Brother, can you spare some social capital?

I enter the New Year feeling pretty damn lucky. I have a job I love, and believe I have enough job security to weather this economic storm. But ultimately, you can’t ever be totally sure. Over 2009, I am sure some people I care about, perhaps some blogging friends, perhaps even some of my readers, will lose their jobs. It will be a tough year, and between my friends in marketing and advertising and my friends in the financial sector, it will surely be an interesting ride. Who could have guessed where 2008 would have gone? (Well, some of you might have.) I certainly make no predictions for 2009.

And ultimately, that’s why I love LinkedIn. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a LinkedIn junkie. I can’t quite explain why. It’s not that social, there not a lot to do there. But having been through the dot.com implosion, getting laid off twice as a result and watching countless friends lose their jobs made me realize that I need to be in a perpetual state of job-hunting readiness. Having my Rolodex, resume, and personal references in one place makes a lot of sense (which is what LinkedIn does at its core). I periodically groom my profile, make sure to add new people I meet or current people I know who pop up as new connections and look at the professional changes happening in my network.

Having that social capital at a constant state of readiness is just plain smart. If I ever make a move — and for my fellow Vancity colleagues who read this, let me reiterate: I certainly hope I don’t anytime soon because I have the greatest job I can imagine — I have an instant network to reach out to to start developing my next opportunity.

Writing an insightful blog and being on other networks like Facebook and Twitter (which I love, but have abandoned recently and aim to come back to) is also very important to maintaining, evolving and expanding your network, which increases your social capital (assuming you’re being authentic and have something useful to say).

All of this really came home for me when a guy I know, Warren Sukernek, Senior Digital Strategist at the VML / Wunderman Network in Seattle was laid off recently. Warren is well connected with 500+ connections on LinkedIn (working in a web-related field helps this number of connections because, like me, Warren’s connections are far more likely to be part of LinkedIn already), he speaks at conferences (I met him when we spoke on a panel together at an Internet marketing conference in Vancouver this past September and immediately liked his experience, good humour and ideas) maintains a well-regarded blog about Twitter called Twittermaven, and, not surprisingly, he has a large following on Twitter. So when Warren became a statistic in this economic collapse, he did what I’ve never seen anyone else do. He was extremely transparent about his situation, and reached out to people he knows like me to inform them of his situation and simply ask for help. He’s a very nice guy, so he did this in a very low-key and yet direct way. It made me want to help. And I clearly wasn’t alone, as we’ll see very soon.

He would have been foolish not to reap the benefits of his impressive online presence to turn this sad affair into a great opportunity, which meant getting over whatever social stigma exists around losing your job and go public with this information immediately. In addition to reaching out privately to his network, he relied on the platform for which he’s most well known and
Tweeted his predicament. He also linked to what he calls a social resume, which is a resume housed in a blog, the first I’ve seen of that, and quite a good idea for an intense job-hunting phase. He got a number of responses via Twitter, and I’m sure even more direct and private messages. He utilized his status on LinkedIn (which is where I learned about his situation), updated his blog to thank his supporters, and I’m sure harnessed whatever other social networking sites he inhabits.

And then things got kicked up to another level. Another blog I follow posted about Warren’s newest career turn. And this blog has 248,000 subscribers. Warren got a boost from Church of the Customer, a top marketing blog. They wrote about Warren much the same way I am, examining how he used his social capital to take control of a situation in which most people feel victimized and helpless. They know him as a fellow participant in the Word of Mouth Marketing community, The Society of Word of Mouth. The thing is that the blog writers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, are well known authours, having written Citizen Marketers and Creating Customer Evangelists (if you don’t read their blog, check it out).

Being involved in social media in a meaningful way, in other words contributing social capital to a relevant and receptive community, now would have its rewards for Warren.

Warren blogged again, thanking his friends (like Jackie and Ben) for their support and linking back to the amazing blog coverage he has received in a post simply titled I’ve got great friends. In his blog post, he also tells his readers what they can do if they want to help him. I was impressed that Warren asked for the help he needed in a way that was polite, respectful and yet also overt and direct (I wrote him a LinkedIn recommendation as a result). And again he linked to his post in Twitter and his LinkedIn status.

So Warren is smartly cashing in some of his social capital that he has earned through his work, his willingness and even eagerness to share his knowledge and ideas online and at conferences, and his online social activities. I look forward to seeing where Warren lands. My sense is that he’ll have some choices in front of him early in the New Year.

Should the inevitable downsizing that will occur in 2009 affect any of you directly, take a lesson from Warren Sukernek and cash in your social capital to seize the day. But to do that, you need to have cultivated that social capital and have it in place for when you need it most. Because trying to build it when you actually need it will simply be too late in the game to be of any use.

I’ll add one more parting thought. If any of you know of or need a great social media-savvy digital strategist, don’t hesitate to contact Warren. Good luck Warren and Happy New Year!

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