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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