If you are involved in social media, then you are likely to have heard of this story. If you are not involved, then it may help you understand the way that social media can work as a force for change.
When I began blogging I was lucky enough to come across David Armano. He brought a great perspective to this emerging space and helped shape the way that many marketers explain and work with social media. If you don't know his name, you will know his diagrams and images. Over the last three or so years, he has shared his insight and his humour with his readers, and has built a loyal following on his blog and through Twitter. He has amassed what could rightly be called, significant "social capital" — the goodwill that accrues through your social network based on your interactions with members of your community.
Today, he cashed some of this in to help a struggling family.
Daniela and her family have come to stay at David's place. After years of abuse, Daniela is divorcing her husband. Unfortunately, her mortgage has gone unpaid and she has lost her house – and with little family support, there was no one else to turn to.
To find a way to raise some money and help Daniela find an apartment and get back on her feet, David turned to his social network. He wrote a post on his blog asking for help, for small donations (via ChippedIn and PayPal). He asked people to spread the word. He hoped to raise $5000. In less than TWO hours, $4000 had been raised. And as I write, the total sits at just over $10,000.
Scott Drummond has an excellent explanation of how the money was raised, how Twitter and other social media tools were used to spread the word and harness the collective good will of a network.
Many people continue to ask me where the business value lies with social networks. But what they are really asking is "what's in this for me?" – or "what will it cost me?". But social networks do not operate in this way … one has to give before you can receive. You have to invest wisely and with sincerity. If you are stepping into social media, start by asking yourself – what value can I give away. How can I make someone's life or work or leisure time better? You need to build by giving away.
This is the way to build social capital. Interestingly though, after doing so – after building your own social capital, creating your own sense of community and so on, I bet you will no longer wonder "what's in it for me?" – you will already know.
Oh, and if you want to start. Retell this story. Donate. Help find a donor. Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: Leigh Householder follows up, asking whether social media does, in fact, bring us closer together.