Can We Be Helpful AND Scale?

One of the things I love best about social media is that it allows people to be infinitely helpful. People’s genuine desire to be helpful helped us raise over $100,000 for last year. Helpful people, many whom I have never met in person, have gotten me through complex technical challenges without giving a second thought. I’ve learned to be a better businessperson, a better marketer, and a better producer from those who so generously bring their wisdom, for free, on their own time, through their blogs, podcasts and other efforts. And, I have had tremendous opportunities to return the favour, too.

Helpfulness breeds helpfulness, and we’ve developed a wonderfully generous culture out here. I believe it’s human nature to want to be helpful to others. These tools allow us the ability to reach out anywhere, anytime and do so.

As I’ve expressed in my last couple of posts, there’s some disconcerting behaviour happening. I had to air my concerns, because I really think that some people are taking advantage of this culture of openness, helpfulness, and freeness, and we are running the risk of losing the community of trust and authenticity that we’ve worked so hard to build over the past few years.

The first step is admitting we have a problem. Look, it’s not in my nature to complain, and I feel as if my last couple of posts have been kind of ‘bitchy’. I’m a solutions oriented person. I focus on the positive. That means I’m thinking about ways we can continue to scale our efforts without drowning in a sea of demands, be helpful without giving everything away, and still run businesses that are fulfilling and profitable. But in order to do this, we need to identify that there is an issue. That what’s happening out here is really happening. That the media makers, like you and me, are growing tired and frustrated by the culture of entitlement we’re seeing and experiencing. That if we don’t watch out, we’re going to reach a breaking point soon, and the end result will be faith lost in the medium that we know so well and love so much.

So what’s a blogger to do? I think it’s time to go back to basics, honestly. I had a realization the other day. I was sitting here, fuming, frustrated by the constant poking and prodding coming at me through the pipe. I felt out of control. And then it dawned on me…it wasn’t the stream that was out of control…it was me. I had let the noise threshold rise and rise and forgot to cap it. It was akin to how my office desk sometimes gets (well, sort of how it is now, actually). Full of papers and junk and cameras and books and pencils and cats. Closing me in, leaning on me, even. But I realized that I HAVE CONTROL OF MY STREAM. At all times. I can set filters on my email. I can purge my Google Reader. I can unfollow people on Twitter, or manage lists more wisely. I can hit that little “x” and turn it all off for a while, too. And you know what? We all have those options. The world is not going to end if you have less information coming at you. Trust me.

Open door policies revisited. When I worked in the corporate world, all of my managers had “open-door” policies. Most of them never abided by it. They wanted you to “think” they were accessible, but really, they couldn’t be bothered to keep their door open, or to be helpful if you needed it. So after a while, you’d just stop trying. However, one of my former bosses, Andrew, had it right. Andrew was not your typical boss. He worked very hard, and he always seemed to know more than the other managers what was going on. It was his job to make the right decisions for the department. And the only way he could do this was by talking to us. Because we were in the trenches. We were doing the day to day tasks to move the projects forward. If he wasn’t checking in with us, then he couldn’t make decisions, he couldn’t identify and mitigate risks, and he couldn’t celebrate achievements. So, to facilitate this, his door was actually always open. He was always having conversations with the staff, and anyone could pop in and join the discussion. He was open, accessible, and most of all, helpful. But it was for a reason – there was a payoff on both sides. I could go about my business knowing I was being listened to, and he was getting the information he needed to do his job better.

Perhaps we can take a page from Andrew’s book on this one. Open doors in social media are a very good thing. Being helpful is what makes this space tick. But many of us are being blindly helpful, keeping our door open 24/7, inviting everyone in, and extending a hand to whoever knocks. It’s not scaleable, and ultimately, it’s not useful. Why? Because if you’re not getting some sort of payoff, then you’re going to get frustrated. If you’re helping people for the sake of helping, you’re going to be bombarded by people who are just taking advantage of your generosity, and then you’ll be forced, like so many of my managers from days gone by, to retreat to your corner and close the door and never come out. And that’s not helpful to anyone.

Be helpful, but only if it is helpful to you in some way. No, not just financially, or in advancing your business. It’s okay to help someone just to be generous, for the good feelings that are associated with knowing you’ve done good. (That’s a payoff too). But we need to set some clear lines of communication. We need to be more selective in our helpful ways. Otherwise, the door will shut and may never open again.

Honestly, I’m just thinking out loud here. Social media is still in its infancy. It’s barely walking yet. The rest of the world has still not really caught on. So, if we are having trouble scaling now, when only a small percentage of the people have come to the party, what’s going to happen when everyone shows up?

We’ve got to figure it out.

Your turn.

Category:social media
Is the Social Web Making Us Too Dependant?
A Simple Reminder About Real Life


  • March 4, 2010 at 8:43 am

    You’re getting really, really close to the answer, I think. But it isn’t just mutual aid. There’s a key piece here that’s missing. And I wish I knew exactly what it was!

    One piece to expand on is the setting of limits. Even the open-door policy boss wasn’t available 24/7. There were structured ways, rules and expectations.

  • March 4, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I think it is important to set access guidelines for your clients and strictly and fairly enforce them. They don’t need to be overly restrictive. Try to strike a balance so that you can have an efficient work-flow, and your clients feel that they are being well served.

    This is the same as the got-too-much-email-can’t-get-any-work-done problem. If you inadvertently train your clients into thinking they can access you 24/7 and get an instant response, then they will. That’s your fault.

    An alternative would be to say: You can call/email me anytime you want but I will respond during my email/voicemail answering period of 8-11 am M-F. If it’s a complicated issue then I will be longer or we can book an appointment. If it’s a fire then you respond more quickly. You lay this out to the client at the beginning of the relationship.

    This is how lawyers, accountants and other service professionals operate. A little discipline also helps with tracking and billing your hours.

    As a solo private practitioner you may feel that being more accessible distinguishes you from bigger firms. It does, but your clients will appreciate it more if you don’t burn yourself out and go bankrupt.



15 49.0138 8.38624 1 0 4000 1 300 0