The Medium Isn’t Built for It – Google Plus Blogging Failure

Blogs are islands

Blogging and Not Blogging

It has been just about a year and a half since I began my blogging-on-Google-Plus experiment in outright earnest, leaving behind the sketch pad that is this blog and throwing myself into a Social Media future. As you might be able to tell from this blog I was never after “traffic” in the first place, or even “follows”, I just wanted a place where ideas could be ferreted out, and then hopefully discussed in the comments below. I’m very interested in pushing the envelop of what is conceptually possible in social media, and new tools are definitely part of the equation. I thought that the clever amalgam of Twitter, blogging and Facebook features that are somewhat absurdly (at least over-positively) expressed by Mike Elgan in the image below…

Image

…would somehow carry blogging to a new place. The truth of the matter is that Google Plus is none of those things that Mike Elgan says it is the equivalent of. It’s a completely different platform with its unique strengths and perhaps even more importantly, weaknesses. But most particularly right now, it is not a blog.

I’ve had a great many idea exchanges on Google Plus in my more than a year and a half there, and I’ll definitely remain there. But there is something to the Google Plus interface – perhaps it is its reliance on and an architecture built around a “stream”, perhaps it is because no comment has a permalink, and cannot be easily shared so there is no silent “listening in” by interested others, perhaps it is because posts themselves just wash away and very smart people just end up reiterating themselves instead of building on what they wrote previously, like a vast prayer wheel – there is something about Google Plus that is just not additive. Blocks (ideas, concepts, dialogues) just do not “stack” there, and as far as I can tell they don’t work deeply into concrete details, or propagate in rich variations. None of the things that I love about thinking and investigating happens there. Links aren’t really read, buzzwords buzz more like flies than like bees, and images saturate in a bombardment. The new layout didn’t help matters – I know why they did it – but it has been the case nearly from the start. This is not even to go into the inability for Google Plus to address all the other reasons a person might want to blog like SEO, brand discovery, domain authority, things I’m not interested in for my person. I should have much more to write about the Google Plus design weaknesses in the near future, I’ve thought a lot about why it just isn’t cutting the right swathe of cloth. But for now…

Blogs are digital islands, like coral atolls built up over 1,000s of years (words, titles, comments), they are archipelagos of digital life.

When I stopped blogging I also stopped most of my Twitter visits as well. I had a very nice community of thinkers and conversations going on in Twitter which I deeply enjoyed, and initially my hope was that the speed of Twitter and the richness dynamism of Google Plus would make a perfect pairing. But cross-posting was a pain, unwanted by many, and while in the first months I was able to transfer some of my Twitter community over to Google Plus and get more lengthy commentaries going, in the end it proved a drain. Twitter at the time was also under the assail of Triberr and other link spamming reach techniques as the Age of social media top 10 advice had come, it just seemed better to dive into Google Plus. Now that I have returned to Twitter I find it a link Land, perhaps the link Land I feared it would be, though already I’ve found some fast, informative conversations (one leading to the writers’s software Srivener that may just change my and my wife’s life – ty Brian Meeks & Rabab Khan) that simply could not happen on any other platform on the planet.

So this post is just to re-announce the opening up this concept space again. I just need it. I’m reading a fascinating book “Reading in the Brain” which I believe gives key insights on how the visual brain digests written material which may prove important for digital designs. That should be something worth sketching out. It may well be that I should take this blogging seriously enough so as to get my own domain, it always before seemed like just a private investigative thought corner, but perhaps things have changed.

I still direct social media for Tonner Doll though I am doing so from Thailand having moved here so my wife Sylvie could pursue her art to the nth degree. It is a superlative perspective on social media, as I am strategically engaged, though often I am operating at “off” hours from the west. It has given me a unique perch.

making catalysts – the roots of social media and network building

Getting Oriented

I have been wanting to write a post about the social media work we are beginning at Tonner Doll Company ever since a discussion began with this post, a different kind of Social Media – finding a language. There several interested others and I started sketching out what is necessary if we wanted to openly blog about social media strategy and tactics such that the honor of customers was preserved, so as to bring social media professionals and lay persons into a single possible engagement. What would it mean for social media marketing discussions themselves to be transparent? What would it mean if the way we talked about social media took on the values of social media? It is hard to resist not pursuing such a large idea, so part of this post is set in that direction.

The other portion of what I’d like to talk about grew out of Ric Dragon’s growing series of posts thinking about the nature of “groups” in online communities, the latest of which is Groups, Teams, and Communities in Online Marketing. Something of this series grew out of our initial blog post discussion it seems, but it is focused on a kind of sociological/anthropological understanding of online behavior, mapped from interesting existing models, all with an aim towards practical strategies in social media. Engaging with Ric just as I’ve begun building social media strategy, laying the foundations for Tonner Doll, caused me to focus on essential features of what makes social media work, and how groups are made. Hopefully I can tie the two threads together.

Beginning Strategy

Two weeks ago I was hired as Director of Social Media for the Tonner Doll Company in Kingston NY. The company has been undergoing a deep transformation on several levels for some time, from product line development to a much-needed full website redesign due to be launched in the Fall. The opportunity to work with a small company with a deep pre-internet history, yet with such impassioned and devoted fans, and an iconic artistic voice is a social media dream. In many ways the Tonner Doll Company culturally finds itself in the place that a lot of businesses do, an internal marketing awareness not geared towards the speed and complexity of the social media environment. Yet spiritually, they are in full embrace of the change. Tonner Doll is leaping both feet into social media knowing that this is the one place for demographic growth, and it is a blessing to be a part of that. The additional very compelling aspect of this is that Tonner Doll has something many businesses would sacrifice an arm for: an extremely devoted, enthusiastic and creative-minded fan base, collectors that in many ways embody everything that Tonner Doll is all about. Robert Tonner who is the artist and designer of Tonner dolls is perhaps a collector first. Tonner Doll, and its highest-quality figures,  in a beautiful way expresses as a company the very customers who purchase from them.  There is a symbiosis of art, imagination, curation and commerce that is very rare, though perhaps ideal, in the Tonner Doll Company its dolls and the fans.

Social Media Foundations

I wrote not long ago a post on how blogging is voice gifting. The point was that when we blog we are changing the status of people (and ourselves) though several often overlooked “gifts”, the way that the very space of a blog is itself a space of gift exchange. The background to that post was my idea that social media is driven by Gift Economy logic instead of Market Economy logic, and that there is need of a kind of “translation” between the two cultures of business and social media. But I would like to pick up on another aspect of blogging and giving other than social ties and status change.

The first thing we are doing at Tonner Doll – other than the “best practices” training we have been focusing on, like how to triangulate communications and adopt guerrilla-like dexterity to campaigns and media content – is to start identifying voices. As one might imagine one of the best places to find voices is blogs. Tonner Doll has an unusual advantage in this though, in that a great deal of an impassioned community already visits their Facebook page and shares inspired creative content; but we are looking for blog voices because there is something about blog investment that tends towards the substantial. It gives anchorage to both thought and community and this happens to be something that Google has come to realize and reward in the last year. If Google stopped rewarding blogs, I would still be focusing on them just the same, because I believe in blogs. Blogging is the very nerve center of social media, and the social media explosion would never have gotten off the ground without the real move of content from established institutions of press to there. Google was just a little late to the game.

Where the Game Turns

The usual approach is to find the “mavens” –  that is often bloggers that already make up the substantive community voice of the Doll and Figure movement. These would be people you want to build relationships with. As it happens blogging is not where most of this community lives and communicates. It lives in forums, groups, or on Facebook (our page), or Flickr as we are finding out, to name a few. But I don’t want to just find mavens or connectors. Real social media is not just hub-hunting in order to increase network. It is about producing changes in people’s lives, no matter their place in the network, such the then entire network becomes enhanced. It is about adopting a Liberation approach to personal expression and creativity, I believe.

As it turns out, the very first hidden person we discovered – by looking at reference links to our new blog – was an amazing person in Mexico city who has a small website selling repaints and hand-crafted furniture for our dolls. The quality of work done by Tonner Doll collectors is quite striking for those not familiar with the world of doll collection and curation. Near museum quality. But Tamara is special, to call her a maven would be to miss something. She not only started a previously unknown to us collector community in Mexico, she happens to be Czech and was on the ground floor of a Tonner collector community in the Czech Republic where she lived previously. In a person, what in network theory would be called a “node” – two different communities span out. In one person Tonner Doll has suddenly changed as a company. This is the secret to social media: Treat each person as if knowing that that person could change your company, because it is true.

As it happens, Tamara did not blog;  she has always meant to, in fact I believe had written some posts never published. She is very busy with a 3 year old boy. She runs a small website and custom doll-resale business. She collects. She is not a discovered blogging voice. This is where I think people miss what is important. Businesses in social media are always looking for where there are already rich connections. They are not looking for opportunities to start building them. Everyone we reach in social media has rich connections, but what social media is about is the transition of everyone you meet from the place they are, to the place they could be. It is about expanding potential.

I don’t want bloggers that we can then influence. I want people who might want to start blogging. I want people to find the place from which what they have to say feels like it has the tools and stage to get said, such that that too spurs creativity. Ultimately, I want bloggers that can influence us. Social media marketing is about transition, not harvesting or mining. It is about expanding the power of the network you are building through the liberation of each “node” person. Whatever you find in social media, raise it up. As it happens, Tamara is now blogging in part perhaps because she realized that her audience is bigger than it was, and the doll world is richer for it. And hopefully she is blogging because we in our blog we shared how great it was to find her.

Not Mavens, Catalysts

There is something about the word “maven” in marketing that seems just off. It captures important concepts, but it seems to get the eye valuing in the wrong way, as if certain people are a “kind” like a species and you are just interested in them. It isn’t like that. It is very gradated, and the way we treat mavens should be the same way we treat people with few connectors. There is an underlying principle which I believe guides us no matter who we engage. I’m going to have to take a detour into a theory about the first moments of Life on earth and organic chemistry to sketch this out. It is important though.

Complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman has an elegant theory about how Life could possibly start out of the primordial soup molecules on Earth – At Home in the Universe. It is that given enough time something called autocatalysis starts to take place. Which is to say the perfectly random interactions between molecules because of their properties can start to have an emergent and dynamic interrelation. If two molecules tend to combine to produce a new molecule this new molecule if in high enough concentration may start this soup tending towards other combinations, which in turn tend to produce this same new molecule. The pattern becomes closed and suddenly entirely random soup starts to emerge with new self-supporting properties. This fundamental catalytic closure is what is at root of social media network building. And at root of social autocatalysis is I believe the primary social values and ethics that govern “this is for you” giving.

The Summation below is taken from the business application of Kauffman’s autocatalytic theory by Brian Coffman. I provide an excerpt at length for anyone who wants to get a grasp at how real chemical beginning-of-life interactions are theorized. To me it is interesting stuff. Hopefully for you too:

read the rest of that post for application of this to business Start up ventures.

Now Think of Twitter

Instead of soup of organic molecules millions of years ago, see the vast space of 140 character limit nodes. There are several directions we can go on this. Ideas of necessary diversity in any topological communication space certainly are in play. But I would like to talk about the very notion of catalysis. What it means for one element to tend to produce a dynamic change in the possibilities of other elements, and how that relates to the social values that govern social media. What I propose is not a strategy of growing your network bigger and bigger, with nodes connecting to more nodes as if volume, or even inter-connectivity (the two called “reach”) was the important factor in success. Instead, whatever network you currently have, no matter how meager, the strategy should be to catalyze it.  That is, start with whatever node is immediately your neighbor and raise it up. Turn that node into something else, something that itself can change the potential of the nodes around it. It isn’t about numbers – that is the old impression thinking of broadcast advertising – it is about transition, finding ways of increasing the potential of everyone your social media comes in contact with. You want to change the internal network dynamics of everyone you can.

I’d like to take an example of autocatalytic-like behavior in Twitter, for illustration. My friend @67tallchris and I came up with an idea of how to train people brand new to twitter. And that was to like dive guides with students of scuba to literally escort them out into the ocean of it, helped along with a hashtag and fundamental Tweetdeck knowledge. If we could group together we could practice best Twitter practices in a real time somewhat controlled environment, and people could learn by doing. What was interesting though was what happened the first time we went out on our little excursion. We actually were discussing what would be a good hashtag to use, and our good friend Jacqui @GoSocialSA overheard and proposed #twaining, not realizing that our entire experiment was about to ensue. Adopting the tag suddenly Jacqui found herself in the middle of a #twaining session, escorting two relative newbies through the space of Twitter. Suddenly she was a guide with us. This was made of nothing. All that produced this closure was the grammar of hashtag use in Twitter, the capabilities of Tweetdeck, the practices we began teaching these two Twitter students, and the history of our goodwill relationships between Chris, myself and Jacqui…and the Twitter soup. Chris and my leadership actions, and the interactions of the “students” suddenly catalyzed Jacqui into a leader, and as the small school of us fish swam along, people started noticing and being pulled towards the recursive closure. The instructor/student roles had begun to draw upon the diversity of the soup of Twitter. It was over before anything more would develop, but there was for me a very strong sense that a new thing had happened in Twitter, something with emergent properties, and that there was an autocatalytic element to how it was starting to spread, not just to Jacqui, but to lurkers.

What I suspect, and what I strongly encourage, is that it is from the intent to empower others, give to others socially, that social catalytic growth occurs. The story of simple molecules when it is analogized to social networks becomes a story of liberation. When I empower my neighbor in a Gift Economy culture I have given them the power catalyze someone else, change the dynamic of what is possible. So going back to Tamara who is now blogging her passion. What has changed there? What changes as Tonner Doll takes on a message that doll collectors should start beginning to blog? What chemistry is beginning? Is it not that the entire loose network is becoming enriched? Not just be node numbers, or connectivity numbers (yes, that t0o), but by qualitative differences, the way that each person now values what they are contributing, and power with which others can be transitioned.

There are best practices, ways of bringing out what is best in others. There are ways of gifting voice and space to those that need it. And there is something to social media that makes of these practices the very stuff of network building. It is not just about content sharing, but rather changing the capacity for the network itself to share. And this takes a giving and personal touch, the ability to feel when others have been raised up.

A catalytic view involves asking the question, What exactly is it that you or others make possible?… Instead of the questions: Whom are you connected to, and whom can you connect me to?

addendum:  This post also owes its debt to the brief #usguys conversation between @ricdragon, @josepf, @67tallchris and myself (among possibly others) on Dunbar’s number, the limitation of maintainable relationships to 150 persons, and what this means for social media.

This is what is wrong with Triberr

What Could be Wrong with Binding Together?

It has been heralded as the great equalizer. Suddenly people with only modestly very high Klout can compete with the Big Dogs of social media by banding together in a tight circle of pre-approved curated blogging. Which is to say, we will all auto-tweet each other’s blog posts to our own followers. Suddenly, not only is my “check my post out” reach isn’t constrained by what meager following I might have, but amplified by to all those follower numbers in my circle. Banded together, we become a composite “impression” force.

This is what is wrong with Triberr. In a social realm, all we have is our reputation. But there are two kinds of reputations at play. There is a kind of “authenticity” reputation which is the real response I produce when my avi pic and tweets appear in the stream. It is the impression of my brand, so to speak. We want a high authenticity mark each and every time our profile floats by in the stream. This could be based in anything from our profile picture that has an immediate emotive effect, to the history of our past interactions, or the quality of our tweets. But there is a second, often competing reputation, and that is the reputation we have with other tweeters like us. There is tendency to need “status” and to mix with people of a perceived high class. This second kind of reputation can color the first, our group status can influence how people perceive our flash appearance, but the two are very different. The problem with Triberr is that it can significantly reduces the first kind of reputation (the reputation of authenticity) for the sake of the second.

This is my visceral experience when I see Triberr auto-tweet recommendations of others in their circle. These are often people that actually have a very high personal reputation with me. Lots of my best Twitter friends are in Triberr circles, in fact this post came from seriously considering the generous offer from someone I value. Through personal interaction I have come to both like and respect my friends in Triberr. But, and this is a big but, when that friendly face appears there, and I am draw to it for a micro-second, awash with a warm instinctive response of nonjudgmental embrace, I am suddenly dashed by the realization that this person is not there tweeting this. In fact, there is strong suspicion that this person has not even read the blog post being tweeted to her or his waiting followers. There is, and I can feel it, a devaluation of that person’s brand. Not because I don’t like them, or even respect them. It is because they are offering me under the guise of a social moment, a canned, impersonal communication about something that should otherwise be valued – a blog post. Over time I start to grow insensitive to this person’s tweets. I become conditioned to expect the commercial. The value this person worked hard, or even not so hard, to achieve with me such that in the stream I pick them out with confidence, is eroding tweet by tweet.

“Like tears…in rain”

Twitter is like this. No tweet generally matters. They are light. They nothing. Except in cases of close social interaction they just seem to vanish. But they add up. Over time the direction of their effect begins to accumulate. Either you are building value micro-tweet-moment by micro-tweet-moment, or you are eroding it. The problem with Triberr is that it is a systematic erosion of social value, quietly over time, traded for a status achieved within a tribe whose doors are closed. Everyone in the tribe cannot feel this because they have already established their affinity and respect for each other. The tribe contact just builds as everyone exports each other’s blog post titles to higher impression numbers. But Twitter is not insular. The reputation gained between us is at the expense of the value of your tweet themselves.

The hope of course is that in trade-off of the gradual devaluation of tweet recommendations among those that already follow you, and respect you, you instead are reaching people you could never have reached before. Triberr proudly calls itself “The Reach Multipler” as if it is some kind of reach machine. Suddenly your follower numbers are climbing. Your mentions are rising as is your Klout (!). These new people hopefully at some reasonable conversion percentage, will supplement the value you have lost elsewhere, but invisibly.

What is wrong with Triberr is that the important reputation, the reputation for genuine thought and engagement, is being traded in for the illusion of engagement. If six people tweet out my blog title I must REALLY be engaged, right!? Not at all. And over time people can tell. As I said I have people I really like in Triberr. But when I see their titles mutually flowing across my screen in auto-fashion, I have absolutely zero impulse to actually click on a blog title link. Zero impulse to read, or comment on what lay behind the systematic trolling for new followers.

I also have close people who I would in advance pretty much say that I would recommend their blog posts. @67tallchris, @ricdragon, @pegfitzpatrick are some. I stand by my friends, so I can see exactly what such an agreement seems perfectly reasonable to do. I would be just automatically doing what I would likely want to do anyways. But there is a huge difference. The value of my tweets to the people that follow me is – hopefully – that I have however fleetingly engaged with the material. My curation is a expression of the social capital I have established in piece by piece interactions. It is hand built. If I start systematically placing low-value, socially imitative tweets in my stream, I am working against myself. I am exchanging the coin that you and I have earned together for the chance to begin new connections with those I have not yet met. I am lowering the overall substance of my exchange, for numbers.

I have news, you already have enough followers! Do more with what you have, don’t trade “up” fast using the social currency of authenticity for the “stamp” of authenticity and lose something genuine. I know this won’t stop. The status gain and the number love is big in social media marketing circles. But at least it is worth saying.

Yesterday’s post likely contains some of the deeper reasoning against Impression-driven “reach” social media thinking.

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.

 

social media is like buying beers: the gift economy in social media

The myth is Real: why it’s not cage fighting, its a conversation

My thoughts coming out of a conversation with Geoff Livingston in the comments of his call for social media business aggression ( Kick Your Competitor’s Ass ) have been really about how user expectations in social media – whether or not they are a myth or not – are REAL in their effect and so condition or limit what is productive in those environments. One way to put that is “the myth of the social media conversation is Real”. The touchy-feely of social media interactions is the language and value system that makes it all go, and even if your are looking to dominate your competitor, you have to at the very least strategically position yourself as such among those values. I say this as a husband to an amateur Muay Thai fighter with no aversion to the throwdown. And this goes all the way up to the heavy hitters like Facebook and Google who also have to struggle with the value systems and expectations that establish & promote their media.

The second half of my thoughts of here came out of reading Liz Strauss’s Influence: What Achieves the Results You Need? where she reflects back upon a time when her son was 5 years old. She uses a story of her son to illustrate six fundamental ways of interacting with others to get favorable results, most of them ways that surpass the roadblocks of antagonism and confrontation. Liz’s post make me think of gift giving, and the ways in which gift giving (as an attitude and an act) underwrites many of the more significant social forms in our culture, some of which may seem to be antithetical to it. So here also I want to expand a bit on the thoughts I first gave at Liz’s in comments.

Social Media and the Gift Economy

What stands out as I consider both Geoff Livingston’s Kick the Ass of your Competitor and Liz Strauss’s Find a Way to Persuade, Convince and Convert is that Social Media largely operates in a way that is distinctly different than the economies that are attempting to plug themselves systematically into it. This is not a judgment of either, only that differences need to be acknowledged so that cross-cultural, cross-discourse interactions become the most effective and not littered with endless mis-communications & failed expectations. When in one culture or discourse – discourse is just a shorthand for a way of talking about, valuing and doing things – you have to be aware when you are passing into another, when the rules and aims of the game change. To shift metaphors slightly, like a land mammal that doesn’t swim well you better know that you are stepping into waist high water. And if you can evolve to become amphibious, it might be worth while to do so when water becomes a fundamental part of your environment. This is where I suggest understanding Gift Economies can help.

Anthropologically speaking, Gift Economies are very specific things. The wikipedia entry gives us perhaps the best quick reference:

In the social sciences, a gift economy (or gift culture) is a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists). Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community. The organization of a gift economy stands in contrast to a barter economy or a market economy. Informal custom governs exchanges, rather than an explicit exchange of goods or services for money or some other commodity.

One can see pretty quickly that Social Media operates primarily as a gift economy, or is a gift economy skewed environment. The exchanges that occur on Facebook or Twitter or blogs have no explicit rules or measures for equivalence, and even when business forays deep into these territories they have to respect the gift economy Law of the Land. Gift giving customs of particular cultures has been heavily studied by anthropology and sociologists, and it is not for here to present a Social Media ethnography (every micro environment has their customs). In fact to attempt such would run up against the fact that social media is a highly evolving realm of exchange expectations that once you’ve got the rules of thumb down you just have to experiment in (I have in mind how recently Tweetdeck’s tweet lengthening advantages seem to have run up against some unwritten Twitter customs, one of which is to be as brief as possible: a user/tech/custom tension). Rather, I want just present some essential aspects about gift giving economies that may shed light upon Social Media itself, and perhaps how it relates to business strategy and practices.

Beer Buying and Gifting: “I’ve got the next round”

You don’t have to go to Papua New Guinea or Sierra Tarahumara of North Western Mexico to encounter rare instances of Gift Economies. No, you can just go to your local bar. It’s pretty amazing when something exotic becomes so mundane and right there in your face. Buying beers for friends is a prime example of gift economy and how it is different than market economies. In beer buying there is a very important unspoken feature and that is you never want it to be exactly EVEN. It is NOT the case that you want to add up all the money your friend has spent buying you beers, calculate that total and then match it. In fact, if you ever did such a thing it would actually signal the end of the beer buying relationship. We are even now, now what? Even though there is a sense of matching, you never want to be matched exactly, the deficit and surplus between you is the thing that binds you and keeps you interacting and exchanging. The = is a hollow point never to be achieved. It is quite unlike the: “What is the price for this…here it is…thank you good-bye” (gee, I got a good deal in that exchange). The aim is not “winning” through exactitude, its perpetuation. I take this example of Beer Buying from Anthropologist David Graeber’s Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams . David is an new-version Anarchist, but don’t let that put you off. His insightful anthropological observations on Gift Economies have for me been paramount for understanding Social Media itself, its powers and practice expectations, and as I contend, for deciphering the potential confusions that arise when market economy subcultures (primarily corporate culture and its imitators) attempt to take advantage of Social Media forms.

So where does Gift meet pure Profit?

To return to the general question of corporate competitor ass-kicking, or the more general approaches of conviction and persuasion, the reason why ass-kicking or even persuasion are not primarily at home in social media is that social media is like buying rounds, it’s about giving things of value away under the proviso that the things you are giving away are actually of less value than the relationship itself that is generated and perpetuated by the giving. That is why there is such amazing knowledge to found for free  (hard to find through all the other free advice tossed out there). That is why question answering sites like Quora or Trulia (for Real Estate) have a chance to thrive, because the value is the value behind the exchange. Information, knowledge, experiences become a commodity of trust, not a commodity to be bid on. In social media we don’t ever want to pay the exact price, evening the = sign.

This does not mean that the Gift Economy of social media and the Market Economy of business are incompatible, not in the least. In fact many if not most of our business exchanges are grounded in Gift-based relationships whose “gift” nature we simply are unconscious of and just assume. Beer buying practices (from customer to customer or bartender to customer) actually root and drive Beer selling practices. You just have to know when you are doing one and not the other. If you develop a keen eye for the gift-giving environment, and think about all the things that gift-giving in those environments signal – 1) a surplus others want to attach themselves to, 2) a magnanimous respect for the relationship beyond all else, 3) a debt structure that is “positive” – then one can translate the business intents that come from a competition market culture. Competition and “winning” in Gift Economies is actually (some argue) a competition of who can give the most, and achieve the most respect.

In the wider sense, it deserves to be noted that this is not simply a case of two different ways of doing business that are cut off from each other. They will, and are, affecting each other. Corporate culture in America and Europe which is well-founded on Individualized market competition indeed is strongly cross-pollinating it’s values into Social Media culture, that much is evident. Big companies struggle against Social Media gift values as they seek to monetize traffic and uses, and one of the ways that business can do this is by promoting its values in the new environments. The Social Media professionals who proselytize the medium, and make their living on its health, are perfect hybrid amphibians between the two. But the effect goes the other way. As real persons in real companies are forced to becomes more “social”, and represent themselves and their companies within gift economies, the gift economy values that frame that interaction also have started to change corporate culture itself. Its not just the feel good myths of companies like Apple, Facebook or Google, its the genuine “conversations” and opportunities that become engaged in social media environments. The powers of those living customs, habits and myths.


There is also another aspect of gift giving that I find interesting. Anthropologist David Graeber notes that Gift economies ( “primitive” economies different than monetary economies) are those that produce ties that bind, lasting relationships that assume their own perpetuation. The equivalent exchange of x for y at fair market price can actually act as the sign of the “end” of the relationship, rather than its foundation, it puts a defined limit on what can or will be exchanged. The “gift” opens up what is possible through its very asymmetry. Even though we are definitely a monetary culture, there are also very strong “gift economy” relationships within it, rooting it, and to a strong degree these are expressed in Social Media.Sorry for the long comment but you got me thinking.