The Audacity Of Asking

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When you ask somebody to do something, it’s always wise to consider whether or not you have the Social Capital to make the request.

Before you ask someone you hardly know to tweet out something for you on Twitter, Blog about something, or join your group on Facebook, you would be well advised to start out by reading two great business books, The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt and Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. These new Digital Marketing channels and Social Media platforms make it extremely easy to ask anybody to do anything, and because we’re all intrinsically connected (and no one individual is more than a couple of pixels away from anybody else) many people are asking people do things that are over and above the social capital equity they have put into the relationship.

Think twice before asking somebody you hardly know to do anything.

The real world is the same as the online world. In fact, even making the false assumption that our social rules do not apply online is silly (and wrong). One of the better mantras to embrace when it comes to engaging with Social Media is: "just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should." Many people fail to realize that they simply don’t have enough social capital built up with specific individuals to ask them to do anything, so when they do, the request falls on deaf (and inactive) ears. But, what follows is the wrong assumption that the person being asked to leverage their own social network for your benefit is not being very "social media."

It’s not a closed network, but you do have to earn your trust to get into it.

Social Media is not an open network. It’s a community. And, like any community, you have to earn your stripes within it. You have to make deposits into the community. You have to add value. You have to make yourself present, so that when you do have a request, the people being asked are proud and happy to help you in your initiative. They’re not being snobbish. They’re not being closed. They’re simply saying to themselves, "who is this person to be asking me to put my reputation on the line around something that I hardly know anything about?"

About building that community…

On a recent episode of the audio Podcast, Media Hacks, we discussed community. The general sentiment that most of us brought forward was that you don’t build community because you need it, you build community slowly, over a long period of time, so that when you do need something, it is there for you. It doesn’t really work the other way around.

What’s your take on being asked to leverage your social network (and personal branding reputation) from someone you hardly know or rarely interact with?


  1. In response to your question, it depends on the ask.
    I am not sure the rules of doing things (be they leveraging one’s social network or other) for others should be any different in the digital world than the offline one. Ask your network for a stupid favour and it’s your rep/ass.
    Anecdotally, I think people are more apt to ask someone to act on their behalf in the digital one though. Strangers don’t typically ring the door and ask you to tell your intimate friends about their new project/blog post/etc.
    This tendency to ask more freely in the online world may change over time as we spend more and more time in the digital world.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. Hi Mitch
    This post resonated with me because I spend alot of time cultivating a community of trust and reciprocation online. The connections I make with my virtual friends are valuable both professionally and personally.
    What I’ve learnt while living a good amount of my recent life online is that it’s all about reciprocity – doing a good turn for someone. Maybe it will come back to me, maybe it won’t – but it’s the fuel that fires a successful social network.
    Occasionally I get a virtual stranger or PR agent who sends me a pr line with a request to retweet. Say what?
    This gets my back up. They’re not in my community, they haven’t invested any time or energy creating a real connection with me, or attempted anything resembling a relationship.
    Fifty thousand moms get my newlsetter and thousands see my tweets. That took my time and energy to create such an amazing following. I’m more than happy to share but only with those who play nice.

  3. I would do some quick searches to find their reputation online. If they check out and my social network can help or in turn if they can add value to it, I’d seriously consider doing it.
    I usually ask myself the response I would want to hear if I were doing the asking. Quaint thinking, perhaps, but true (my two Canadian cents).

  4. I think it depends:
    If it is a product or service that you would be able to actually get behind, support or even endorse, then I think it’s cool. It could be something you would promote anyway and an opportunity to build a new relationship.
    If it is not something you could support then I don’t think you would do anyone any good to promote it to your audience.
    It all comes down to providing value to your audience before you provide value to yourself. I don’t know that having an existing relationship really has anything to do with it.

  5. As stewards, we must protect our networks.
    The askers don’t understand or value the importance of our role. Someone recently asked to market to my connections. Why? Because I wouldn’t do it myself. I explained that I had permission (and an obligation) to help my network but could not treat them as prospects for myself or others. Our connections already know what we do and how we can help. That’s enough.
    It awkward when a client asks because your refusal might hurt your business. For instance, you might get asked to write a testimonial on LinkedIn or to otherwise endorse someone. It’s also awkward when you’re asked to help promote once of the countless noble causes. I politely refuse but wish I were not asked.
    We can’t squander our credibility by misusing the trust our connections have placed in us. Online or offline. For others or for ourselves.
    Once you’re part of a community, others will help you without being asked.

  6. It would really depend on whether or not I knew of this person and their reputation or if they had a reference or common contact that would vouch for them. Otherwise, I’d be inclined to decline.

  7. Hi Mitch,
    I’ve been a fervent reader of you blog, since 2 years now and, as you talk about social capital, I’ll overcome my french-speaking-english-writing weakness, to get my first comment, about this concept I love, and have been studiying for the last two years for my essay.
    I totally agree with you, on the global definition of Social Capital, except on a few points you mentionned in this post.
    First, it seems to me that all those arguments about wether or not to act depending the request of a stranger, are missing the point of personnal motivations, such as image outcome, or “good samaritan” spirit.
    If you take the exemple of PR people trying to leverage bloggers they have never met, I agree : it is useless, and it’s more useless if they are pushing crappy content. Of course they sometimes find people seeking for social status or financial incentives, to help them. (In France, we call those people “blogoputes” (“blog whores”), because all they want is to be invited to parties, and they are not able to get anything on their blogs, but promos, and saying “I was invited to [Insert random brand name] party”.).
    But if you think about tech communities, forums or wathever, where people ask strangers, by exemple, how to solve an HTML problem, personnal motivations (such as enjoying the fact of helping or any potential positive outcomes) are effective ways to explain the knowledge sharing / contribution to project behavior.
    Second, about the reciprocity, as Erica mentionned above, most people see it as a direct form of exchange (I help you, and I’ll be waiting for you to help me). In all those forms of social media communications, sharing is, in my opinion, a generalized exchange, posing a classic dilemma in academic research about knowledge sharing : why sould I help someone, and then allow everyone to get access to free-ride the shared information ? Or why should I pass-along an information from people I’ve never heard about ? The fact is that reciprocity is alway considered in its “helping” form.
    But if we consider it in a more hedonist form, like “entertaining” or any other positive emotion creation, we can explain something bigger : people social capital can be enhanced with any brand activity. It’s not about the social capital of the PR guy who’s asking you for help. It’s about the “amount” of social capital people can get when sharing the information.
    Think about viral videos. People are not sharing it because the feel indebted to the person who send it to them, but because they believe their own interest is linked to the greatest number of their acquaintances they can get to see the video. But still, the question of social capital creation, for entertainment purpose is there.
    As you pointed the mantra “who is this person to be asking me to put my reputation on the line around something that I hardly know anything about?” (to which I want to say “amen”), we can answer something like “I’ll be sharing this stuff, not because I owe you something, but because I believe my friends will like it”.
    I prefer the “the greater good” term to “reciprocity”.
    If you (Mitch or folks here) want to read something older than Whuffie factor or trust agents, about social capital and sharing, here are a few academic articles, which are great basis for social media / social capital / sharing / contributing :
    – Why Should I Share? Examining Social Capital and Knowledge Contribution in Electronic Networks of Practice (ByProf. Molly McLure Wasko and Samer Faraj)
    – Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories (By Chao-Min Chiua, Meng-Hsiang Hsub and Eric Wangc)
    – Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage, by Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal
    And yep, that is maybe the biggest comment I’ve ever written.
    I look forward to meet you, one of those days in Montréal. 🙂

  8. Mitch,
    Your question really resonates with me right now. As I begin to build my “social capital” and engage across more networks, this scenario becomes even more prevalent. I used to find this type of behavior insulting, but began to realize these people miss the basic premise of social networks, social capital and relationships.
    Something you eloquently highlighted, “The general sentiment that most of us brought forward was that you don’t build community because you need it, you build community slowly, over a long period of time, so that when you do need something, it is there for you. It doesn’t really work the other way around.”
    If you miss this, you’re missing an understanding that will dictate the norms in which you behave… When asked, I take the opportunity to politely educate the person, with reference to content, like your blog, so they can learn.
    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  9. Mitch-
    I learned a new term at Chris Brogans New Marketing Labs in San Francisco last week. It was Tom Webster who said. “That’s a pant load.” This post you wrote is a pant load. Obviously, if someone you feel is using your network for evil, then say what your Media Hack co-star Julian might say: “Fuck that” and move on with your life.
    Why i think this post is a pant load? Being asked to send something out to your network is flattering. Really it is. But you decide if it goes out or not. Your precious network probably wont see the tweet anyway.
    Seriously. just use your gut. If it does not feel right it probably isn’t. Many folks like myself have listened to you for years on your podcast and you speak directly to me. Your listeners/readers have shared a personal experience with you and your shiny head. Not every person asking is some sort of fat headed corporate type that is trying to leverage your network for some selfish needs. They might be passionite, loving, and well meaning person who believes your audience might like to hear something they send you. If you deem it not worthy that is where it ends.
    Now that I got that over with please tweet this video (link below) about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and then you will really show the world (and your network) what thousands of determined hearts can do to save the women. Because nothing really matters but helping folks especially people with health problems like breast cancer. If one person walks because you tweeted it then you are helping. But if you feel like it is a pant load request then delete it. It really is your social capital you need to think of. Not breasts and the wives, mothers, daughters attached to them.
    Happy Saturday
    First time commenter, long time listener.

  10. As well as your social capital, how worthy what you are asking people to do is important. I might be inclined to retweet information about a great charity fundraiser from someone i don’t know but if the content they want me to retweet or the group they want me to join is self serving rubbish it doesn’t matter how well i know them. I’d still likely be annoyed at being asked. Some of the junk people expect others to retweet is unbelievable

  11. Social capital has its place, but I trust my instincts. As a journalist for 22+ years I have a sense generally if a request is selfish and opportunistic or legitimately altruistic or close to it. I’ve responded to total strangers and granted requests and been pleasantly surprised and rewarded by the return – not to me personally, but how my helping them helped so many others. I take it on a case-by-case basis. If it checks out, if I feel good about doing it and if I think it’s a good thing – I don’t worry about the social capital if someone is asking me for something once. If it’s repeated and annoying…that can be a problem.
    I rarely ask a favor of someone else unless I either have the social capital, or know them and know the request could benefit them in some way as well – and I assure them that it’s okay to say “No,” and I’m not offended if they do. I’m also quick to point out the advantages, or what’s in it for them. If there’s nothing in it for them, I never ask. It’s more about boundaries and respect than people “owing us” because we’ve built up capital.
    Bottom line – it’s all about relationships.

  12. Before reading…understand I am prone to the cynical.
    I dont mind if **friends** leverage the networks for self-advancement, or to further a business interest so long as I perceive value in the offer/organization/event.
    In your case I think you practice this regularly: leveraging your network to plumb the digital consciousness for current views and incorporate said views to your site as part of a “this is the buzz on x,y or x. It’s realtime market research in an open forum…which is fine: my choice to comment or not, to read or not.
    I would venture a guess that my limited social network of 100 or so FB friends can’t be leveraged for too much in any way…see my post: size of ego = (# of FB Profile pictures/total # pictures) * photos I am tagged in)
    What frustrates is the skin trades’ fast attempt at leveraging social networks for profit…within days of opening a Twitter account (have never tweeted!), I found that two curvacious ladies were “following me” and wanted me to “check out their pics”.

  13. I agree on the social capital thing. I always get asked to RT stuff and I most of the time don’t mind it since it is from people I have met in real life. It really isn’t from strangers or anything.
    I also think when someone is ignored. It is just as painful. I have been ignored by an organization for the most part even though I eat, drink and sleep their organization. Even if I have built up a community from the USA to Canada on the subject matter. Really frustrating!

  14. Mitch,
    I generally concur with your perspective on things, but I’m not sure that I agree this time as I think that ‘concerning ourselves with social capital’ could stunt the growth of someone who would otherwise have the courage to make a big ask of someone who could make a real difference for them.
    Let me explain where I’m coming from.
    I can recall hearing something from Jack Canfield or some similar guru of new age self help that basically advises people to make big requests (asks) of people when they’re in need of something. I think of the founder of The Learning Annex going out on a limb to ask Donald Trump to speak at his events (for fee of course…but the ‘big ask’ concept still applies here). I think it’s that aspirational ask that can propel someone with courage beyond someone who’s ‘afraid’ to ask or who wants to keep their social capital in check and thus feels as that they’re not worthy…
    It’s ironic, at least to me, that you used the word ‘audacity’ in your post title. At the core, someone who’s acting with audacity is, by definition, invulnerable to fear or intimidation, and not someone who’s doing a tall of their social capital before going out on a limb.
    That said, when your networks is at stake, the story can be quite different, but then I believe that too depends on your belief system, so to speak. I would joyfully open up my network of trusted friends and colleagues to someone with the audacity to make a big request that took a lot of courage. My belief is that this person has the chops, maybe not in social capital, but in courage and substance of character.
    I realize that these are some ‘softer’ factors than quid pro quo of matching social capital, but social networks are made up of human beings who operate on human factors.
    My advice to people would be just the opposite of what you’ve offered here. Rather than say “Many people fail to realize that they simply don’t have enough social capital built up with specific individuals to ask them to do anything” I would instead argue that “Many people fail to achieve what’s possible through others and never ask them do to anything because they feel that they don’t have enough social capital built up with that specific individual. Rather, they should have the courage to ask.”….or something like that.

  15. There’s a huge difference between going out on a limb and asking one, specific person that you’re targeting for help. It’s another to spam your whole online social network asking them to do something that is only of benefit to you.
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Unfortunately, the types of “asks” you have defined above are not the general norm (sadly).

  16. It seems that as we rush headlong into becoming digital creatures – we leave the rules we know as real people behind. In real life, we ask for help from those we have a trusted relationship (at least to some degree) – yet in the digital world – we leave such niceties aside.
    The Yiddish word for it is “Chutzpah”. It actually has 2 meanings — “good chutzpah” as in the person is persistent and brave and “bad chutzpah” – as in the person has too much nerve.
    It seems the digital world promotes the “bad” type of chutzpah.
    Judy Shapiro

  17. I ask myself: Who is this person? And, what’s in it for me?
    To find out that this is a genuine individual needing a little extra push to get the ball rolling on something, I would not hesitate to help. But if they are nowhere to be found online yet want me to act/do something on their behalf, I would kindly reject their request.
    Common sense, yes?
    Perfect example of CYA (Cover your a**)

  18. Mitch,
    This is a great post that brings up what I have been calling the “lowered barriers to entry” of the two-way web. It is so easy to feel connected to people you don’t know these days and at times just simply ask for stuff.
    What I do see, however, that I feel is important to note is that this occurs a lot with folks that are new to the social media/blogging scene. They are excited and want to reach out just because they can. It’s a pretty neat feeling to be able to connect with others so quickly and easily that you lose the “reality factor” of trust and building of relationships.

  19. Mitch, Good Morning
    I think the whole “network” thing, offline or online is way overrated. I am sure that goes against the grain with a lot of folks, but any such events, and the like are really about “getting”, not “giving” as they purport.
    If you are “giving” in the space, be it your community of interest, your small town or your blog space, folks see it, and help propel and lift you, absent asking. Frankly, if you have to ask, you likely haven’t earned a place at that table.

  20. As others have noted above, it would depend on the ‘ask’ and whether I knew of them, professionally and/or personally; and, yes, the platform, the tools, certainly do make it technically easy to outreach.
    I’ve been blown away by the willingness of others to help; one particular exchange a few months ago, a friend/follower went out of her way (in my opinion) to diagnose something technically for me. I can’t foresee a time when I could return the favour, mainly due to our divergent capabilities and skillsets (however, I guess anything is possible) and that doesn’t necessarily bother me, but it has stayed with me and reinforces ‘the golden rule’ and its application to the issues you raise in your post. I try and ‘put the shoe on the other foot’ and approach it more with a ‘pay it forward’ attitude. Having said that, blatant pr pitches without any history of conversation don’t sit well.

  21. Interesting post. False-Whuffie. A developing trend that I’m seeing too (and often at the direction of so called social media consultants) is that individuals with requests or needs are building community and depositing “whuffie”, and making contributions to community specifically for the purpose of ultimately leveraging the community to drive a message or do a favor. Once that favor is accomplished the individual disappears or worse, they try to leverage the new community and status for more favors.
    Re: The Dude Dean’s comment about whuffie going one way. I’d say that isn’t true at all. I’ve found Tara to be helpful and contributory to me and others when we had no real online community value or reputation of our own.
    What’s great about busy contributors is that they’re busy!

  22. As all individuals become empowed by broadband, more connected and therefore more accountable to their social networks in a variety of meaningful ways, the thinking that you are sharing extends well into the notion of Enterprise 2.O.
    Before you ask someone – will you work for me, will you supply me, will you buy my products, will you help me improve and optimize … there will be far more attention to social alignment. A greater portion of our actions have social repercussions in a connected society.
    Lots of different threads related to the available at

  23. I have always tried to help when I could; sometimes it would be a recommendation and other times I might suggest that a revamped resume etc would go a long way before I commit myself.
    I guess I try to invest in people’s potential to contribute to a community. It’s up to us to help where we can to actualize that potential

  24. Great post! It highlights a situation I am going through right now. I was asked to leverage my connections and network for a contact and it blew up in my face. Those requests in the future are going to fall on deaf ears. I am always willing to help friends or even strangers if I think there will be a win-win arrangement for all parties involved but after one time where this “transaction” ends poorly for one of my contacts I will never do it again. You have to protect that trust. Once it is gone it is hard to get it back.

  25. I can’t help but think the idea behind this post need some clarification.
    I 100% agree that you shouldn’t randomly ask someone to tweet, promote, spam, or otherwise bother the people in their network for your own personal profit. That’s tacky.
    But I think the world would be a better place if we all cultivated a little more audacity in our lives, and asked people to help more often. In other words, I agree 100% with Dana VanDen Heuvel. I also agree to your point, Mitch, that these requests are also not the norm….
    But when I read this:
    “When you ask somebody to do something, it’s always wise to consider whether or not you have the Social Capital to make the request.”
    My back gets up. I’m being told to learn my place in the social media world. Social Capital? I thought we were celebrating the amateur! My ideas are valid whether I’ve tweeted since 2006 or choose to pick up the phone when I want to speak with someone.
    No one should really need to be told to not be rude, which is really what’s being said here (oh, so sad).
    EVERYONE should be encouraged to learn to approach “the unapproachable” in a way that creates positive results. It’s not that I shouldn’t ask, it’s HOW should I ask?
    I’ve seen so much good done because someone had the “audacity” to see how a major corporation could help improve the lives of crime victims, cancer patients, and more. And most of these “unapproachable” people are actually more often than not happy to associate with a good idea.
    I know the point of this post is to illustrate that spamming is not cool, but in the meantime some people may scan the first few lines and take from this post that their ideas, thoughts, and requests aren’t valid unless you boast a large reserve of “Social Capital” which is untrue and so incredible damaging.

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