It’s a sad fact that reputation management literature largely deals with the defensive aspects of the issue, such as responding to attacks and crisis management. But how about working ahead and being proactive in establishing solid goodwill between the company or institution you represent and its clients and stakeholders? Goodwill, after all, is capital that can be leveraged towards your objectives and mobilized in times of crisis. One of the keys to this in the 21st century, especially online, is tapping into the Gift Economy.
Until quite recently, the Gift Economy was a dynamic studied by anthropologists and historians. In the societies analyzed by these scholars, the offering of gifts (with no expectation of immediate reciprocity) was a way to cement social and political relationships and to build prestige. Typical case studies here came from Polynesian or Stone Age societies.
With the emergence of a networked society, and largely thanks to the Internet, the Gift Economy has become a powerful yet often misunderstood facet of late capitalism. Given the relatively low cost of producing and sharing digital property (software, music, video etc.) and the massive networks that can now be accessed for distribution, the Internet has opened up a powerful channel for large-scale gift-giving. These days, the free digital gifts we regularly receive from distant ‘gifters’ draw us into relationships that reinforce their prestige and control of key markets.
This has happened so fast that, in a few years, most of us have come to take social network sites, freeware applications and streamed media content for granted. And yet, it is through such gift-giving that technology empires have built considerable fortunes (Facebook, Google etc.). For those players, gift giving was the key to building scale (community) and goodwill, which translated into economically convertible capital through parallel business opportunities.
Now, whether you are a resource company or a public institution, there are lessons to be learned from the Gift Economy successes of the tech sector because, as these start ups came to change social behavior and expectations, there is now an appetite and appreciation for further ‘gifts’ from all sectors.
If reputation is a concern, it is a good time to think of your gift to your public. Is there something useful you could provide that is in line with your services or your brand? This is worth thinking about. If gift giving generated billions for Facebook and Google, think what it could do for your relationships with key stakeholders!
Here is the complete chapter text from the #Social Survival Manifesto:
When it comes to influence, networked society is running a ‘gift economy’. Simply put: Share value with the network and you will gain in relevance and goodwill, which can pay off in many ways.
How can your business give something that people need, or solve a problem they have, without asking for anything in return (at first)?
Think about this. It can come in the form of soft goods such as information, software or just making strategic connections between the right people.
By the way, this is Google’s business model and they do not seem to be doing poorly at all.
Start listening to what your stakeholders need and prepare your gifts accordingly.