What Is Social Currency?

There are so many forms of transaction. Often when we hear the term, we think of the exchange of money for goods or services. The essence of a transaction, however, lies in the exchange…of anything. It can be money. It could be an idea. It could be a glance. Du’unt have to be tangible.

Socially, we’re transacting all the time. Exchanging ideas, feedback, and more. Some of these intangible transactions can be thought of more classically, whereby something intangible, like validation — the social currency, is exchanged for another intangible, like an idea — the commodity, in a format resembling a purchase.

Thinking of these transactions as a purchase is important because we can then begin to place value on the commodity, based on whether or not the seller receives the desired social currency (and in what measure) and on the social currency, based on how much commodity is offered for it.

Before we delve deeper, you might be wondering why this concept is even important to your brand or nonprofit.

Why is the concept of social currency important to my brand?

In content marketing, and its subcategory social media marketing, the content you’re creating could be thought of as a commodity. While not all content generated will, can, and perhaps not all should, become a commodity your followers deem worth exchanging, I’d contend your primary focus when generating your content should be creating content worthy of social currency.

On board yet? Great. Let’s delve deeper. First, let’s talk about how these transactions are different than an actual purchase.

Social purchases are a bit different than a classic purchase.

Social purchases are weird. Yes, there is a deliberate exchange. Yes, their is perceived value. But it’s not like there’s a storefront with a well-defined commodity and a proprietor who knows he has a commodity and has done his due diligence to value it properly. There’s also not one uniform currency we all use or chase. In a social purchase, the seller may not even know he’s selling anything. The purchaser may not even know he’s purchasing anything. Weird.

The fact is, the purchase still takes place, even if the customer pays way too much or too little for what she receives. There’s a song and dance to it, but the song and dance is the commodity and it’s given before the payment is received. In truth, the payment may never come.

An accurate paralleling model would be open source software. The software has value, but the “seller” just gives it away. Donations are the macro-goal. Some users of the software donate. Others do not. Same thing in a social purchase.

Ready for a weird, real-life example?

Gossip is a social commodity.

We’re voyeurs. And information is power. Peering into the lives of others in our community can be exciting and feel empowering. (Ugh. We can do better people!) The example holds up though. If I have information you don’t, I have a commodity, assuming you value access to the private affairs of others. But what do I get when I give it to you? What’s the social currency?

The gossiper receives a momentary high, that dopamine crest, when they watch the emotional response wash across the purchaser’s face. Spreading gossip is a secondary, voyeuristic act the gossiper tailors. It feels empowering to him. The gossiper creates an emotion in the purchaser, which the purchaser hands over through expression and the assignment of status to the gossiper. An emotional response, social status, bonding with the purchaser, validation, all potential currencies offered in this transaction.

Okay. Perhaps a bit deep in the weeds there. Why is all the psychobabble relevant?

Translate this to my brand, please?

In the social media landscape, what we share with others is the commodity. This article is intended to be a commodity. We put these commodities on the social media “market” for free in hopes that someone will donate our preferred social currency. For a brand, it’s less about social currency and more about the sale. For a social media user, the currency could be likes, reactions, or affirming comments. For a dwindling population, retweets. For many, it’s discourse or debate. All of which fall under the umbrella — feedback.

Whatever the desired social currency, your content needs to be a commodity in two ways. Secondly, it needs to be something worth consuming. This is obvious. Firstly, if the content is to persist, or bubble past your current follower-base, it needs to achieve your followers their desired social currency when shared. If I want likes and I don’t believe sharing your content will achieve me likes, I probably won’t share it. If I want discourse…you get it.

Make sure your content isn’t just worth consuming. Make sure it stands the test of that moment when a follower asks himself, “Will this get me my preferred type of validation?”

Note: Remember when I said there wasn’t one uniform social currency. While this is true, all social currency is probably tucked under the umbrella “feedback” and most feedback is sought after as an attempt by the seller to feel validated. With this in mind, creating content ethically and with positive motives is so important, as it could be used as a source of validation by your followers. Give them something good to lean on.

Additional note: It’s worth the mental exercise of thinking of the like, reaction, retweet or any other feedback as the commodity and the content shared as the social currency which purchases the feedback. This would be the more widely accepted definition.

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Matthew Praetzel

Thinker / Programmer / Late night contemplator More about this guy

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