A persistent misconception is tormenting the cultural sector and it’s a misconception about value. I’ve heard people say the craziest things about value, including from experts put on stage to educate us. One of them, just to pick an example: Social media allows us to have a large impact with a low investment. Bollocks!
Another one: The cultural sector has significant social and cultural value, but not necessarily economic value.
Talking about economical value and social value and their relationship makes the value discussion way too complex, especially since “The Economy” has been branded as something difficult (read Tim Harford to understand it’s not) and value is understood as profit and loss (read Seth Godin to understand it’s not).
To make everything easier, here’re the two things you need to understand about value:
- Value and money are two completely different things. Value more closely resembles karma. It’s a universal currency and the banking of it is outsourced to everybody.
- In a way, value is a constant. Over the long run, the value you receive will always equal the value you have created for others. However, this relationship can be diffuse.
If you understand this, you’ll understand there’s no such thing as a big impact for a low investment, in social media or elsewhere. Everybody who tells you so AD 2011 is a fraudster. A tweet that receives hundreds of retweets might be free to send, but to build the engaged following that will retweet it takes at least 6 to 12 months of professional high-quality tweeting. That’s a huge investment for, at best, a large impact. It’s why corporates pay for their videos to go viral.
(It works the other way around though. Give an endless amount of truly great stuff away for free and one day, ‘out of the blue’, you might have a huge impact. Read Chris Anderson’s Free to understand this better.)
This also explains why if you really have a lot of cultural and social value, you also have a lot of economic value (you simply have a lot of value, period). The trick is to convert some of this value into money to pay your bills. Some cultural institutions such as Tate and Foam Amsterdam are really good at this. You can be too; if you really believe you have something valuable to offer.
Value is not a difficult thing to understand, but it’s hard to implement in organisations that never had to worry about their karma. And I’m looking at conference organisers when I say, let us please put some people on stage from other sectors who understand the concept of value, so we can pay or bills also in the next decade. Thank you in advance.
Photo by Mark Strozier on Flickr.