This is the final post in a series on social media gift cultures. Drawing on indigenous gift cultures, I have sought to understand how social media users create reputations, communities, and identities through sharing (or ‘gifting’) with online crowds. A gift culture perspective highlights the motivations and rewards of online sharing. It foregrounds how we should go about building tribal communities online, making online sharing social.
If you haven’t followed the series to date, I recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through. Like Hegel said, the truth is in the whole.
In the last post, we considered how hard it is to maintain a reputation across multiple social media sites. Multi-tasking across sites and apps is challenging. We are inundated with information. It is hard enough to keep up with the torrent of information pouring through a single news feed. Keeping up with the traffic across multiple feeds can be a nightmare.
Information overload is only part of the problem. To manage our reputation across multiple communities, we need to tap into the torrent of information and share it in a targeted, strategic, way. Different systems attract different crowds, and each has a distinctive set of values and expectations. To key into crowds, you need to feed them appropriate gifts – content that will appeal to the specific community (or communities) you are addressing.
By filtering content and selecting choice gifts for specific crowds, we create prismatic, multi-faceted, identities. If we are playing the reputation game correctly, the identity that we create on, say, LinkedIn will be subtly different to the identity that we create on Tumblr or Facebook. There is nothing inauthentic about this, assuming that we allow that our identities are multi-faceted in the first place. The real problem is the stress and difficulty of maintaining this activity over time. The challenge of engaging with multiple flows of information and selecting choice content for multiple communities puts many people off. It is not just the time it takes to process the information on various channels. It is the pressure and anxiety involved in figuring out what information to push to different crowds in order to create a specific type of identity. On some level, most users are aware that the crowd is watching them and judging them on the basis of what they share. Their reputation is at stake and they don’t want to make a misstep and feel foolish (or worse!) as a result.
But social media shouldn’t be this hard. Engaging with multiple communities should be simple, fun, and intuitive. The key (surprise, surprise!) is to make the experience social. We need to build real relationships based in common values and interests. We need to build tribes.