogging is reflected in our lives, and if you aren’t giving for the sake of giving in blogging, then you aren’t likely to do it in real-life 🙂

    • Hey Stu, I agree with you 100% – the bottom line we should all be trying to be better people, and better people contribute to those around them.

      The thing is, that if you keep on giving and giving, and you notice that there is no reciprocation, then you aren’t “giving” so much as “letting yourself be taken advantage of” – at that point, it makes sense for there to be some wising up, and redirecting your giving efforts elsewhere.

      Think about it from a social situation – you meet someone new, and you adopt a giving attitude. You’re friendly, and you’re helpful. They say thanks, and expect the same the next day, and the next day, and the next, and there’s no reciprocation – that isn’t a relationship, is it?

      • Well, I guess it depends on each person’s situation – your limit for giving may be completely different from my limit. My own limit is quite high, but if I ever reach a point where I feel that I’m been taken advantage of, I have to ask myself why I’m feeling this way, and what I can do to remove this feeling. Is it something that I should discuss with the other person? Is it exposing a fear of my own?

        Each situation demands a different solution Danny, and there’s no ‘set advice’ when it comes to the topic of giving selflessly. Just do what feels right 🙂

  32. Hi Danny, seems you caused quite a stir with this one 🙂

    Over the past few years there’s been tons of info and books around that talk about how to be a ‘giver’ (Bob Burg, Gary Vaynerchuck, Seth godin,… and about every internet marketing course in the world). This has caused a lot of people to develop the mindset where they believe that giving stuff away on the internet will automatically lead to sales and a thriving business. Obviously it’s not that simple. Unfortunately many people lack the business acumen and relationship building skills to go with it.

    These days it seems like every blog has a ‘free gift’ to offer (yup, I’m guilty too 🙂 ) and I must say it can really feel like an overload at times, especially if you consider the quality of many of those free downloads or e-mail courses. After the download or subscription you get a couple of interesting e-mails maybe (the “building trust stage”) and then the affiliate offers start to pour in. Always the same formula, obviously created with the sole focus of making money as fast as possible. The blogosphere has become polluted and it has become hard to sift through the noise. Which is a shame for those who want to provide true value.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do understand every blogger wants to make money. I just say it’s getting boring that so many are using the same formula over and over again: giving something away with the sole purpose of asking for something in return as soon as they feel like they can.

    As you know I’m in sales, where we sometimes are struggling with a negative image, being “sleazy” and all. Well, I feel that the sales profession has matured  and most b2b professionals are genuinely focused on providing value and operating as a business consultant finding ways to make life easier for the customer. In the blogging world I can’t help but feel like many are still in the “hard selling” stage, just pitching stuff, only focused on the outcome, not willing to put in the time and effort to build true relationships.

    I might have gone a bit off topic here, but it’s something that has been on my mind for a while now. Thought I could vent a bit here haha 🙂

    Thanks for the mention btw Danny, I’m honored! You’re the real deal my friend and that’s something I greatly respect and admire.

    Talk soon,

    • Hey Wim, you’ve touched on an important point, and some others in the comments have raised the same issue – it has become a “best practice” to give stuff away, as a strategy of getting things in return. This is leading people to give stuff away as part of a strategy – a recipe that they’re following in order to get stuff in return.

      When done in this way, it is no longer a genuine act of giving – and therein lies the problem. People like to help those who are genuinely helpful, but they don’t like to be manipulated, and there is a big difference between the two. I am not arguing in favor of manipulation in any way, shape, or form – and that definitely happens much too often in the blog world (and elsewhere).

      The flip side of this, though, is giving with genuine good intent, not expecting anything in return – like Marcus Sheridan getting on Skype with people, Mark Schaefer talking to them on the phone, and all for free, with the intention of just helping. After a certain point it still becomes reasonable for expectations to develop. Not in a “I’ve tweeted you 11 times, and you’ve only tweeted me 3 times, so you owe me 8 tweets” kind of way, but rather in a “look, whenever you’ve needed help I’ve been there for you, and now I need some help – shouldn’t I be able to count on you?”

      Am I making sense, Wim? You’ve written about this for us, in your post about Social Selling – how does this square with what you’ve written?

      • Makes perfect sense Danny! Not only is it human and reasonable to develop expectations, we’re talking business here after all. But like you said, those expectations should be based on providing true value and taking the time and effort to build real relationships. If building trust and relationships means retweeting one article and sending two or three newsletters with some vague and pretty useless tips, that person is not “getting” it.

        I like the fact you mention Marcus here. Great example, he has pushed “giving” to new heights. You can sense that his community is actually waiting for the opportunity to give back. We will see when his e-book comes out!

        It’s a pleasure exchanging ideas with you again Danny,

  33. Danny,

    Sorry to be late to this conversation.  It looked like quite an interesting one.

    I love your example too.  When I think of a “bank run” IRL my thoughts also always drift to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Which happens to be one of my favorite movies of all times.

    I think that this timeless movie really does make a good example.  For there are two schools of thought, just like there are two schools of thought for banking in the timeless 1946 Classic.

    On one hand you have the Potter School of banking.  This is pure Quid Pro Quo.  Potter would do his social media with exact expectations garnered from every aspect.  What is in it for him.  Everything would be measured.

    Potter made money selling people shantytowns at exorbitant loans.  When things went bad he made more money by fearmongering.


    The you have the George Bailey School.  George is a man who understands the true value of social media.

    During the run he said something like, “I don’t have the money; your money is in Bills house, and gave a loan to mrs. Smith.  It is in your house and your house.”

    He understood that goodwill was a powerful force on it’s own.  It couldn’t be quantified and given an ROI.  Sometimes you can do things hoping for a response.  But it is much better to try and help people for simply the sake of helping them. 

    Of course as marketers the desire is sales.  But oddly enough the effect seems to reverse of what people would expect.  The more you TRY to use Social media to SELL, the less it works.

    This necessitates a zen-like approach in my opinion.  The way to sell is not to worry about selling.

    Of course this is something I am still trying to wrap my head around.  But after all the first step to being “wise” is knowing how little you know…..

    • Wise words indeed, Steve, and welcome to the conversation. 🙂

      I’m definitely a fan of the George Bailey school – it’s a karma economy, and we all win by helping each other out. What’s more, we all want to work with people who share that same philosophy.

      The trouble starts when you have someone who stands in the middle of the karma economy, but who doesn’t follow the same rules – now we’ve got a tragedy of the commons, what economists would call a “freeloader problem”.

      So I guess the question becomes how does the social media world deal with freeloaders?

  34. Hi Danny

    Great discussion here! First off nothing is free out there. When people give you a ‘free ebook’ it’s because they want your email address. Let’s face it, most of us are online because it’s a storefront for a business.

    But what I think the issues arise when we start to think the blog is the business. In my case it isn’t. My blog is a marketing tool for leads to see who I am and what my approach to life is.
    Do I think I am indebted to my audience? No. I provide content for free, they read it and comment. 

    This is why I think so many paying membership sites do so badly. They forget that discussions aren’t a currency. Nobody pays me to blog and I don’t pay my community to comment. Should a community feel that the blogger owes them? Nop. A blog isn’t a business, comments don’t pay the bills 🙂 

    • “comments don’t pay the bills” 😀

      That would make an awesome post headline, John – do you mind if I use it? 😉

      You’re right, for a lot of people the blog isn’t the business, which is why so much of the “business logic” that people cling to breaks down.

      Yes, we offer the free e-book (or video course, or whatever) because we want the email address, but at the same time, when I interact with people by email, it’s not with an ulterior motive of trying to sell to them – sometimes we just want to be helpful.

      At the same time, we want that help to be appreciated, and not taken advantage of…

      • Did I mention I charge for blog topics ? 🙂 

        Well taken advantage of is basically because the relationship isn’t set up clearly from the beginning. I will help people as much as I can but if it comes down to my core competencies and involves a lot of work, then I will honestly say ‘well that’s what I do for a living” so the relationship needs to become  a client-consultant relationship. 

        I guess the whole discussion is do you give away free consulting? 

        • I guess it depends on how much help the person needs – I’m usually happy to give away the odd hour or so of my time, but if it becomes a more lengthy engagement, then an arrangement needs to be formalized…

  35. Hey Danny! WOW! First, sorry I didn’t get over here yesterday when you asked. My clones took the day off. 🙂 Secondly, WOW! Did I already say this? It’s funny…we were having a similar conversation about a week ago. The idea that you become popular on Twitter and then you get rich is a farce. But people believe it. And I think that’s a very simple example of what you’re saying here. I’ve always looked at it differently. I love to promote others and started out doing that. Then others began to return the favor, so to speak. But I never expect it. I’m also not one to keep track of some of the life examples you presented, but I know it happens.

    One thing that happens to us some with some frequency is that a friend will call and say, “Hey. We’re looking for a digital agency. Can you recommend someone?”


    The thing with social is that you soon become the pretty girl who everyone assumes already has dates, but she’s really sitting at home painting her toenails on a Saturday night because NO ONE is asking her out.

    I think that’s what is actually going on here. The perception of the social world isn’t really reality.

    • Haha, yeah, I get that from time to time: “do you know anyone who knows marketing?” Makes you want to smack your forehead. 😉

      I know what you mean – once you get to a certain point, people think you’re running the world – they don’t realize that getting some digital attention really isn’t all that hard… whereas turning that into a sustainable business takes skill, and time.

      Of course, it helps to have examples like yours to follow… 🙂

  36. Hey Danny – at the end of the day you can’t control what others do; but you can control what you do. You’re either a giver or taker and both are clearly seen by those that matter.  

    The quality of ones life is determined by what you’re either giving or taking from it. For me, I’ll stay on the giving side and let the cards fall as they may. 

    As for the audience, or others, they’ll have to make that decision for themselves and live with the quality of life that their deposits or withdrawals are providing them. 

    There are many broken souls out there and it’s hard to make deposits in any account when you can’t see past yourself.

    Cheers mate!

    P.S. sorry for arriving at the party so late!

    • Wise words, Mark – we should give, and those with the same attitude will do the same. Those who have been “broken”, as you say – we can do our best to help them and restore some faith in the spirit of others.

      Reminds me of a joke that I just heard: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one… but the light bulb has to want to change. 😉

  37. Interesting! I’ve heard of Empire Avenue before, but I’ve never bothered to take a look – do you feel that it is an important tool for us to consider?

  38. Danny, great post. You definitely took initiative here trying to touch on such a broad topic.

    Neil Patel recently mentioned in current and post posts that he makes calls almost every day to keep relationships, make new connections, expand his network etc. He also said that he wished he would have networked more the last 3 years, because if he did he knew his business would have grown much, much faster.

    What do you take from that line? Lets assume he generally cares about his network and connections, offers them plenty of value and has built real relationships. Is he wrong to have “strategic” vision of improving his business by having expanded his network and relationships, whether online or off?

    And how diferent is your point from asking a client for testimonials, even when the agreement was made for only the delivery of your services? You could argue this is different because it’s a monetary transaction, but past the point of your delivery of services, you’re really asking for a “favor” by asking the client for a testimonial, and if you guys had built a good relationship throughout the process then it shouldn’t be a problem. And we know many people go into the client relationship with the intention, even expectation of asking for and receiving a testimonial at the end of the agreement. 

    In you’re case, you may have indirectly helped this blogger make more money by putting in your time to comment and share his stuff. To compare the two scenarios, in one case you sought out the client (blogger), offered and delivered your services (spent time to comment, tweet, email, share stuff), and ultimately feel you’ve earned, or at the least, aren’t wrong to ask for a favor (testimonial on one hand, your particular favor on the other). Each scenario leads to a favor at the end, that hinges mainly on the relationship you’ve built.

    If you’re not wrong to ask for that testimonial “favor”, which is above and beyond the agreed upon service you delivered, then are you wrong for earning or even expecting something in return from a relationship you’ve built online? If yes, then how is it different and why?

    The question should be, how different are blogger relationships vs real world business relationships? Many people are building businesses around their blogs online. And in business people help out, and sometimes ask for favors in return. Maybe the variables are somewhat different. Maybe its easier in the online world for people to say no behind a computer, whereas if this was a “real world” relationship, it may be less likely to happen. 

    And some people said that we shouldn’t be treating every online activity like a business transaction. I don’t think thats what your post is about. I think you’re just one of the first to try to put a label and definition on certain activities that go on, beneath the surface. And with terms like “deposits” and “withdrawals” used when talking about online relationships, its expected that a topic like this would have such a strong polarization.

    Part of the reason for this is probably because the topic you’ve touched on in your post likely deserves its own book, not just a post. Here you can only write so much and can’t cover ever angle, you had to clarify your position in the comments instead. I bet that if the book “Influence” was written in a few blog posts, there may have been a much bigger backlash of people disagreeing with the book, only to learn later that they very well may agree on almost all counts, it’s just that the author never had a chance to explain and refine his points. 

    • Hey Eugene, thanks for stopping by. That’s an important question, and I think the answer is in the difference between a high level strategy of networking to build your influence, which is fine, versus having a very tactical view of individual interactions, which makes you a manipulative jackass.

      In other words, if you decide to blog, and interact with people, and put yourself out there, and help others, because you know that in the big picture, it will be good for you, too, then that’s fine. Good, even. But if you decide to tweet or share or help someone because of what that specific action might do for you, then that isn’t cool.

      I don’t agree with your take on testimonials, though I recognize that a lot of business owners see it the same way that you do, and feel uncomfortable about asking for them as a result. Asking people for a testimonial isn’t asking for a favor, it’s just asking them to accurately report their experience. If you’re asking them to distort their experience in order to make you look good, then yes, that’s a favor – but an honest testimonial shouldn’t be.

      I guess it depends on whether your “accounting” is based on transactional/monetary measures, or relationships. If it’s transactional, then that’s one thing, but if it’s relationships, that’s entirely another; while you can’t keep precise accounts of who owes what in relationships, the spirit of a relationship is that people help each other out, and it can be a bit of a betrayal if you feel that you have a relationship with someone, and that sentiment isn’t reciprocated.

      And yes, I think you’re right that in part, this stems from the partial anonymity of being behind a computer screen. It’s very easy to say no – much easier than if someone who’s helped you in the past is actually on the phone with you, or in your office.

      I like what you’re saying about how this needs broader treatment.

      Anyway, I’m starting to ramble… time for some coffee… 😉

      • I’m late to the party but I love this topic, love the engagement, and love Greg Rader’s take on it (he has some really good ideas, if you’re comfortable with his language/style :D)

  39. Pingback: Belief and Action – The 2 Keys to Success » Blog Archive » Is advertising dead?
  40. Pingback: On Not Giving a Damn and SuperPost Sunday #36 | nittyGriddy
  41. Explaining social media using bank analogy was a great way to simplify complex topic in simple terms… ya I think its every individual’s responsibility to be fair in give & take in any relationship. Also you need to be fair in your expectations from others..

  42. Blogging is about creating a community, Notice I used the word “creating”, not “building”:) .

    If you start out with the mission to share, I mean share in reality, not just in a social media way, then reciprocity is a simple result. It lasts for as long as your community is sharing.

    Some blogs have become too big for their own good. Money has clouded the view of who really matters to bloggers. Of course, we can’t always be smiley, bright and happy to see people, unless it’s a specific event and then, by jove! just try. Because it matters.

    It’s more about social flow than banking. When banks of any kind are involved, someone is always at a disadvantage. Usually customers, unless they’re stinky rich. Flow is more friendly. Perhaps “circle” is better still, especially from a community-creating business view.

    It’s always good to remember sharing creates so much good feeling all round. Better still to be genuine. Genuine lets you be a bit crabby sometimes, because it’s real. Without it, the mask will slip, revealing the horrid, arrogant, egomaniac behind.

    Don’t be that blogger! Be you. Be genuine. Share.


  43. Yes, it is broken. As a prospect, a potential audience member I’m constantly bombarded by sales pitches. In response I took a ruffian attitude myself – I grab the free report providing secondary email address and unsubscribe immediately. Distrust is the main feeling infesting the Net.

  44. Thanks, Danny, for this interesting and controversial post.

    People are lazy enough not to pay back (with a tweet, share or anything else) if they are not attached to you to some extent (e.g. being a part of your tribe) or if they don’t get anything more or less tangible in return (knowledge is not counted in people’s minds as this is kind of free in any other place).

    Commenting nowadays has become a way of commenters’ self promotion; and often the only thing what many people say is something like ‘great post, keep it up’.. ridiculous. By the way, it is great that comments in this post are pretty thoughtful.

    Anyway, it is strange that for more than two years your post touching the topic of social feedback has gathered as little as 3 tweets, 1 LI share and zero FB and G+ shares… (maybe your social plugin is broken?) So I tweeted it to support this post :).

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