People Really Want to Help You

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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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Reader Comments (16)

  1. says

    I suppose it’s the difference between wanting to fight with people and “win” the sale vs. working with people for mutual satisfaction.

    wrestling vs dancing.

  2. says

    David, I agree. I could never stomach the arm-twisting techniques some promoted for face-to-face or telephone selling. Who wants to joust with someone who doesn’t even want to speak with you?

    That’s a recipe for mutual “dissatisfaction.”

  3. says

    I find this research with toddlers to be very interesting, and it raises difficlt questions for me. I can look at everything and do, and point to something I get out of it. Even if that getting out of it is a “good” feeling, I think, in the end, I am doing it for that good feeling.

    It is intersting that the toddlers are doing this only when it is evident that there is a need. I really wonder what’s going on here…

    I think you’re right–give, give, give and it will come back around.

  4. says

    Giving is THE easiest way to build trust, authority and a meaningful relationship. Sure some people might advantage of it but you’ll surprised how most people are really not out there to screw you over.

    Another way to do it is to keep everything for yourself then use some marketing ju-jit-su to sell. But that’s just too much work for me.

  5. says

    I could never stomach the arm-twisting techniques some promoted for face-to-face or telephone selling. Who wants to joust with someone who doesn’t even want to speak with you?

  6. says

    Thanks Brian for yet another excellent post.

    Reading about Warneken’s study brought a smile to my face and confirms my own (and my wife’s) experience with our now adult children and our pre-school grandchildren: that toddlers are natural-born helpers.

    And I’m happy to confess that I’m ‘winging it on a shoestring'; and delighted to be persuaded that ‘Small is the next big thing’.

  7. says

    Nice post! I think it comes down to the person..what they have experienced in life and how well they deal with communication. I think it is for the best to always give help and encourage people to do the right thing. Don’t look at it as if they will pay you back for it, look at it as feeling good about yourself that you have helped someone. That is the worst thing in the society today, having people say ..”I’m not going to help them, what have they done for me?” This is where hatred comes in and this is what we teach our children. Again, it is what a person has experienced in life, that’s what it depends on. In any case, great post!

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