vectors of a gift – gift economy

I’m a pretty visual person, so I’m putting this up as a place holder for future thought. Yesterday I sketched out for myself my four fundamental aspects of a Gift. What we mean by gift is this: an inexactly repayable exchange whose very unending obligation perpetuates the relationship in a kind of positive debt which can pass back and forth between persons. This in a hidden way can be said to underwrite more exact market economy exchanges.

The idea diagrammed above is that if we isolate these (or some other) constitutive vectors we might be able to analyze gift-giving scenarios, and seek to strengthen their effectiveness and bonds when we build them for commerce. Whether they be crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, freemium, open-innovation, organized charity donations, blogging behaviors, social medium spaces, Digital Tribe building (such as currently being done with #usguys hashtag), product giveaways, or any of the other social marketing-like issues, we are looking for constant dimensions to keep our eye on.

These four juxtaposed terms are a placeholder. It works as a promise for me to return and explain what I mean by these terms. But also it is a chance for anyone who has been involved in the conversation on Gift Economy to think about the diagram, and come up with what it might mean to them. Right now it will remain a pictographic theory. Provisional, of course, but perhaps it gives a sense of the space I am thinking in.

Interested in your impressions. The hope is to think about Gift Economies in every way, from story telling, to anthropology, to abstract theorizing, but end up with real world observations and real world differences that can be made, in particular to the new Social Media. How to make Gift Giving and customer/user contribution more central and powerful.

pennies, and more luxury items – gift economy spaces

The Mystery Powers of the Extra Penny Dish

I’m sure that the Penny Dish is something that deserves a rather long post in the discussion of everyday Gift Economy marketing situations, but some off of the top of the head thoughts are going to have to do. While I’ve been ruminating on Gifteco lately, on the back burner most of the time, the Penny Dish has been tugging gently on me. There is something about this dish that really speaks to several aspects about Gifteco Logic in marketing that I am interested in. I’ll run through a few in no particular order.

  • It is an example of Gift Economy that occurs in explicit market contexts – in fact involves the essential symbol of that context, currency.
  • Surely the spread of this dish and loyalty to it is an enormous surprise – Gifteco spaces are capable of unexpected results.
  • I have probably never actually taken a penny, though I contribute to these dishes regularly – their explicitly stated function does not necessarily equate to what they “mean”.
  • They proliferated in a coin which already was devalued in terms of use. Putting quarters or even dimes in there feels wrong – spaces of giving have parameters (Lisa Thorell @Lisat2 pointed this out to me.)
  • The penny donations seem to exist in specific contrast to – even in terms of position – the register actions they sit beside. They negate the exactitude that just occurred.  Think about the difference in emotion if the clerk rang up the price $0.03 over, and the 3 pennies you might drop in the dish.

I feel that the temptation when thinking about giving and marketing is to concentrate on the “gift” idea, which could involve thinking “Well, just what could I give? A discount? Something free? A smile? What will inspire this other way of thinking and doing from my customers? I don’t believe that this is necessarily the most productive thought. What is it that compels me to drop my extra pennies in that dish? What is the Gift that I am reciprocating? I believe it is the gift of the space itself…the dish. The presence of pennies in the dish also is a factor of course, evidence that this is a custom that others have invested in, and the sense that we are joining an endless chain of such donations. But it seems more that it is about how the retailer has opened up an alternate space, a place where something can happen that is in excess of the precise price/commodity exchange that just occurred.

Important to this penny drop off is the symbolism of excess, the way that customer who very well might have thought about the price of some item with calculation, is now invited to symbolically and ritually act with surplus. And in doing this they indicate – I believe – that the relationship between themselves and the shop is more than just as purchase occasion. A real and mental surplus is created out of literally nothing: to be poetic about it, the empty space of the dish opens up the nil space of the exact equivalence of price and commodity exchanged.

It seems important that this penny dish remains pure. Charities attempt extra change deposits, but these are not the same spaces. What seems significant is that a penny can be given OR taken. What this indicates to my eye is that “nobody” gets these pennies. They are – in a primitive sense – donated to the spirit of the transaction itself, an alter to the Unnamed God of mutuality.

What is compelling to me is that in digital realms spaces are capable of being made with very little capital or elbow-grease. In 5 minutes a wp blog is up. The challenge in social media marketing, I believe, is that of the penny jar. It is to carve out the reciprocally coded donation spaces that inspire that symbolism of personal and community excess. And how these donation zones are designed seems to be something of an art. How proximate are they to be to commerce? Once we realize that people have a desire and even a need to indicate their own surplus, to symbolize their own a + b ≠ b + a how do we harvest that: not for profit, but for the creation of the meaningfulness of profit.

For this to happen, the consumer and proprietor come together. I have surplus – I toss in pennies because I have “extra” – and I join you who also has surplus – you have just made a profit on our exchange. We are of a kind together. This very same thing occurs in creative contexts, or problem solving contexts. Members in contribution feel buoyed by the surplus of others (or the group) when they themselves have been given the space in which to have displayed their own surplus: we are of a kind together. The reason we don’t have to be exact about things is because we both, we all are surplus folks…again, the beer buying metaphor.

The penny dish does not take into account the often significant factor of status change, and agonistic giving. But it is a beginning, something that reminds us that the biggest donation a business can make might be the space for donations.

Reading a Little gifteco Lit

Thanks to Stan Phelps (@9INCHmarketing) who has pointed the way towards additional writers/speakers who have brought Gift Economy thinking to social media and marketing questions, I’ve begun reading law professor Yochai Blencker’s Wealth of Networks, a near tomb on information economy, and the present forces that bear upon democratic and creative processes of wealth. It does not explicitly leverage Gift Economy logic – thus far – but it certainly sets a broad intellectual table upon which many Gift Economy questions can be answered. Ran across this nice introductory paragraph on the generalized and quite common presence of Gift Economy logic: the necessary fuzziness of accounting.

Across many cultures, generosity is understood as imposing a debt of obligation; but none of the precise amount of value given, the precise nature of the debt to be repaid, or the date of repayment need necessarily be specified.Actions enter into a cloud of goodwill or membership, out of which each agent can understand him- or herself as being entitled to a certain flow of dependencies or benefits in exchange for continued cooperative behavior.This may be an ongoing relationship between two people, a small group like a family or group of friends, and up to a general level of generosity among strangers that makes for a decent society. The point is that social exchange does not require defining, for example, “I will lend you my car and help you move these five boxes on Monday, and in exchange you will feed my fish next July,” in the same way that the following would: “I will move five boxes on Tuesday for $100, six boxes for $120.” This does not mean that social systems are cost free—far from it. They require tremendous investment, acculturation, and maintenance. This is true in this case every bit as much as it is true for markets or states. Once functional, however, social exchanges require less information crispness at the margin.

– The Networked Information Economy p11o

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.

 

using gifting to steer message

photo from bazaarblog

Ian Greenleigh at Bazaarblog writes about how Toyota was able to counter a trending “negative online sentiment” through a story donation campaign on Facebook.

Kimberley’s social media team saw an opportunity to rebuild trust in the Toyota brand after last year’s high-profile recall. They saw an increase in negative online sentiment that they needed to address, and they realized that the traditional route—“talking about ourselves”—wasn’t going to do the trick. Instead, they devised a way of encouraging their customers to share positive sentiment online with each other (and prospective Toyota customers) through a clever campaign called Auto-Biography. “It’s what everybody else says about Toyota that matters,” said Kimberley. First, they asked owners to share their experiences on Toyota’s Facebook page, from the “wonderful,” to the “crazy,” to the “not-so-happy.” Stories could be text, photos, videos, or all of the above—a rich mix of user-generated content.

The campaign, so far, has resulted in the submission of over 13,000 individual stories, and has been seen by nearly 150,000 visitors. Thousands of these stories were about safety, and served collectively as a powerful asset to counter the public perception of Toyotas as unsafe. The submissions were overwhelmingly positive, but negative stories were not censored. To “extend the life of the content,” as Kimberley put it, six stories were selected for conversion into minute-long animated shorts which have had close to 100,000 views since October.

via How Toyota and UPS use social media as reputation defense « The Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Blog.

What strikes me, as I’ve started exploring the sense that Social Media operates through a Gift Economyexplicitly written about yesterday – is how opening up a space for stories (and not really complaints) is an act of generosity. That is, Toyota offers its social standing to carve out a media space for others, conferring importance upon itself, a sense of surplus, and in turn users feel a surplus in themselves when they donate a story or experience to the space. It is not just “we want your feedback” or “we care about you”. It’s reciprocal and always asymmetric acts of donation, gift giving.