The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Thriving in the social media gift economy

Let’s pretend you’ve invited me over to your house for dinner. I come to the occasion with a nice bottle of Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc. Great, right?

Now let’s pretend that instead, I show up and hand you $20 bucks to thank you for having me to dinner.

You’d be offended, right? That’s because I would be applying market norms to a social norms situation. (See yesterday’s post for a definition of what are market vs. social norms.)

Another way you can look at it is through the lens of a “gift economy.” That’s a way that anthropologists describe cultures or situations governed by social norms. Or, as Harvard Business Review blogger Mark Bonchek explains in this post, a gift economy is:

1. About relationships, not transactions. Think of the dinner party example – bringing wine to share versus money to pay.

2. About social currency (which is based in relationship), not financial currency. In the realm of social media, says Bonchek, “Facebook “Likes” are social currencies, while Facebook Credits are virtual currencies. There is no price on a Facebook Like, while Facebook Credits have a clear market value.”

3. About earning, not buying status. Boncheck gives the example of in the Pacific Northwest, native tribes gave status not to those who accumulated the most wealth, but instead to those who gave the most to the community.

So what does this have to do with social media?

It is a gift economy, Boncheck rightfully asserts. People use social media to connect with other people, to exchange social media and to earn status.

That’s why you can’t thrive on social media by focusing on transactions, money and self-promotion.

Here’s how Boncheck recommends you conduct yourself (and I quote directly):

1) Build relationships.
• Push out information to drive transactions: Base
• Create relationships with individuals: Better
• Help people create relationships with each other: Best

2) Earn status.
• Celebrate your own accomplishments: Base
• Celebrate the accomplishments of others: Better
• Enable people to celebrate each other’s accomplishments: Best

3) Create social currencies.
• Focus on discounts and promotions: Base
• Think of your product (or mission) as a social currency: Better
• Create new social currencies related to your brand: Best

So what can nonprofits do? If you’re a diabetes organization, Tweet other people’s great recipes and healthy eating tips. If you’re a museum with a photography exhibit, use your Facebook page to facilitate people sharing their own work inspired by your latest exhibit . If you promote gardens, celebrate the most beautiful ones you find in your community and people’s yards in your Flickr account. You get the idea. It’s about the gifts – the gifts of others, the gifts of sharing and gift of generosity that you provide, rather than seek. That’s my kind of economy!

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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