Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The More You Give The More You Get

Last week I had an opportunity to present one of our client projects at the Social Fresh conference in Charlotte, N.C. (Slides below). One particular item that came out of this project (slide 17 if you want to jump ahead) is worth exploring in more detail because I think that it illustrates a general principle of networked systems, what I'll call "The More You Give The More You Get."

For this project we needed to contact a large number of food bloggers and explain this crazy idea we had to publish a cookbook filled with appetizers, entrees, deserts, and snacks that use "brain healthy" foods. The result by the way is beautiful, the ThinkFood Cookbook. In the course of talking to hundreds of food bloggers we contacted some who had an enormous number of regular readers all the way to bloggers who had virtually no readers but we liked their style and recipes.

In communicating with all of these different bloggers we started to see this fascinating corollary which ran contrary to our expectations. We had thought that the bigger the blogger (in terms of readers) the less likely they would be to want to participate in our project. Whereas we thought that small bloggers would jump at the chance to participate in a high profile project which might bring them new readers.

The opposite was true.

The larger the readership, the more likely the response was positive! And even when the answer wasn't a "YES" the response was always positive and supportive. By contrast the most vitriolic "NO" emails that we got were from bloggers with the smallest readerships. Like this one (no need to give the person's name)
"You want us to provide you with free content in exchange for exposure? Do *you* work for free? No thanks."
Well yes, unnamed blogger, I do often work for "free" if by "free" you mean without compensation in the form of sovereign currency immediately exchanged for my labor. But I also recognize that when I work for "free" that the exposure IS a form of compensation. And that through the exposure I am likely to trigger a variety of network effects that will pay dividends in the future.

And so I put this question to you to research -- is it the lack of relative success in blogging that makes these people who don't want to give so unfriendly? Or is it their unwillingness to give (and unfriendliness) that makes them unsuccessful?

My guess is that there is a connection between being willing to freely give in a networked economy, and the success one achieves through that network -- that the more you give, the more you get.

Here are my slides: