When Twitter followers ask for money


“Can you help me?” she tweeted.

I had never heard of her before. A new Twitter follower.

She attached a link. Curious, I clicked. It led to a link at a crowd-funding site that described how her son overcame illness and depression but has run out of money to go to college. The family, on fixed income, needed funds to keep the boy (actually a 24-year-old man) in school. I felt bad for the family, at least if the story was true.

But this is something I would not tweet to my Twitter tribe, let alone blog about it for her (as she requested). It was suspicious. A brand-new Twitter follower hitting me up for money?  And a look at her stream showed she was connecting to other bloggers in the same way. And why couldn’t the young man get a part-time job or financial aid?

“How do I know you are real?” I messaged back. “I can’t lead my Twitter followers into a scam.”

Ten minutes later my phone rang. The woman had found my number and was calling to appeal, pleading for her legitimacy. But even after a live phone call, I could not be convinced that this was true. I just didn’t know the person.

I feel bad.  Usually I’m a softie for this stuff and will go out of my way to help people. But there are two things that held me back.

You are what you tweet

First, mass appeals on Twitter don’t work any way. It is very, very difficult to get the “weak connections” of social media to open their wallets.  I blogged it about this idea a few months ago, showing that strong connections are the ones who come through for you in an appeal like this, not the loose connections of Twitter.

The second issue of course is that I simply did not know this person … in fact I had never even heard from her through a tweet or blog comment before. It’s hard for me to want to help somebody who just followed me that day. If you are a trusted friend, I will do anything to support you. But it’s kind of creepy having a stranger call you up asking for money, even if she was a nice person on the phone.

What do you do?

Are you getting appeals like this, too?  I hate saying no to a person in need but I think ignoring this request was responsible. Do you agree? When people ask for assistance, how do you decide whether to help them or not?

Illustration courtesy Konstatin Scholl and Flickr Creative Commons

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  • I believe you did the right thing, and what I would have done. It’s no better than begging from strangers in the street, in fact, it’s worse. begging in the street is usually for food however this was for an education for someone that may well have been able to fund themselves though college (like others have to every day).
    It also seems a little odd that they were asking people that they have never had connections with in the past, did they not have family/friends?

    Maybe there should be some sort of virtual ‘no cold calling’ sign available 🙂

  • I fully understand your strange feeling about a request coming out of the dark. When people ask for assistance I decide whether to help them only if I can afford it in that specific moment.
    I prefer not to question too much about the sincerity of the request. If I say yes, it’s because helping a person I may not know is a beautiful thing. I believe that what it matters is the intention, it’s what motivates us to help others.

    This is why for me if his/her request isn’t true I think it’s different matter.

    I would even add that if a person asks for help without need and she/he gets it from me, the problem is more on her/his side than on my side.
    Because at the very end my conscience is clean and her/his conscience is NOT.

  • I have to agree with you +Mark Schaefer. Although the headline is a little misleading. Just because someone follows on twitter does not a friend make.

    This is not a promising social strategy and if her issues are indeed true, she would have been much better off asking someone within her tribe for help reaching outside her immediate circle for assistance.

    Hmmm … I just noticed that the posted headline says – when twitter followers, but when it showed up in my inbox it read – twitter friends thus my comment.

    Is this an example of a/b testing or another SEO strategy?

    Thanks for sharing Mark

  • I like that Barry. How do I hang that sign out? That would be a good innovation!

  • I like your approach Luca and sometimes I even help people on nothing but a leap of faith. But one downside of social media is that there are so MANY requests I can’t hop to sort them all out. I received two new requests overnight since this posted, for example. I don’t want to be helpful or appear as rude, but I simply don’t have the time to process requests from strangers. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Ha! No, I’m not that smart. In WordPress, there are two places to enter the headline. When I edited the final version, I forgot to change the second one and I have corrected that now. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Hi Mark, I agree you did the right thing too. I would be suspicious if someone I didn’t know called me for money, and it must have been an uncomfortable experience for you. I think your post highlights the importance of trust and strong relationships. In addition to these factors, I also pay attention to my gut instinct. It usually turns out to be right, particularly when I have ignored it in the past. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks to you for sharing this insight.

  • That’s tough Mark, but I think you did the right thing.
    Lots of people believe that social media is a shortcut, far from it…. as you know.
    I doubt it would have helped much in the long run anyway, it’s not just influence that’s important, but context and relevance too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • My pleasure Mark and thanks for responding

  • I wouldn’t have given either. When I was single and living in Chicago, I remember the Times did a story on how some people were making a GOOD living off posing as panhandlers. While I realize there are people who legitimately need help ever since then I have doubted everyone asking – even if and as I may be giving a few dollars. It’s a shame but that’s just the way it is. People have found the latest way to scam others and this “year” it’s social media.

  • Julie Musial

    There are so many scams out in the world that you don’t have a choice but protect yourself. I have heard of so many innocent people being taken advantage of their kind heart. It’s unfortunate that we have to be like this in order to protect our families.

  • debraandrews

    That is a very tough situation Mark. I think most people wouldn’t have responded at all but you have a heart of gold and always want to help others. You did the right thing here for sure. Hopefully, she has friends, family that can help her with her unfortunate dilemma.

  • Jennifer Kane

    Okay, this might be super nerdy, but I have rules and I post them. Like…

    my Facebook “about” page- when I clearly explain that I occasionally
    swear in my posts, that I don’t accept game requests and that often I
    won’t tag people out of concern for their privacy (since I do not
    personally know many of the people in my network.)

    On my Twitter wallpaper – where I explain that new
    followers who auto DM me spam will be unfollowed and that none of my
    tweets are automated.

    And on my website in two places…

    1) Our disclosure policy: http://www.kaneconsulting.biz/how-we-work/our-disclosure-policy/

    2) Our social contract: http://www.kaneconsulting.biz/how-we-work/contract/

    Heck, I even have a sign on my door at home that says, “The house does not respond to door-to-door sales solicitations, political canvasing or religious prosthelytizing. Thank you for respecting our house rules” (And I watch and the door to door people walk away when they get to my house, every time.)

    So, I’ve never been asked for money, but if I did, I’d add that topic to the rules. Social is a business to me, so those rules are like my HR policy — they direct and explain my behavior and support conversations I have with friends/followers when they have questions about something I’ve said or done.

    So I guess the reeeeeeaaaaly long answer to your question, is “tell people what you’re comfortable doing — and that “giving money to people you’ve never met,” doesn’t fall on that list.

  • Sandra Isaac

    Its like internet pan handling. I even hate the idea of kids outside a store front doing the same thing. I know times are tough. I know donations are down, but it feels as if your getting badgered left and right. I cant afford much right now either, so I’d rather volunteer. Part of my job is fielding requests for donations. Once of the best things that I can do is investigate, and put the information out there so that others may chose if they want ( and are able) to help. I hate ” begging”, but if you put the story out there, and back it up with proof or facts, help will follow.

  • Really appreciate your comment Tracy. Thanks so much!

  • Even if I would have stuck my neck out, it is a long shot that even a dime would be raised. People have unrealistic expectations in this regard! Thanks Bernadette!

  • Nancy Davis


    As a person who has seen more in this past few years than anyone can imagine, I can sympathize with her if her story is real. The fact is we do not know if her story is real or not.

    No matter how bad things got, I never asked anyone directly for money and never would. There were many days I certainly needed it, but the way I saw things was that it was my problem, not my followers problem.

    Some may say my reaction reeks of pride. I would say my response to the challenges I have faced is the opposite. I got myself in this mess and it is up to me to change it.

  • Candice Sabatini

    I agree with your response Mark. I have a friend who recently ran into big financial troubles and almost lost her apt. She tweeted for donations on Twitter and raised some money. But if you looked at her Twitter feed/history, anyone could see she was a legitimate person who lost her job and was struggling to stay afloat until she found a new one. She didn’t badger anyone, she didn’t send out constant tweets asking, and she kept on with her regular tweets specific to her industry. Some people came to her aid with money, some with job leads and some with both.
    The good news is that both came through – some money to hold onto her apt and a new job.
    But someone that signs up for twitter so they can ask for money? Not a chance I’d give. I’d be afraid it was a scam. And someone who investigated, found my phone number and called me???? Yikes! You did the right thing Mark.

  • Yes, those horror stories are int he back of mind. I sure don’t want to be part of something like that. Even when a trusted friend asked me for help on an issue, I asked him to verify that it was real!

  • And now, it’s not only us but the people who trust us on the social web too.

  • Thanks Debbie. I’m still not sure if it’s real. No way to tell!

  • Great commentary Sandra, thank you!

  • I certainly don’t blame people who ask for help. I don;t know what I would do in a similar situation. I’m pretty self-reliant (to a fault sometimes) so I think I would be in your camp Nancy.

  • Thanks taking the time to comment today Candice!

  • I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that someone would do this. It sure sounds like a scam to me. It’s always hard to know, even in person whether or not it’s a legit request. IMO you made the difficult but right decision.

  • jigleach

    Aren’t we all in debt to our university system? She is part of a big club. We should all start tweeting for dollars. Paying for education is part of the education!

  • I can’t believe she found your number and called you. Wow, and I agree you did the best you could do.

    I was waiting in a fast food line, around ten one night, and this guy suddenly pops up by my car. About gave me a heart attack. He told me not to be scared! I’m a woman, alone in a car after dark. Sure, no reason to be scared.

    The fact is, there are many resources out there to help people. I had a recent situation where someone I knew was asking for donations of unused heart medications. O.O In about a minute, I found several links where people can get help receiving prescription medications. Many churches have outreach/support charities and/or maintain lists of places where people can receive help.

    Money is just a band-aid without a plan. 🙁

  • Burnt Apple

    Ah! the never ending quest to get me to open my pocketbook continues. This time in a new form. It never seems to end. The other day, no joke, I got an email from Mr. WallyWanyTangLi stating he was Chinese asking for money. Too bad his reply email was as white as they get: robert.lee. Ha. Ha! Love it.

  • Thanks Beth.

  • Very true! I started saving for my kid’s education before they were even born.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective Pauline. Always great to her from you!

  • I wonder about these folks. They wake up each day planning to fleece innocent people. What a world.

  • I don’t know what I would have done. I have said no to people who didn’t need any help and people who did. Sometimes I said no because I had nothing to contribute and sometimes because I was worried about whether I was being scammed.

    That has always made me feel sad, the idea that I might not help someone who I could have because I was concerned about whether they were in honest need or not.

  • Pingback: Are We Obligated To Help Others? - Joshua Wilner()

  • Feel the same way. I generally want to help!

  • Robert J. Stribley

    I’m with you, Mark.

    Virtual pan-handler…and she may be in trouble, sorry.

    I had a guy walk up to me in a parking lot a few weeks ago and TELL me to give him 85 cents.

    I said NO, he called me a redneck (under his breath) and left.

    You now are=>RedNeck, by that lame measure.

    You are charitable, and you know it.

  • MaureenMonte

    Sorry, I’m about 8 weeks behind in emails. What an interesting conundrum. Small money on the street, I have no problem with that. A stranger tweeting? Nope. I’m in Michigan which has been hard hit by all sorts of stuff. So my strategy is different. I have friends who are struggling. At this point, I’ve pretty much stopped giving to charity, and am helping friends with amounts that I would have formally given to charity. A friend of mine had to have 4 weeks of physical therapy on her shoulder. She doesn’t have health care so the “discounted rate” bill was over $1,000. I know where she has physical therapy (I’m having some on my back, same place). I paid a chunk of her bill. Didn’t tell her, don’t know if she’ll find out, don’t care if she does or she doesn’t. Giving to the people I know is quite satisfying for me. Don’t want anything in return, because I already get that in the form of kindness, friendship, moral support, etc. The human stuff. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Mark, and I like that you still don’t know, and aren’t afraid to say it.

  • Diana Fletcher

    This was really interesting to read as I have just been posting information about an event I am hosting in July to fight Human Trafficking. I asked my followers to RT information and if they could donate anything it would be great. I feel as if I have built up trust with my followers on Twitter and don’t feel bad about tweeting the information. I still continue to tweet about health, happiness and stress reducing. However, I would have reacted the same way you did to a new follower and especially someone calling me like that. I feel it is a little out of line. My heart does go out to people who are having trouble, but I get a weird feeling from that approach.

  • Absolutely agree with your thoughts! The idea of using media as a quick fix is seemingly being stretched too far. I am sure this the beginning. I had a similar guy (in fact more than one) do this on linkedin. They send me an invite saying they heard me speak or write about a common interest and this is the reason they want to connect. In the hope of having conversations on the subject i used to accept if they had a true looking profil. But i have never heard them speak about the subject – and soon you geta mail asking either for a job or recommendation for a potential order.

    Building trust is what begets help. I am sure all of us out there want to help but the way things are going my worry is people will stop doing it because of the amount of misuse.

    The beauty of social media is that it gives us permission to disconnect as strongly as we connect. The short term quick fix and get rich quick people will be organically rooted out of networks. But till then let the divine give us the right direction.

    Very interesting piece. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sheryl

    There is a woman on twitter who has been asking for money on twitter for three years.She was also raising money on crowd funding saying she was trying to save her children’s home and needed money for rent abs bills.Then the children were removed from her and she still asked for money.She wants money paid into her mothers paypal as she says she doesn’t have a bank account.Then the mother tweets shes transferred money into the woman bank account.The woman even asked tweeters to raise money to buy her a house that failed now she wants money to move to a new home.when people don’t donate mother and daughter get nasty.i think she is a scammer

  • jane doe

    I found your article via google, in search of ways to ask for donations online. I certainly won’t be trying that approach now. Your article didn’t dissuade me as much as all the comments you received. So disheartening! I’m not a panhandler or a beggar, but I did make a few unwise choices early in life. Does that mean I should suffer for the rest of my life? I married young and stayed married for 25 years and raised my children with no help from anyone. But here I am 50 something years old and divorced (at least he traded me in for an older woman) with mounting bills and no job. Family and friends have helped a bit, and I’m fortunate for that. What I’d love is a job but those aren’t easy to come by. I’m now at the point where I don’t have gas for my car (that needs an oil change and is about to be uninsured because of no money to pay for insurance) so going out to apply for a job is out of the question. Applying online… it doesn’t seem to be working. But then there’s that matter of being a stay at home mom with limited job skills. Oh, I could go on forever but what’s the point? I guess my approach is different now. Instead of asking for donations, I’d love some advice! Anyone want to help with that? It’s free. 🙂 How do I move forward in life with limited education, limited job skills? Don’t suggest anything that costs money because I don’t have two pennies to rub together. Thanks!

  • First let me say that my heart goes out to you and I am moved by your suffering. One small piece of advice is that asking for help as “Jane Doe” probably isn’t going to move the needle very much for you. The social web is about building connections and relationships. If you put yourself out there, there really is a chance to build relationships that matter.

    I have mentored many people who are out of work but not necessarily in your situation because generally they have some job skills. But I think the situation is similar because the key to moving ahead is re-framing your life and being humble enough to ask for help. There are tons of local, church and government programs to help people as a safety net. In my community for example, there are places to get food, shelter, clothing, job training/counseling, emergency funds, even hourly jobs for any one who is willing to put themselves out there.

    I don;t think looking for free money on the internet is an answer. Look deeply into your local community and ask for help.

    Hang in there and best wishes on this very difficult situation.

  • Bret Willis

    I certainly understand your stance Mark…But I also understand this woman’s and many others stances, as I have just decided to swallow my pride and go to the internet in search of help.

    Being someone who pays taxes and works a fulltime job (and still can’t get help from the government with help for daycare/food stamps because I make too much money at $9 hour and apparently live the good life) sometimes life gets overwhelming…
    It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, ask for help, it isn’t…It’s embarassing to be quite frank…The only way I can even work up the courage to be on here and ask for help is because my family needs it….

    Anyway, rant over… If anyone is interested or knows someone who may be interested in helping a real family who is in need of help, you can visit elizabreth.wix.com/help and thanks for your time…

  • Jen

    I find it disappointing this perspective is in full swing.. I was researching charities and support because I live in a small town where there isn’t a lot of community support for my situation and have reached out as best I can, but found myself here.. I know there’s no way to differentiate between the people that need to reach out to the kindness of strangers (Like myself) and those that scam, bad apples making it bad for everyone and such.. I started a gofundme because I myself got scammed trying to fix debt I incurred during cancer when I was younger and am now facing financial crisis, this isn’t due to fault of my own, I work hard, have a good job and have been honest about everything and yet here I am facing bankruptcy soon if I don’t find help and I’d like to avoid that, I’m not a dead beat I’ve just had a rough go of it… If anyone reading this feels like hearing my story more please go to http://www.gofundme.com/needarestartbutton I know I’m a random stranger but I appreciate your time.. Thank you

  • Cheryl Ann Rattigan-Pettijohn

    Sometimes you just feel desperate. For me, being on a fixed income, when things pop up it makes life really hard. My life can really sound like a country album. In the last five years my son passed away, I became disabled was making $45k a year and now $17,500. I became pregnant again, high risk and couldn’t travel, my father died & I couldn’t even get back home, then lost my baby 2 weeks later. Moved from Tx to Ny to be closer to my famiy in Ma and hoped to see them, after 4 yrs, broke my ankle, so haven’t been able to see them still since I’m recovering. My chihuahua got diabetes (I know, its all a bit insane but true) so I maxed out a CareCredit card trying to save her and ultimately couldn’t. So now I have all this debt and pain in my heart because I just wanna see my family! so yeah, desperation kicks in and I take it to twitter. it happens. But I see how you can be leery and not want to believe someone, I think in life that’s the chance we take. Whether it’s online or in person, you give if you want and hope that they are legit. Great article… and hey, anyone reading this, don’t feel bad for me, I truly am blessed by God to be alive and things will always work out in time.

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