At the recent Future of Journalism conference that the Guardian ran (an internal conference that they generously blogged about), Jeff Jarvis gave a talk on the 10 questions news organisations should be asking now. One of the questions is "Are we generous?". Generosity, says Jeff, can take many forms - sharing, supporting, enabling. One of Jeff's most quotable quotes is "do what you do best and link to the rest" - drawing away from the control model of media 1.0 to one in which the intention and execution is altogether more altruistic.
John Naughton makes a similar point when he quotes the man that got him into blogging, Dave Winer: "The way to make money on the internet is to send them away". Why? Because "people come back to places that send them away." His point, and Jeff's point, is that the web is counter-intuitive. The more links you share, the more you send people away, the more they come back. The more open you are, the more useful you can be, the more they come back. In part, it's what Eaon has called (in the comments to this post) "creating value through content", and it expresses how the value equation is changing, something I've talked more about here.
But I think this speaks of a greater truth. An insight applicable to all brands, not just media brands. Generosity is not only a viable business model, it's the only game in town. The more generous you are, the more interesting you are (with everything you do), the more they come back.
The web is people connected and all media is becoming social. Brands are immersed in what Mark calls a "behavioural soup" where, to quote David, "small, very human, interactions make all the difference." Media becomes a mass of social interaction governed by social principles. Principles like you get back what you give. As Paul says:
"The more good things you do for people, the more of your thinking and ideas that you share, and the more you help people out, the more good things will come back to you"
Generosity is no longer a luxury in brand strategy. I'm not talking about CSR. I'm not talking about good customer service. And it's about more than just being useful. Being useful is one thing. Being generous is something else entirely. Generous thinking has to run through the organisation. Benevolence has a new power in business. It can power company morale, make your company attractive to work for, provide talkability, help people feel affinity for your business. But best of all it can provide direction and a framework for your decision making - your instinct is always to do whatever is best for your customers.
Being generous is about exceeding expectations. At every touchpoint. Making people happy. And happiness is not a bad thing to base your business on. It's the kind of thing where you end up saying "they didn't have to do that". The kind of thing we intuitively know every brand should be doing yet so rarely happens. And ironically, as we move into leaner times, there has never been a better time to be generous. It doesn't have to be expensive - Amazon's customer reviews add lots of value but cost very little. It doesn't have to be difficult - like the credit card company calling you up before they levy a late payment charge like mine did the other day. It has its own rewards - happy people talk about what makes them happy. Sounds obvious? Why aren't more companies doing it?
Perhaps I sound a touch naiive in my take on this but you know what? I don't care. I may be an old hippy but I also think this makes a whole lot of sense.