Community has been a big focus for me for a long time. I’ve helped companies build and manage online communities, and I even co-founded a non-profit in Portland that organizes free events for the technology community here. I also try to help people with their businesses or ideas whenever I can, and I do a fair amount of match-making to help people find the resources they need for their projects. Some of this makes me money, and some of it I do for free because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
In communities, people help each other without asking anything in return. By helping other people solve problems or helping them get ahead, you also increase your social capital, and it becomes more likely that people will help you out at some future point. The catch is that you have to be willing to help people first without any specific expectation that they will return the favor. This is the basic idea behind whuffie, a concept first introduced in fiction by Cory Doctorow in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,” but applied to today’s communities in Tara Hunt’s “The Whuffie Factor.” If you haven’t read these books, I recommend both of them. I’m currently reading the latter, so whuffie has been on my mind lately.
While the concept of whuffie applies to everyone, it is particularly important for freelancers and other web workers. Those of us working alone need to support and help each other, since we don’t have the same resources as people working on-site at large corporations.
Portland is a town with a large population of freelancers, consultants and telecommuters, and many of these people offer services similar to my own. The natural instinct from some people would be to retreat from these potential competitors in case you might be up for the same job at some point in the future. I encourage you to take an alternate view: focus on cooperation, instead of competition. By helping each other, we make the entire community stronger and more vibrant, thus raising opportunities for the community as a whole.
Here are a few of the things that I do to support my community:
- Be available. I attend a lot of local events, and I am always happy to help people. I give people Yahoo Pipes demos, answer their questions about corporate blogging or other social media, provide advice about finding community manager jobs, and more. Just catch me at a local event, like Beer and Blog, and I’ll always do my best to answer questions or point you to someone else who can.
- Give back. Find ways to give back to your community. A few years ago, I noticed that while Portland had an amazing user group community, we didn’t have enough events that brought people together across technologies. Rather than complain or wait for someone else to organize some new events, I stepped up to help organize events like BarCamp and Ignite Portland. If you attend local events, offer to help out in some way or start a meetup of your own to bring like-minded folks together.
- Share the link love. I read so many amazing blog posts and articles that shape the way that I think about things in more ways than I can possibly count. As a result, I like to share them with other people even when these links go to my direct competitors. I have a couple of ways that I share links with people. I start by bookmarking them in Delicious, and in a weekly blog post, I pick five to ten of those links to share with my readers. I also do a monthly newsletter, and I always include a section for interesting articles written by other people.
- Help promote your community. I try to help other people promote projects that are interesting to me. This often takes the form of a retweet to share some interesting new event, link, or project with the people who follow me on Twitter. Sometimes it turns into a blog post if it’s something that requires a little more explanation.
These are just a few of the more visible ways that I support my community, and they don’t include the one-offs that come in via email or that happen face-to-face. I help people because it’s the right thing to do; the increase in whuffie is a nice side effect for me.
How is your whuffie? What do you do to support your community?