Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 12, 200910:01 PM

When To Ask For Help

When times get really tough the only place you can turn to is family and friends... and the kindness of strangers online.

Yesterday, the USA Today ran a very scary article titled, Many turning to Web to ask for help, by Emily Bazar. It turns out that more and more people are turning to the online channel in hopes of getting help. It's anything and everything from work opportunities to decent clothing, to places to live and more. If you thought things were looking frightening on Wall Street, it's even scarier when you hear the human stories and the desperation that comes with it.

"'Please give me a chance. I'm looking for a job but to no avail,' single mother Rachael Kirk, 32, of Las Vegas wrote on Craigslist last month in an attempt to find housing for herself and her two children.

'I was recently laid off from my job, and I am job hunting, but I am finding I have very few 'interview-worthy' outfits,' said a Craigslist posting by Mary Ann Hurst, 24, of Hillsborough, N.C. She's seeking professional attire.

'We HATE asking for help but we don't have anywhere to go if we lose our house. ... If everyone gave $1 or $2 we could get caught up!!' wrote a seller on eBay offering pictures of jellyfish drawn by her 4-year-old son for a minimum bid of $1 each."

Do you think these people would have had a harder or easier time making these sorts of asks had they already built some form of community - either on their own (like a Blog or Podcast) or by simply being a member of an existing online social network (like Facebook or Twitter)?

Individuals and businesses still don't seem to understand the true value in building social capital. Too many people look at these online channels and either see a time suck or a place to shill their wares. They miss the whole point. The real value of taking part is in building community. It's about adding value, learning, sharing and meeting more and more people who have similar interests (and some that don't). What makes it ever-more fascinating is how those relationships morph, build and extend over time. It also has little to do with physical geography (although the real-world meet-ups are always a treat and an amazing experience).

Brands and businesses struggle with Social Media because brands and businesses have never been all that personal, social and focused on developing the community they serve.

"Candy Hill, a senior vice president of Catholic Charities USA, said she's not surprised people in need are searching the Web. Her group's agencies around the country are seeing a 'dramatic' increase in requests for food, housing and financial assistance. 'Why wouldn't somebody turn to the Internet?' she said. 'They're desperate and they don't know where else to find help.'"

It could be that. It could also be because that's where the real communities are - the ones that are open, accepting and care for one another. People don't ask for help online because it's free, they ask for help online because they feel like the more people who hear their message might improve their chances of getting results. By building your online community, your chances probably increase exponentially. Especially if you're building and being an active member long before you need to ask for anything.

By Mitch Joel