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.