People Really Want to Help You

Blog Triggers

Understanding human nature is crucial to great marketing, and many believe that the key to success is to cater to selfishness. You hear quite a bit about needing to relentlessly focus on “what’s in it for them” in your marketing activities (especially around here).

But I’ve always tended to believe that human nature is not the root problem. Rather, it’s the competition, materialism, scarcity, and cynicism that can result from simply living life that hardens people. And the mass media machine sure hasn’t helped.

The early blogosphere has been built on principles of openness, transparency, and cooperation. People linked freely to one another; sharing conversations and readers. Now, many worry that the spirit of cooperation is doomed. As social media comes to look more like society at large, how can that spirit possibly remain?

Simple. Successful people have conducted business with that spirit long before Al Gore invented the Internet. A strategy of “give, give, give to get” will always work if you maintain it religiously.

New research published last week in the journal Science shows that the somewhat utopian ideals of the blogospere and social media may not be off base. Human nature isn’t the problem; it’s getting back to human nature that’s the challenge.

Psychology researcher Felix Warneken has found that the capacity for altruism (helping someone when there’s nothing to gain) is innate in humans, and emerges in babies at 18 months or even younger. Of course, there’s always something to gain from altruism — it makes us feel good. And you’ll recall that another powerful human psychological trait (reciprocation) rarely allows good deeds to go unrewarded.

Here are some of the key findings of Warneken’s study:

  • Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books. Sometimes he pretended to “struggle” with the tasks, and over and over, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds — but only if he appeared to need it.
  • The toddlers didn’t bother to offer help when Warneken deliberately pulled a book off the stack or threw a pin to the floor.
  • To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people’s goals plus possess what Warneken calls “pro-social motivation,” a desire to be part of a community.
  • A toddlers’ endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.

Here’s what I took away from this new study:

  • There’s never been a better time to be a bootstrapping entrepreneur using social media to build a business. Don’t hide the fact that you’re winging it on a shoestring, relish in it. People will help promote you if they think you need it, but there’s not a lot of altruistic love for big corporations. Small is the next big thing.
  • Don’t be a drama queen in an attempt to get promotional help. Manipulating the altruistic tendencies of your clients and customers will get you burned.
  • Build a community. Encourage interaction at every opportunity with your blog. Jump into your own comments section often, directly answering questions and thanking readers for encouraging words. Answer every email.
  • It’s up to you to give, give, give. You’re not being altruistic, because you do have something to gain. But you should give like you’ll never get anything back, and simply accept it when on occasions you don’t. You’re going to have to work hard to cut through the cynicism and get back to human nature.

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Public Relations vs. Publicity

Just in time for the first update to the Viral Copy section of Copyblogger, the debate about the relevancy of press releases explodes. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Tom Forenski of Silicon Valley Watcher posts Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!, and characterizes a press release this way:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on…

No, Tom, that’s a crappy press release. Although you have my sympathy, as I’m sure you saw plenty back in your reporting days.

Steve Rubel chimes in with Everything’s a Press Release, a title that just about sums up his position — he says everything you blog is, in fact, a press release. While I agree with Steve’s sentiment, I take issue with his semantics.

Everything we blog may qualify as public relations, but not everything we blog is a press release. There’s a difference there that’s quite important, as we’ll see.

Finally, Kevin Dugan over at Strategic Public Relations contributes:

It’s the content, not the format, that’s the problem.

Bingo! We have a winner.

Here’s the deal, press releases aren’t dead, but how they’re best used has changed completely, and for the better. A press release is an opportunity to tell a great story about your company, your product, or your blog. What’s more, you can then have that story distributed in a powerful fashion that allows you to connect directly with prospective readers, clients and customers.

And if it also results in either mainstream or new media coverage? Rock on.

The key here is the difference between public relations and publicity. Public relations implies that you have a public to relate with, and that’s who you are speaking to. Preaching to the choir is another way of thinking about it, and I think that analogy applies even to damage control, since the choir gets pretty upset when the preacher disappears with the collection plate (see Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, etc.)

In that sense, blogging is, and should be, the new PR — no doubt about it.

Publicity is something that helps you connect with people who don’t know about you yet, or those who may have heard about you, but are still on the fence. The emerging social media environment allows you to connect with these people in a whole host of ways outside of the mainstream media.

Having a great product or service that gets people talking is key. In the blogosphere, you’re taking the most powerful marketing channel ever (word-of-mouth), and adding the reach and speed of digital communication. The result is word-of-mouth on steroids.

But when you’re just getting started, you need to introduce enough people to what you have to offer before viral word-of-mouth can kick in. The modern press release can definitely help with that.

So here’s your first Viral Copy update How to Use the Modern Press Release. You’ll find out why the press release is still extremely valuable for promotion, plus you’ll get another free PDF download, this time from David Meerman Scott of Web Ink Now. Also, if you haven’t bookmarked the Viral Copy main page yet you might want to, as there’s more cool stuff to come.

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How to Avoid the Pollution Plague

Seth Godin thinks that the global warming movement could use better copywriters.

Without getting into a debate about the underlying science, Seth uses global warming as an example of how the way a story is told matters more than the underlying facts. He thinks in this case, it boils down to choosing the wrong words when warning of the possibility of catastrophic climate change.

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No Email Taxation Without Requisition

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and a host of others have released an open letter to AOL asking the ISP to reconsider adoption of the proposed Goodmail “email tax” that made big news not long ago. At the time, I said I didn’t care about this, as it would only speed the inevitable adoption of RSS for content delivery.

But upon continued reflection, it’s simply a flat-out disturbing development. AOL’s plans represent only the first step down a slippery slope towards fragmentation and corporate control of the Internet’s historical open access, and we shouldn’t let it happen without a fight. It can only hurt the small businesses and entrepreneurs who are continually moving into the growing online marketplace, not to mention charities, non-profits, and just regular folks.

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Four Reasons to Keep My Mouth Shut

Well, after essentially telling the world in my free report that I think the 4 things chain-meme is actually not much of a meme at all, I naturally get tagged with it. It seems Liz Strauss over at Successful Blog has quite the sense of humor.

OK, Liz, I’ll play.

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Social Proof: Herd it Through the Grapevine

Blog Triggers

No, that’s not a typo in the title above, as we’ll soon see. But first, some disturbing news.

It’s become fairly well-known that unfortunate events reported heavily in the media lead to other similar unfortunate events due to copycat behavior. Suicides, murders, and school shootings tend to occur in alarming clusters once the news about the initial event gets out.

What you may not know is that after a suicide is publicized, deaths by single-car accidents spike. When a murder/suicide is heavily reported, head-on car collisions and airplane crashes go up immediately afterward.

What’s going on here?

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