What Marketers Need To Know About The Gift Economy

Marketing and The Gift Economy

The explosion of social media has forced marketers to temporarily place the market economy aside, and start relating to customers within a gift economy.1

In a gift economy, gifts are given with the intention of building social connections and gaining social currency, rather than obtaining financial gain.

Once you receive a gift, you’re expected to reciprocate at some point in the future.  By continuing to give and receive, you keep the social connection alive.2  These connections are exactly what marketers need to strive for through content marketing and by helping consumers to connect with each other.

Gift economies have always existed in our personal relationships, but social media has dramatically increased their influence on the business world.  If social status and social connection are not central to your social media marketing strategy, you will easily get swept under the rug and forgotten while potential and existing consumers establish social and financial connections to competitors.

Bottom line – Increase your social currency and you’ll also increase your financial currency.  How do you do you do this?  Give gifts in the form of content and connection.

Social Marketing Strategy #1: The Gift of Education

Offering a gift of educational content in order to build bonds is not new.  It’s been around since 4200 B.C., when the first content marketers created cave wall paintings showing their fellow cavemen, “6 ways a spear can save you from a wild boar”.3

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, John Deere, Michelin, and Jell-O, all sought to educate consumers and provide value, without the demand for immediate reciprocity.3

Today, content marketing has fully bloomed on the internet.  General Mills is offering their tablespoon website, full of colorful and creative recipes, while at SurveyGizmo, we offer our MarketerGizmo website, full of valuable tools and tips for marketers.

The goal was, and still is, to educate in order to create brand awareness and gain social currency.  Gifting a source of information that will enhance the lives of your consumers will undoubtedly leave you as a respected resource in their minds and leave the door open for future exchange.

To begin the reciprocity dance, think of ways that you can educate consumers on topics that directly relate to your business. This is especially beneficial if this educational gift will assist them in using your product.

Some potential gifts of content are:

  • Articles – how to’s, what is.., general informational content
  • Booklets – printed materials which educate your consumer in some way
  • Videos – interviews, talk shows, how to’s, general informational content
  • Magazines – a great way to provide a myriad of articles to your consumers

For more information on content marketing, please see our article: What is Content Marketing and How To Measure It Effectively.

Social Marketing Strategy #2: The Gift of Community

Helping consumers to connect with each other in a way that relates to your company will also help to increase your social currency.1  Providing a platform for relationship building creates respect and significance in the gift economy.

Nike’s Community Forums are a great example of how companies are giving the gift of connection. They not only created a platform for their consumers to connect with each other, but Nike has also enhanced consumer quality of life by providing a source of encouragement  for athletes and for those who are trying to become more athletic.

This offering of a community platform increases Nike’s social currency because it provides value and a sense of significance in the daily lives of consumers.  It also encourages this community to orbit around Nike’s core product – running shoes.

The more significant a brand is, the more likely consumers are to reciprocate its gifts by spreading the word and by maintaining relationships with you.

In your own business, think of any activities that relate to your product that you can help your consumers to get involved in, such as:

  • Forums – a virtual space where consumers can support and educate each other
  • Clubs – a group for consumers to connect with and to achieve a goal together
  • Competitions – Create a goal for your consumers to push each other to aim for
  • Games – provide a fun activity that consumers can take part in
  • Events  – fun or educational activities for consumers to attend

Engaging your consumers with any of these platforms will help you to create your own community orbit.4


Giving Gifts Is Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

Don’t forget to keep your finger on the pulse of your target audience so you can offer gifts that they want to receive, instead of just what you think they need.

Don’t give them socks.  Give them the Playstation.

Take care of your consumer community by contributing to your shared gift economy, and they will take care of you in the market economy.

Structure your social media marketing efforts so that they are providing educational content and offering a platform for consumers to connect with each other.

And remember, as  George Harrison once sang,  “it’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time.  It’s gonna take patience and time to do it right.”

The gift economy will not pay you back right away.  To successfully build lasting relationships with consumers, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.



1. Harvard Business Review: Understanding Social Media’s Gift Economy

2. TedEd: What is a Gift Economy

3. Content Marketing Institute: The History of Content Marketing

4. The concept of helping consumers to orbit around your brand also appears in Harvard Business Review: Understanding Social Media’s Gift Economy

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About the Author:

Heidi Haskell

Heidi is a content marketer for MarketerGizmo and SurveyGizmo. She has a B.A. in Psychology and is always intrigued by neuroscience and anything that drives behavior. She is an appreciator of yoga, improv, and meaty marketing content. If she didn’t have to work for a year, she’d go study yoga with Ana Forrest and Shiva Rea.You can connect with her on Twitter @SurveyYogini.

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