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Forget what you can sell, ask what you can give

by Joanne Jacobs on 19 July 2012

One of my greatest challenges as a social business professional is to convince individuals and organisations that social strategies and channels are not just a domain for driving sales.

Of course, all organisations are focused on generating revenue and selling product lines. But the use of social as a pseudo-advertising channel will ultimately damage the organisation if social activities don’t generate changes in the organisation – from improvements in product development and customer service to optimised distribution systems. Audiences will respond poorly even to the most interesting content in social channels if the activities of the firm in the offline environment are not responsive to audience needs.

Social isn’t a commodity or market driven economy. It’s a gift economy.

via Scrivle

Indeed audiences will respond poorly to *any* advertising – online or offline – in social media if they are having a bad offline experience. Because we are now in a two-way communication system with social media, audiences understand the power they have to affect brand trust, sentiment and profitability. (So get your act together as a business first. It might save a lot of grief.)

But the problem with treating social as primarily an advertising medium is not only that such behaviour fails to acknowledge the two-way communication characteristics of social, but rather that it isn’t actually generating any real value to audiences.

Individuals are prepared to share information about themselves, their thinking and content they find interesting under an informal bargain where they receive similar content and thinking in return, from their friends and networks. Of paramount importance in this bargain is the authenticity and impartiality of the information shared.

While individuals may connect with brands and organisations, they do so with the implicit understanding that they control that connection. And so organisations need to meet and sustain these expectations around authenticity and value creation if they want to maintain a connection with any individual. Actions and content sharing which are perceived as inauthentic, too regular, too selfish, or poor quality will result in disconnection.

In this gift economy it pays to share information that adds value for audiences – everything from industry news and trends to content that is outside your product or brand interest, but which is just inherently interesting.

Frankly, you have to give before you even have a hope of receiving. Which is the way life works, after all.


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  • http://twitter.com/strets123 Andrew Stretton

    Great post Joanne, a couple of points… The gift economy is really interesting and actually pre-dated the monetary economy from my understanding. I always found it strange how people were so willing to operate this way when in a bar buying each-other drinks but not when engaging in other activities. As you say, social tools are changing these behaviours.

    Just in terms of authenticity and impartiality, I think that no sustainable business model, not even an open source project can truly act with impartiality as we as human beings do not truly make rational decisions, opting instead for the most convenient or comforting path which is superficially the simplest at the time of decision making. To me, truly strong sustainable businesses show authentic, targeted self-interest which ties in with the self interest of other businesses, individuals and organisations.