A lot of social media practitioners, consultants and “social media experts” complain about people constantly asking to “pick their brain”. Most of the posts complain about people asking for free advice and explain in great detail how and why this is offensive.
While I agree with these posts, many years ago I received some GREAT advice about how to handle these requests.
When someone asks you for help, give them something to do first. Some small first step that they have to complete before you spend your time helping them.
Here are some examples:
Request: Krista, I’m looking for a new position and I was wondering if you could introduce me to some people.
Response: I’d love to help you. Can you take a look at my LinkedIn network and identify a few people who I am connected to who could help you?
Request: I have a startup and I think we need to use social media. Can I pick your brain about what we should consider?
Response: Sure. I wrote a few blog posts about this topic already that I think would be helpful. Could you read them first, let me know your thoughts and then we can schedule a meeting.
Response: Social media is great for startups. Could you send me links to social media accounts of some of your biggest competitors? I’m curious to see what they are doing.
Why This Works
This strategy works for a number of reasons:
1) If I’m going to invest my time I want them to invest theirs.
- It is easy to ask for advice or for a favor. Asking the other person to do a small amount of work before you invest your time shows that they are really interested. It also shows that they really value and want your help since they are willing to do the follow-up step that you suggest before you dive in and help.
2) They are more likely to take action.
- I really don’t mind occasionally meeting with people to help them out. Lots of people helped me with advice to get to where I am. What annoys the heck out of me is when I spend my time giving someone free advice that they don’t follow.
- Asking them to do something upfront shows that they can follow-through on something.
3) It shows that you are thoughtful and value your time.
- It is so easy for people to ask for advice or opinions. A lot of the people who ask for advice don’t realize that they are asking you to basically do your job for free. I like to use this approach because it shows that I have considered what they asked me for and have given them a thoughtful and specific next step. This shows that I value my time, even though I will give it to them for free.
4) Most people don’t do it.
- The reality is that in my experience well over half of people don’t follow through with the simple next step. This weeds out requests that would be a waste of my time since the person doesn’t have great follow-up. It also lets me focus my time on helping people who are action oriented and willing to invest their time when they ask for mine.
5) You don’t have to say no and get all cranky.
- I don’t really like saying no to people – even when they ask for free advice. This helps me to not have to say no and feel like a jerk.
- I know some social media experts who are highly offended by requests for free advice and often respond with cranky rants along the lines of “How dare you ask for free advice?!?! Don’t you know this is how I earn a living?!?!?! Have you no common decency?!?!?!”
6) It is nice to help people sometimes. Even for free.
- I got into what I do because I actually love it. I love talking about social media. I love helping businesses and people. I got to where I am because a lot of people helped me along the way. I’m happy to give back.
This approach has helped me tremendously – I wish I could remember who suggested it to me initially. Giving the requestor a simple next steps shows if they are willing to do something prior to me investing my time. As a bonus I don’t have to say no 😉