Social capital is one of the new buzz words of the decade. Basically it's a ratio of the size of your network and how much of that network listens to you, trusts you and takes action based on what they've read. How much Klout you have is one way to measure it. Tara Hunt calls it "Whuffie". Whatever it is, the better your social capital the more likely it is your followers will take action. That action could be a response, sharing with their network, donating to a cause, buying your book or product or translating your words into an action you never conceived of.
It's natural for you to get excited when somebody with a huge amount of perceived social capital responds to something you said. Someone with 100,000 followers on Twitter re-tweeted you or responded? Cool, but does that number really matter at all? Was the response a personal one or an automated response triggered by a keyword? Did they add value to the conversation or just re-tweet it because it mentioned them? Did they follow you back because they automatically follow everybody, or everybody who uses that keyword?
If any of these are the case odds are good they're not actually listening to what you're saying. The point of this is to say that just because somebody has tons of connections does not indicate the level of their value to your network, or even their own.
Take a look at your own social network.Who is engaged and answering questions, promoting others and actually involved in discussion? Are people linking to their blog posts and re-tweeting or sharing their posts? Those are the ones with social capital. They're giving to their network and so their network reciprocates and appreciates them. Good examples of people with big numbers who engage their networks directly are Michael Port and Chris Brogan. Both are open, personal and friendly and frequently tout the successes of their followers as well as ask their network to take action for them. Not everyone with a large network is so generous.
Notice how they spread the love too
This is key. Make it a point to respond or otherwise support a broad spectrum of people in your network. When they do good things point it out. Answer questions, ask questions that you know they have the answer to just to support them.
This is how you get interaction going in your network. Only then should you be asking for help. In my experience you need at least 500 people in your network to reach the tipping point. Sure, there are some people with very engaged networks of less than 100 but they're either growing them or carefully pruning out the people who don't engage back. Again, it's not the numbers but the level of engagement that makes a network valuable. Create your relationships and support network before you need it and they will be there for you when you do. Create your relationships and support network before you need it and they will be there for you when you do.
Don't wear out your friends
When you do ask for help don't hit the same people over and over. Just because someone helped you out once doesn't mean they will jump every time you ask. You might be surprised to see how someone will jump at the offer just because you asked them personally instead of broadcasting to your network in the hopes that someone will pick it up and share it.
Instead, give a little consideration to who would be the best person to add their thoughts on a subject. Contact them directly and ask their opinion. Link to them in a blog post as a resource. Show your contacts you value their opinions and their time. Return the favor at the earliest opportunity. Go read their blog and share their insight with your network, review their book, connect them with someone they need to know.
Social media is all about community and community is about sharing. Sure there's a loudmouth in every community who broadcasts his or her wares to all who will listen and profess to be the 'expert'. People tune them out eventually. Don't be that person.