Photo courtesy of Content Marketing World
Just like a great movie, the mark of a good conference is when you’re still thinking about it a week later. Content Marketing World 2012 had a lot of highlights- including Joe Pulizzi dressing like a Home Depot employee at a funeral for the entire first day. Love the commitment Joe!
However, there was one presentation I found myself chewing over on the flight, on a run and even while watching the So You Think You Can Dance semi-finals (so you know it was good).
Mark Bonchek (@MarkBonchek) presented “The Gift Economy: Content as Social Currency” and changed the way I think about social media. Mark is a pretty smart guy. He has an economics degree from Princeton, a Ph.D. in Political Economy from Harvard and spent time at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. But his presentation was mostly about pizza and beer.
In defining social currency, he gave the very relatable example of moving. If you ask friends to help, there is a social contract that you will provide some sort of food and beverage. In the modern Western Hemisphere, that means pizza and beer. They won’t accept cash from you, but if there isn’t a Meat Lovers and a case somewhere nearby, you’re in trouble. On the other hand, try to pay professional movers with a Pizone and some Coors and see quick your couch gets dropped. Right there is the difference between a gift economy and a market economy.
My family engaging in the Ultimate Gift Economy: Ricotta Dumplings
This is a great metaphor, but I didn’t need it to understand the concept of social currency in a gift economy. I’m Sicilian. My life is based on a gift economy. My dad grew up in a Sicilian enclave known as Cagalupo in Detroit’s near Eastside. This world of first-generation Italian immigrants had many extracurricular activities, from simply brewing bathtub gin to more organized behavior. My dad once told me the story of when he first figured out what it meant to accept a favor. At six years old his uncle tried to give him an obviously stolen basketball. He refused, knowing it meant that he would be obliged to reciprocate at some point, moral sensitivities notwithstanding. He told me this story when I refused to accept an old family car as a gift because I knew it meant they could tell me where and when I could use it. Instead I used my own money to buy a crappy ’86 Honda hatchback with a gang of mice living in the glove box, free and clear. Gift economy vs. market economy.
So listening to Mark’s presentation I was amazed to discover that not only was there an academic explanation for this thing I understood deeply, but it could actually help me in my job. Social media runs on a gift economy based on relationships, community, earned status and social currency. Trying to fit a business transaction into that space is bound to fail. So how can brands reach business goals in a gift-oriented economy?
Mark’s answer is for brands to create a space where people can connect with each other and earn social currency between each other, not just with the brand. The trick is to make it so the community can’t exist without a value that the brand offers.
A perfect example is Vail Resorts’ EpicMix. Using RF technology and chips embedded in passes the resort sponsored a site where skiers and snowboarders could track their entire day on the mountain and compare stats with friends. Extreme feats unlock badges. And people love the heck out of a badge. So the engagement is there but if EpicMix is free, how is Vail making money? Well EpicMix Racing and EpicMix Photo aren’t free. And you don’t have to be a genius marketer to understand the value of being able to send notifications to your consumers as they ALLOW you to track them in real time across the mountain.
My esteemed colleague (and fellow Italian) Angie Pascale and I shared this story and many others from the conference with our team at Location3 last Friday. We haven’t figured out exactly how to create social currency for each of our great clients just yet, but we’re working on it. And in the mean time we discovered we got a lot more people to come to the 4:45 Friday meeting when we offered them beer.