“Lethal Generosity” – The Coin of the Realm in Social Networking

I just re-read a great article that Shel Israel wrote in October 2008 called, Using Lethal Generosity in Social Media, and decided I had to write about it.

Shel defines “lethal generosity” as:
…the concept that the most generous members of any social media company are the most credible and influential and as such, they can devastate their competition in the marketplace.

In short, the company whose representative posts the most tips, links, advice, case studies, best practices that followers find useful will always rise to the top, not just in influence but also in search results. The more outbound links you post, the more inbound links you are likely to receive.

If you read this blog regularly, you have probably heard me talk about “creating useful, problem-solving information” until you are in a near-nauseous stupor. But it is still a concept few business people are able to grasp.

Another frequently-used term for this is “content marketing.”

This came to mind this week when I was talking about social media with a lady who attends one of my networking groups here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She is a great, and “lethally generous” networker who is constantly looking for ways to add value, regardless of whether the person she is giving to could ever be a possible client for her firm.

She freely shares information, ideas, resources, and referrals. Moreover, she is a walking commercial for me and other business contacts she feels could help people she knows.

But she is frustrated because someone she works with “doesn’t get it.” When this colleague shares information, it always comes across as a promotion for their company. In fact he never offers tips and ideas without mentioning his own organization.

The focus is always on him and his earnings, rather than on what problems the person needing this information wants to solve.

Here’s are the all important Golden Rule question:
  • Are you giving to others with the expectation that they will or may give back to you?
  • Are you willing to help others who are in no position to ever help you back?
  • Are you so concerned that your competitors might see your information, that you withhold it from the people who really need to receive it?

The example that Shel Israel writes about in his article is of Jeremiah Owyang, who at the time worked for Hitachi Data Systems, a leading company in the data storage industry. He created a wiki to help everyone in the industry – customers, vendors, press, and even competitors.

The wiki became a huge success within their industry. But it was an act of pure generosity. As Shel puts it:
People came to the wiki and discussed ideas and concerns. They answered each other's questions. Any vendor could jump into any discussion. Hitachi never tried to dominate the conversation, but merely participated just like any other data storage vendor.

It had a generic name with no mention to HDS. But it was usually referred to in conversations. People knew that Hitachi was behind this preemptive act of generosity. Throughout the community, the wiki was called the "Hitachi Wiki." Hitachi was recognized as the thought leader.

This is an example of "lethal generosity." Every time a competitor joined into the wiki conversation, it re-enforced Hitachi's leadership. If it did not join in, it was visibly boycotting a place customers found valuable. Lethal.

Let me also point out that providing such content is a basic building block of establishing a personal brand. You can become known as the leader in your field just because you were lethally generous.

What can you do to practice Lethal Generosity? What information and ideas does your target audience want? What problems do they need to solve (even if the solutions are not services that put money in your pocket)?

When you provide valuable, free content that solves problems, you are practicing lethal generosity and will become the most credible and influential members of your social community.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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