Taking Social Currency to the Bank

Using social media for marketing purposes can be hit or miss. If you get it right, you can attract thousands of followers, engage them in conversation, be a hero, go viral, sell lots of your product, and generally be seen as a likeable brand. But if you fail, best case scenario is that you end up being ignored.

Worst case, you create animosity towards your brand, where people boycott your products, refuse to engage with you and move on to your competitor. Sounds dramatic, I know, but this has happened to many brands. So let’s look at a way to keep track of your social media engagement in a way that gets you a positive relationship with your customers and increases your influence. The most effective way of doing that, is by understanding how social currency works.

Social currency is your virtual bank account in social credibility and authenticity. When you post something of value to others, they give you a mental nod (and often actual, by the way of retweets, likes, hearts etc.). These props to your “social currency account”, increasing your credibility with your friends and followers. Unfortunately, the opposite happens when you share something that people hate, or is wasting their time, or they’ve seen a million times before, is offensive (in a bad way), bores them or in any other way makes them think you’re a douche. Same thing when you overshare or misuse and overuse hashtags. They will take away credibility from your account, and be less patient with you next time. Now, these are the basic principles of social exchange. If you give something away (content) you get something back (increased credibility). Quid pro quo. Obviously, the principles apply outside the digital world as well. It’s basic human interaction. Contribution to conversations has been a measure of your social standing since the dawn of civilisation.

While the idea of social currency has first and foremost been connected to individuals, it also applies to businesses and brands – on two levels. Firstly, it works in the same way as for individuals. If you annoy, bore, alienate or behave in a way that makes people like you less, they will unsubscribe, hide or block your content. If you’re wondering what that content could be, in general I’d say that if you talk about your brand or product too much, and in a way that is self-serving, boasting or untrue – it could cause irreparable damage to your brand.

The second level is in terms of sharing. Knowing how careful and calculated people are about their sharing and retweets, it is clear that the social reach of your content will be highly impacted if you don’t write about things that are interesting and relevant to your audience, and that they find interesting enough to share. Which means that they will bank on accruing more social currency by sharing. So, great content means that you increase your social currency and anyone who shares the content also increases theirs. It’s a win-win.

If your content has been consistently interesting over time, you would have built up enough social currency to sustain a dip. That means that you can afford to take more risk. But make sure you take risk with quality content, not by getting sloppy. Own something. Have an opinion. I’m not advocating alienating your followers, but provide them something they can’t get anywhere else. Take on a role in communications that builds trust and engagement. Be the expert in your field. Don’t be stiff like your competitors. People who follow you on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, read your blog etc., are genuinely interested in your offering. So don’t misuse that trust. Use it to give them a reason to love you even more. Give them a reason to talk about what you stand for to their friends and families. Build a strong portfolio of content that is either exceptionally useful or insanely entertaining. That provides your followers with a point of experience, where they realise that your brand is one of “theirs”. Your social currency will then extend beyond social media and integrate with your other communication efforts, and you can truly cash in your social currency.

Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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[Main photo by magicatwork, under CC]