blogging is voice gifting

social media as gift giving, potlash

The Gifts of Voice-giving

I’m working on how to present to a new client crew the “how” of blogging. All of social media involves something that in the past I’ve suspected is best described as a Gift Economy “social media is like buying beers: the gift economy in social media” – (as opposed to a strict quid pro quo equality market economy). In Gift Economies the donor achieves status by sharing her or his status, i.e. wealth. This can be money, food, knowledge, symbolic powers of any kind. And the recipient takes on a mysteriously strong, never exactly repayable, bond of obligation through the receipt of this donation.

This is how social media works, to a rather pronounced degree I believe. And there are two things that are donated. At one level the donation is one’s – or a company’s – resources to the site as a contribution (be it Twitter, or blogging, or Facebook) making those resources available to others as readers. This is the aspect that most explicitly is thought of as “sharing”. These can be anything from points of view, to inside information, to the power to entertain. But additionally, in a second turn, one donates the platform of the site itself.  That is you donate the authority of your voice, your brand name, to whomever you quote, or highlight, or forward. And as such you donate your audience as well.

And so blogging is like this. It is about establishing these two levels of donation. The first is a vertical donation to the readers, however modest the wealth is in the content, and here the truism “content is King” works. The second is a more horizontal donation in the sense that a space, an authorized space, is offered up to others who inhabit it, conferring importance to every comment and hosted piece of content derived from somewhere else. This double sense of donation is what grounds blogging. The one that is often systematically less thought about is the second one, the way in which a generated space is offered to others, encouraging them to contribute to it as well. In this respect your site lifts up and propels others through its donation, and this is reciprocated in turn, through a sense of mutual investment.

When you comment on someone else’s blog post, you donate your little bit of status to their site.

When you quote a blog post in your own content, sharing it with your readers, you do the same.

When you host comments, and interact with them, your site offers itself to a sociability, a place for something to happen.



15 thoughts on “blogging is voice gifting

  1. I love your phrase, “social media is like buying the beers”. I have found it difficult to explain exactly how this works, but I think you have found a good analogy that works well.

    I think this is the very reason many companies, and the people in them, have been reluctant to participate in social media. It feels like you have to give so much before you ever see any returns, or as so many people are fond of saying, ROI.

    But, as I think we will begin to see soon, the benefits of really connecting to customers, partnering with them, and truly engaging with them, far outweigh trying to go back to old marketing models of interrupting people to get their attention.

    Great post, look forward to more great work from you! (and catching up on previous entries)

    • Chris,

      Well, if it’s like buying beers, then it also about finding the right level of mutual interaction. You don’t want to walk into the bar with a wad of cash as the out of towner and just yell, “A round for everyone!”.

      The beer buying has to be made in the context of the conversation and investment, and also has to be put in the context of repayment, I think. The obligation back has to be felt, and be given a space for reinvestment. The beers have to be able to be bought back. I think there are a lot of ways to allow this to happen that are not being thought about because companies don’t understand the reciprocal relationships involved in social media.

      And by the way, thanks for all the positive response. Look forward to getting to know your thoughts. This round is on me :).

  2. Donating some status, Kevin. Fantastic analogy re: gift economies. Our #usguys pal @aldsaur would have much to offer on this perspective.

    Giving material possessions away increases wealth in the gift economy. However, certain specialized, family knowledge is often guarded very carefully. It is considered family property and is very much linked to status. I’m thinking of Canadian First Nations cultures here.

    • Hey Bev, thanks for the response. I’ll have to check @aldsaur out.

      I appreciate the contrast between hoarded knowledge and the donation of status. You bring up something that is certainly worth considering. Perhaps – if social media IS largely a Gift Economy, playing by those rules – the way status works in anthropologically defined Gift Economies, such as in North American Indian potlatch, may give clue on how to circumvent such deeply entrenched hoarding=status social forms. In Gift Economies, status is gained by the donation. In fact they can be very competitive societies, where gifting more and more becomes a face-saving stress.

      You mention that knowledge hoarding is specialized. That is interesting. I’m not familiar with what Canadian First Nations cultures are. What I am thinking, and this is just an off-the-cuff thought on what you raise, is that such knowledge hoarding aspects can be counterpart to market economies, based on abstract equivalences. The neutrality of the public exchange (currency, price) produces a kind of esoteric, internal or walled us/them division, often defined by the privacy of knowledge. This is essentially the Capitalist binary that makes it go. External equality, internal privilege.

      But there are no “pure” market economy or pure “gift economy” ways of life. These social forms are inter-braided. Our market world is shot through with gift economy forms. My main thought is this: When market economy thinking (largely western business culture) encounters gift economy values (for instance social media), it simply is very confused as to how it works. It has to understand that it has entered into a new culture, where customs need to be explained and understood. And the same may be the case when gift economy values re-encounter market economy social forms. There is a retranslation, a revaluation, I think.

      Thanks for the thought. You’ve made me think on this in a new way. Let me know what you think.

  3. After reading this post, I don’t think I’ll ever look at blogging quite the same way again.

    Being fairly new to blogging, I am continually amazed at how the comments section takes on a life of its own and becomes almost more important than the post itself. That’s the place where ideas expand as dialog and debate is stimulated. For me, I guess that’s where the true virtue of a blog lies — it’s the “gift” of sparking others to dig deeper and providing a space where they can challenge their own thinking.

    It’s been great having you in the #UsGuys community and sharing ideas with you, Kevin. Here’s a nice cold one to many more!

    • Those are mighty beautiful words Paul, and thank you for the warm welcome.

      To give my thoughts: I find blogs in the new hyper-fast / social media to be really fascinating, and you point right to the crux of it. While Twitter is electric fast, and Facebook image rich, and Linkedin can connect you up, blogs form a kind of soil bed, where all the other action can rest and take root, if you want it to. They are like anchor points,which can allow the other social media to zip and fly if it wants, without fear of losing focus.

      Alot of #sm pros use them as broadcast, trying to prove or show what they know. This is a mistake, I believe.

      Back in the blogging day, all bloggers had were other bloggers. Mostly long thoughts could be quoted and exchanged. This sub-system of relationships is still alive and thick (which is why Google rewards blog posts with such high SER), but upon this deep fabric rests the other motions of social media. I see all these social forms and interdependent. Twitter needs blogs, in a way, to give root to its substance. We need blogs so we can pause for a bit, and give a space to a idea that has been germinating in us for a few days. The blog post doesn’t have to be deep, or cover all the bases. It is just a beginning point, I think.

      And just as you say, blogs then become a place where we can all meet over an idea for a moment – just like how #usguys chat was anchored by Ken’s great post on artificial reefs: (@Ken_Rosen), before we zoom out to cross-pollinate the world with our action.

      I think that that is the exciting thing about what you are trying to do with brand idea, creating a space who’s authority then gifts voice to others, under the values you represent.

  4. Interesting points, Kevin. Yes, the true value of social media is realized by leveraging all the different platforms and having them feed each other. Twitter‘s 140 has amazing power, but it would never work if there weren’t places to go beyond. Blogging is one way of doing that.

    Regarding #UsGuys and the branding/website goals, I think you state what we are trying to do quite nicely. Yes, there is an urgent need to bring identity and structure to a community that has undergone explosive growth (and by all accounts will continue to do so).

    But the real objective is create a “home” where we can take the great ideas so many of us have and launch them into action. So much of this has been hatched through the lightning-fast dialog of the Twitter stream, so all that makes up #UsGuys has been naturally spread far and wide. A firm foundation will allow us to harness what we have and springboard into other things, benefiting our community and the world in the process.

    In a way, we are going about this in the opposite way of how it’s usually done: we started with a Twitter stream and are now backing into the rest of it.

    • Paul, I really look forward to what you do with #usguys, and how it comes together with a home. And glad in how we perceive the relationship between blog and Twitter. To me they are complimentary in a big way.

  5. I am just starting to get my feet wet as far as my blog goes, Kevin. I try not to make it a place to ‘show what I know’ but it seems there are not enough days where I’ve got a worthy germinating idea to share.

    I absolutely agree, Paul, that as a group, we are maturing and branching out. And I love the soil/branches conception — Kevin’s thought and writing is full of images that really resonate with me. That’s what I want with my blog. There are lots of them out there that are funny. Funny I can do *sometimes* but I am, at root, quite a thoughtful person. It makes what I do somewhat difficult, since a PR type is supposed to think on his or her feet. But I’m good at germinating and synthesizing an idea over time.

    On your point, Kevin, that knowledge hoarding is a counterpoint to modern market economies, I believe we have a mixed bag. The key to power in today’s economy is access to information. The platforms we use for SoMe and blogging are ‘a different kind of free’ — we give up some of our personal power (privacy) for access to powerful shared technology. Ironically, the platforms are powerful precisely because they provide a way to achieve the direct democracy and freedom of expression that people have died (and killed) to achieve for centuries. And yet we sacrifice access to information that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. The social media cultural revolution is a marketer’s dream.

    I am very much looking forward to Allison’s contribution. She has a fascinating perspective on tribal lessons that would really add a valuable dimension to this discussion.

    • Bev,

      I look forward to Allison’s thoughts too. I came to social media through blogging, it was my inculcation. A blog different than this one, but now retired. I found it very interesting how richly ideas worked in that environment, and how relationships grew out of ideas.

      Now with the lightness of Twitter these deeper conversations have wings I believe. The two media are complimentary of each other. The biggest problem with blogs in the context of Twitter is how they somehow feel like we have to right the BIG blog post on an idea, rather than 4 small ones. I look forward to what you find yourself blogging about.

      I also look forward to you continuing to develop the notions of freedom, privacy and marketing in social media. Sounds interesting.

  6. I love this post Kevin, especially the piece about creating a gathering place for people to come share ideas. Some bloggers even refer to their posts as Cafes and I love the invitation to engage that comes with that. Looking forward to engaging some more with your gift economy ideas!

    • Thanks so much for that Gabriella. Blogging is a great example of what I’m trying to spell out for social media and gift economies. After this post I dug into it a little bit more in subsequent posts. If you have any additional thoughts, let me know.

      What is your twitter handle Gabriella, so I can connect the dots?

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