thank-you-from-the-sea-of-kindness fullscreen

How To Say Thank You On The Social Web

[tweetmeme]Whether or not you chose to acknowledge it, your ability to sink or swim on the social web depends on how you participate, engage others and embrace the customs of the virtual gift economy – this is as true for individuals as it is for big brands who have a web presence.

The concepts of “FREE as a business model” and sustainable gift culture generally makes sense to people in the context of products, services, brands and community building, but the understanding sometimes breaks down when it’s mentioned in the context of individual relationships and social media. Seasoned vets know that there are a host of unwritten rules and customs for reciprocating that we should follow when we benefit from free content and receive help and advice from others on the web. I’ll discuss some of those rules, explain why they’re important and offer some ways to act on them below.

Reciprocity Is A Broad Community Custom

A creative, participatory culture based on “free” is only sustainable if we all give more than we take in the long run. I call this The Cookie Jar Principle. There are millions of people out there who have embraced the online culture of collaboration and participation. These people spend hundreds of hours creating free content and posting it on blogs, wikis, FAQs, and photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube (to name a few) so that anyone can use and enjoy it. That said, just because it’s posted online for free under a creative commons license doesn’t mean that all that creative energy has been spent JUST because these people believe that art and information should be free. If you take a deep look at why people chose to produce all this content, you’ll realize that they’re forgoing monetary compensation to build social capital. Even though there’s no money in it, they definitely DO benefit — they create things for others to learn from and enjoy to be recognized, networked and notable. They know that their contributions build relationships and beget trust, credibility and status. There’s a measure of self esteem, diginity and joy of contribution and connectedness they they get from the act of creating and giving. The majority of the online community recognizes this and it is (therefore) customary for community members that benefit from the time and energy these people spend creating content to reciprocate in some way to show appreciation – this demonstration of appreciation is the cultural norm. It’s crucial to see why this culture of reciprocation exists and embrace it. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Whuffie (Social Capital) Matters Most Online

I can’t over emphasize this point. Reputation and social status are what we accumulate when we interact and build relationships online. The sum of our contributions and the level and quality of our participation and collaboration online are measured in the accumulation of whuffie or social capital, not material wealth. Anything that helps us collect, measure and display the accumulation of this social capital improves our reputation and helps us build connections and rapport with others (which helps us build more social capital that we can use to make more connections that help us get things done, and so on). The accumulation of this type of capital helps create a virtuous cycle for those of us whose contributions  continuously add value – which is as it should be, no? The social web is the world’s largest and broadest meritocracy.

If you’re interested in the concept of “Whuffie” and how it can benefit you or your organization, Tara Hunt recently wrote a fantastic book that I highly recommend called The Whuffie Factor. Check it out. It’s the real deal. I was also was fortunate enough to attend and tape Tara’s presentation “The Whuffie Factor: The 5 Keys for Maxing Social Capital and Winning with Online Communities” at the Web 2.0 conference this year in San Francisco. The video is lengthy, but it’s worth watching. Tara is awesome and it was easily one of the best talks given this year.

The Social Web Has It’s Own Currency For The Social Capital Economy

Sure we get free access, but we pay tribute and show appreciation constantly. We contribute to discussion on each other’s blogs, we share and promote other people’s content on social media platforms like Twitter and Friendfeed. We recommend people to others, vote, make introductions, give credit and link liberally to content we like and benefit from. These small (free) actions are the currency of the social web. When we benefit from free, we should always make sure to give back this way and say thank you.

The Two Way Street

Ignoring the two way culture of the social web is a major faux pas. Participating in social media is about engagement, conversation, reciprocation and exchange. Participating on social platforms by broadcasting alone (even if you give your content away for free) isn’t enough – in fact, it’ll hurt you in the long run. In the end, broadcasting alone flags self-interest and people will turn their noses up at you. Debate, don’t preach. Swap and share, don’t broadcast. Promote the content of others, not just your own. And don’t forget, when you do these things, remember to use the currency of the social web.

Ways You Can Use Social Media To Reciprocate (Say Thank You)

I’ll keep this brief and just include the main currency evenues that I use to reciprocate, engage and say thank you on the web. Please, if you have a method you have seen that really has a positive impact on others (especially if that impact is highly emotional and public) include it in the comments.

  1. Recommend Someone - This is a powerful way to say thank you and you should always do it publicly if you can. Posting a recommendation on FriendFeed or Twitter is good, but I find that writing a recommendation that’s more lasting and attached to someone’s public profile is FAR more appreciated. LinkedIn is great for this – if someone helps you, and you think they’ve done great work or you’ve benefited from their insight and expertise, ask them if they’d mind if you wrote a recommendation for them. If they agree, be brief, personal and make it about them, not you. Say how this person has helped you, what it meant to you and why they are notable.
  2. Comment on blog posts – Comments are standard currency in the blogosphere. If someone helps you out, or you learn something from their post, take 5 minutes and add to the discussion. Note: Try not to just say “awesome post!”. It’s lazy. Always focus on adding value. Blog posts aren’t meant to be static – comments are all part of the game. Add a gem that increases the value of the overall post.
  3. Promote Their Content – Read something you liked that you learned from? Promote it on Twitter or Friendfeed, or email it , digg it, stumbleit with a provocative subject line. Producing content, it turns out, is the easy part – it’s getting found by an interested audience that’s really hard. Help people creating content achieve their goals by sharing. Note: I recently wrote an article on how to do this effectively with Twitter. Please check it out if you’re interested.
  4. Write a post Link and Give Credit - Google juice is huge. If you link to someone’s content in a blog post and give them credit, you’ll send them traffic and increase their ability to get found in search engines. In-coming links tell the Google’s of the world that something is worth a look. The more links, the higher they rank. Every link counts. Note: Linking with blog posts instead of social media is important because links from services like Twitter and FriendFeed don’t count towards page rank in search.
  5. Make An Introduction – It’s a much more direct way of recommending someone, but powerful if you can effectively connect them to someone new and start a relationship where both parties can benefit. You can do this over any social media platform, but email is better and doing it in real life is the best. The trick is to do it in a way where you catalyze the connection and immediately step way. Again, this is about them and the connection, not you.
  6. Take The Thank You Offline & Make it Tangible – The methods of the old school still work best. Hand written notes, a tangible gift that says thank you, a personal letter…these things still matter. In a world where we’re inundated with superficial messages and we get pinged from mulitple services hourly, taking the time to give someone something tangible that they can touch, enjoy and experience will mean a lot more to them than some text on a screen.


  1. vadadean
    July 14, 2009 at 12:55 pm ·

    This is one of the most important posts I've read regarding social media. It's not only beneficial and actionable, it's human and heartfelt. Too often social media is devalued because it's free. Steffan reminds us that being human is not only free but priceless.

    • July 14, 2009 at 1:02 pm ·

      @Vada Thanks for the comment. I can always count on you – you're ALWAYS
      doing this stuff anyway ;-) ! I agree with you. Free can be a curse when too
      many people take it for granted. Also, we have to be careful to always be
      human and not lose that personal touch when engaging each other on the
      web…and taking action and reciprocating in measurable, tangible ways is so
      important for the sustainability of gift culture.

  2. July 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm ·

    Here's what brings a smile to my face: clicking through and seeing the two people who do this better than anyone in my network already interacting in the comments.

    Great post Steffan. The 6 tips are a must read for anyone involved with the web today. It's amazing how much a single … moment … of time can be worth when it's used to correctly say thanks.

    • July 14, 2009 at 2:52 pm ·

      @Fraser – “It's amazing how much a single … moment … of time can be worth when it's used to correctly say thanks.”

      Very well said.

      hahaha..I was also insanely impressed with @Vada's speed. Literally 20 minutes after I posted this he's already here interacting. He's a star.

  3. July 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm ·

    Love the post Steffan – I will add some more thoughts below – don't want to be lazy. :) (good point on that BTW).

    Yours is the second post on this topic I've read today (Stephanie Lloyd's was the other:, and I like the take I got from both of you on this. At the end of the day, people sometimes forget that Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, et. al. are just *tools*.

    They are powerful implements to expand our notion of 'community' beyond the end of our street, but the important tenets of humanity you mentioned are still the thing that makes us want to connect with another person.

    Great job!

    • July 14, 2009 at 2:55 pm ·

      Right you are Guy. I echoed what you've said in a comment above – all these tools we use to connect are just that…tools. They'll change, disappear, or be replaced as the ecosystem evolves. What's immutable is our humanity and how we relate. It's so important to let that humanness shine through in how we connect.

      Thanks btw for sharing the link to Stephanie's post. It's great.

  4. July 14, 2009 at 11:09 pm ·

    I hate to take it to this right away, maybe it's the entrepreneur in me, but when you say…

    “The sum of our contributions and the level and quality of our participation and collaboration online are measured in the accumulation of whuffie or social capital, not material wealth.”

    …I immediately think, how could you translate whuffie or social capital into material wealth. What is the point, other than street cred or a confidence booster, in spending all this time building a credible presence on the web?

    I have a few ideas around this but I'm hoping to get a few ideas then spill my thoughts. Looking forward to the conversation. Hopefully other readers get engaged!

    • July 14, 2009 at 11:54 pm ·

      Oh man, you need to read the Whuffie Factor. ;-)

      • July 14, 2009 at 11:58 pm ·

        I'll give it a look for sure.

        • July 15, 2009 at 9:40 am ·

          Also, check out Vada's comment below…what do you think about the concept of a marketplace/exchange mechanism where people could accumulate social currency and use it as a proxy the way he decribes. I think the idea is inspired – it's exactly what's described in the book “Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom” which is the basis for Tara Hunt's book.

          • July 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm ·

            Really great thoughts going on here…

            Vada's comment about taking advantage of great things just because they are free is spot on. Great things often need to be profitable to be sustainable. Think about how many great technologies die until someone can put a business model around it. Google, an amazing piece of technology in it's search engine would have absolutely failed without their advertising model. That is why I'd like to find the profit model to social contribution…to make it sustainable.

            I think that a market place idea seems right. People will not be willing to pay for anything unless the benefit is measurable. Our first step is to figure out how to measure social contribution then we might be able to put a model around it.


          • July 15, 2009 at 5:49 pm ·

            I think we'd all benefit from (re?) reading “Down And Out In The Magic
            Kingdom”. Maybe some ideas will come out of that. Anyone read it?

          • July 15, 2009 at 8:55 pm ·

            So much to read, so little time.

          • July 16, 2009 at 8:19 am ·


    • vadadean
      July 15, 2009 at 12:26 am ·

      We need to create the tools that allow Social Capital to be a proxy for Influence, Reputation, Trust, and Reach. Then we can speak natively to brand managers willing to pay for interactions with alpha-consumers/fans at scale.

      Let's do this in a way where users are in charge yet rewarded for benefiting the communities of which they are members. Let's earn the rich CPMs described by Seth Godin:

      “As long as your site is about something else and the ads are a distraction, you'll see CPM rates drop. As soon as you (or the advertisers) figure out that creating online communities aligned with the advertising, where attendance is a choice by the consumer, then you're creating genuine value.”

      It's all about converting Social Capital into fungible capital beneficially and sustainably. [Yes, Umair Haque has twisted my brain].

      • July 15, 2009 at 9:37 am ·

        First of all, let's agree…Umair Haque is awesome. I drink (nay, guzzle) from that Kool-aid with pleasure.

        I agree with you that we need a way to reward people online for the sum of their contributions (agross the web) and have a way to measure their reputation and social capital (democratically) in more tangible and fungible ways. The idea of having a whuffie-like currency on the web that we could use as a proxy in scalable ways would be fantastic. I'm interested to hear more of your ideas on this, especially re: your “pay for interactions” idea.

  5. JeffHurt
    July 15, 2009 at 7:12 am ·


    So what is the release date of your book on this subject? (wink, wink) I'd buy it! You are a great teacher about building online relationships. As I've said here on your blog before, we all crave relationships, and that's what it is ultimately about, putting another person first.

    The blinders the corporate world has put on their own business models often frustrate me. Their mantras and focus on tools and tactics instead of the basic tenets of relationship building are so hollow today. We would all be in better places if businesses got back to focusing on people and the building relationships.

    It’s always a breath of fresh air to find someone like yourself that is authentic, transparent and practices what he preaches. Thank you for sharing and giving of your talent, time, thoughts and energy.

    • July 15, 2009 at 10:08 am ·

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement ;-). If I ever write a book on this, you'll be one of the first to hear about it. The important theme in all of this, which you've pointed out (re: The blinders the corporate world has and their mantras) is that being human and authentic is fundamental to relationship building – Twitter, FriendFeed et. al. are just tools that are always changing – they will evolve, dissappear, or be replaced eventually (and often rapidly)…the relationships that are strong enough to endure those changes (i.e. the people that stay with you through the churn) are the only ones that matter…so whether you're an individual or a brand, true relationships matter.

  6. vadadean
    July 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm ·

    Beyond Whuffie, there is academic support for communities and the gift economy. Peter Kollock drills down into social motivators in his article, “The Economies of Online Collaboration” [ link is dead but another blog quotes it: ]

    He lists as egoistic motivators:

    * anticipated reciprocity
    * reputation (bragging rights)
    * sense of efficacy (“If a sense of efficacy is what is motivating someone, then contributions are likely to be increased to the extent that people can observe changes in the community attributable to their actions”)

    And as altruistic motivators:

    * help someone who has a need
    * attachment to a community: help the group with which one identifies to prosper

    • July 15, 2009 at 3:00 pm ·

      I just took a gander over to the Economies of Online Collaboration post. Good stuff. It's the large gray area between egoism and altruism that I'm particularly interested in. I think that the driving force that causes many people to interact, collaborate, help and be notable is a fundamental desire for self esteem and dignity – making things (fine art, for example, or an indie documentary) that others enjoy as a collective shared experience can illicit a strong feeling of connectedness with others that many of us crave – I say this knowing that Peter calls out “attachment to a community” – I don't think that the feeling of connectedness and attachment to others is necessarily the same thing. It's like the difference between sharing laughter with others in a moment at a comedy club (where you don't know anyone, and don't intend on staying more than for the length of a show) and the feeling you get from being an alumnus of an institution. The bond in both cases is different. I see the first example as “connectedness” and the second as “belonging”. We need both and peter leaves out the first one.

      • vadadean
        July 15, 2009 at 3:49 pm ·

        Both “connectedness” and “belonging” offer huge economic opportunities. Google has done a good job building an ecosystem around casual “connectedness” aligning user intent with publishers and sellers. There is still a big opportunity building ecosystems around deeper “belonging” aligning user passions with publishers and sellers. Facebook mines this vein along the lines of social interaction. My company, WarpShare mines this vein along the lines of social entertainment. I know, the lines are blurrier than they appear :-)

        • July 15, 2009 at 3:59 pm ·

          I think there's a lot to be said for what WarpShare is doing. Entertainment
          is highly social, and you're right there is a lot of opportunity there to
          capitalize on “connectedness” (the feeling of sharing the emotions elicited
          by an entertainment experience) as well as “belonging” (being part of a
          group of people who enjoy those social experiences and consistently
          gravitate to them). I can't wait to see what you guys have done these past
          few months. ::wink::

  7. vadadean
    July 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm ·

    In my search for a link to UCLA Professor Peter Kollock's article, I learned he passed away in a motorcycle this January. Please pardon my apparent insensitivity for calling a link to his article “dead”.

    • July 15, 2009 at 3:04 pm ·

      I don't think anyone should take what you said as insensitive. It's common vernacular. That said, I had wondered why Peter hadn't blogged in a while. His blog is good – it's a shame to hear he has passed. His blog content is the kind of stuff I genuinely appreciate. I wish I had gotten to know him better.

  8. July 22, 2009 at 4:29 am ·

    Response to: “Ways You Can Use Social Media To Reciprocate (Say Thank You)”

    We are a new company called Thanksto and we've set up a website called This site lets our users set up their own profiles and write their own “Thank You Messages” to others.

    Here's a link to a really nice Thank You Message one of our members has written:

    Why not take a look around our site and join us if you like what we're about?

    • July 22, 2009 at 10:27 am ·

      Thanks for the link. I checked out your site. The idea for saying thank you
      in a public way seems to have merit. I hope your idea gets some traction.
      Keep us updated via Twitter!

  9. Pingback: Build Social Credits, Say “Thank You” « Mellow Billow

  10. July 31, 2009 at 9:42 pm ·

    Great post Steffan, I saw a link from a friend’s post. We’re just starting out and will use lots of these tips. I think saying thank you is always the start of a good friendship.


  11. August 20, 2009 at 9:48 am ·

    Just adding this comment here for the record. Chris Brogan wrote a great piece that ties in nicely with what I've said here in a post titled “Simple Touchpoints Of Loyalty” that is instructive. Here's the link..

  12. August 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm ·

    Just adding this comment here for the record. Chris Brogan wrote a great piece that ties in nicely with what I've said here in a post titled “Simple Touchpoints Of Loyalty” that is instructive. Here's the link..