You Can Be Helpful

Back in the olden days of social media (you know, 2007), blogger extraordinaire Chris Brogan used to talk a lot about being helpful (2011 UPDATE: he still does.). He said that one of the best ways to build community, make your clients happy, and be an all around superstar in the online and offline world was to be genuinely helpful to other people. He taught us that the rewards of being helpful will be more business, more successful projects, and ultimately, more personal satisfaction.

Chris is a smart cookie. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

I’ve been thinking about helpfulness a lot lately. I think a lot of people want to be helpful. I think they don’t always believe they can be helpful. With social media hitting the mainstream in a big way now, there are a lot of people (I mean, a lot more than just geeks like me), trying to learn about it and figure out what it all means. They are trying to understand how it fits into their business, their marketing plans, and sometimes, they are just trying to figure out the difference between an hashtag (#) and a reply (@). Many people think they need more help than they can give.

But I think that’s simply not true.

First and foremost, you need to realize that social media is not some big mysterious, complicated thing (and do not listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise). If you are already a marketer, communicator, writer, videomaker, or web designer, then you know to look at social media as an extension of traditional communication practices. While none of it should be completely foreign to you, especially if you’re already a communicator of some sort, even though there are still plenty of things to learn about how these new ways of communicating fit into the things we already know. That’s why I believe in what we are doing at Algonquin College around social media. We are spending little time focusing on what buttons to press, but we’re spending a great deal of time teaching people why they should be pressing them, and on how to incorporate these new media into the things they already know how to do well.

There is plenty that you already do well. Maybe you’re a talented photographer. Perhaps you’re a TV producer. Or a writer, or a communications officer, or a baker, an electrician, or a carpenter. You already do that well…in fact, you probably do what you do better than most people, and as well or better than most people in the same profession as you, right?

My point is, you have the opportunity to be helpful. You know things others don’t. And you can look online on any given day and see a stream of people who might need your help. They are asking questions you know the answers to. They are trying to learn things you already know.

What a wonderful opportunity to be helpful.

There’s one thing about being helpful that we must be careful of, and that’s being helpful with ulterior motives. Sometimes people are helpful for the wrong reasons. They want something in return. They “bank” their helpfulness, keep track of all the people they are helping, saving up favours so someday they can cash it all in. Sure, being helpful to others means that someday they may be helpful to you too, but that should never be your MO. People will see right through that.

Instead, be helpful because you genuinely want to be. Do it by connecting good people to good people. Do it by sending someone a link that might help them find an answer. Do it by getting involved in projects and causes that you believe in and are a good fit for you and your ability to be helpful. But mostly, do it because being helpful makes you feel good.

You have knowledge that other people can benefit from. You now have the tools to share what you know.

What are you going to do with that power?

[photo by MichielGaas]

1 comments
Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

The aggravating part about being helpful all the time is it doesn't always get reciprocated; and when it doesn't, you are forced to question whether you should have spent that time being helpful in the first place. I'm a big believer in karma so I don't discount my actions, but I wonder whether there are more worthy people to direct them when the people I thought would reciprocate do not. It's analogous to people who you know are reading your emails and listening to your voicemails but for whatever reason choose not to respond -- yet they think they have the right to email you. It's aggravating.