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Social Debt

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

If you helped me find a great designer, I’d help you find a great community manager (should you need one).

If not, I’d look for another way to help you.

Even if my help didn’t quite match (or significantly exceeded) the help you had given me.

I’d do that because I’d feel a social debt towards you. You helped me, so I want to help you.

If I don’t repay my social debts, that becomes part of my reputation. People stop helping me in the future. I can no longer ask for good advice ‘on credit’ – that I’d repay in the future.

We seem wired to repay our social debts. Social debts have been the basis of community for almost 5000 years. Communities (genuine communities at least) are a collection of social debts between members on a mass scale.

Notice the phrase ‘between members’. Everyone is in everyone else’s debt – and that’s a good thing.

People aren’t indebted to the community. They’re indebted to specific people within the group. They can call upon or ask for favours from specific people.

This matters. Too often we ask people to do things that ‘helps the community’. But a community en-masse can’t easily repay a social debt. Even if some entity such as the ‘the community’ did provide advice, it’s not easy to repay a generic entity.

Build the bonds between members not with a community entity. If someone has a question, nudge them to approach (or tag in) specific people who can help. Try to facilitate social debts between members. Encourage people to call upon help from specific people. Call upon specific people to help other specific people.

The community is a collection of individuals, you need to individualise it.


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