There’s a growing distinction between social media, the collection of communications media, and Social, the movement. Social media, like the web before them, are slowly being absorbed into that hegemonising swarm called Market Economy.
Unfortunately the market economy has many well funded and focussed champions whereas the acolytes of Social (as distinct from the media from which money may be made) are satisfyingly distributed and impoverished (relatively speaking).
Anyhoo, if Social has a future then its not because it will have been championed by anyone, but because it reflects a natural evolution of social need.
It seems as if much of the commentary about what works in a Social world, or through social media, is converging on something that looks quite like a gift economy.
‘Gift economy’ was an academic idea that got a blip of interest a few years back. The idea was that money would become obsolete, and people would win ‘power’ or status through giving more. It was inspiring but easily dismissed, and I haven’t read much about it recently. Maybe its time to reach back into that closet.
There’s still the problem though of nomenclature. Calling it an economy leaves you with the ‘if I wanted to get anywhere, I wouldn’t start here’ problem so lets dump that bit.
With all the effects of scarcity turning into abundance, Affluent Society influences, diminishing trust, diminishing social returns from industrial production – I think people need brands to be more generous.
The whole history of brand communications, including the recent focus on behavioural economics, has had an all-too-perceptible ideological undertone of basically tricking people into choices. From the ‘seven secret signs of ageing’, through ‘secret ingredients’ to ‘dirt is good’ the approach has been to create a mental image which subconsciously influences purchase.
But, people are smart, gosh darned smart. They’ve been consuming all this messaging and comparing it against what’s been delivered. They’ve been absorbing the CSR scandals, they’ve become more familiar with corporate cultures.
As a result, what’s scarce is becoming more valuable. They are looking for actions not words, for transparency (to guarantee trustworthiness), for generosity. They are much more likely to be influenced to prefer, to purchase, by a genuine gift than a message.
This is where Nike Run London, Nike Town, Fiat Ecodrive do well. They all feel generous and give something more than a message. They feel like a gift.