Should A Brand Care About Social Currency?

by MAi Research May 9, 2019

Elegant young woman walking on the square and texting in urban environment. Social currency and branding concepts

Social currency is a buzzword you may have heard before, but few businesses really understand what social currency is and how they can lever it to generate awareness and sales. But a brand that can translate social currency into sales may have found how to spin straw into gold.

Social Currency: What Is It, And How Does It Work?

Social currency is a complicated idea but boiled down to its fundamentals, it is a concept based on social capital theory. What it says, according to Referral Candy, is that when people are put in a social situation they act in reciprocal ways.

For example, if someone sees an interesting story on their social media page, they’re more likely to share it. Why? Because they want to be seen as interesting, too. If they are the first person in their social network to discover this story, it will make them look hip and in-the-know. Or, if the story has a certain social connotation to it (say, providing help for the homeless or giving aid to victims of a natural disaster), then by sharing it we reflect some of that positivity onto ourselves.

In short, people share things that make them look good.

Naturally there are complexities in social currency involving how people tie their identity up in the things they share, how what they share and talk about reflects their values, and how they incorporate brands into our lives — but the short version is that if sharing information about your brand or products makes someone look or feel good, then that’s what they’re going to do.

So Social Currency Is About Being A Status Symbol?

In a way. At its most basic, you need to ask yourself what people gain by associating with your brand. What are you giving them? Not in the physical or functional sense of what your product or service would do for them, but in a more emotional or social sense?

As an example, take the Dyer & Jenkins clothing brand. They’ve built their brand around the concepts of adventure and ruggedness. Their social media pages are covered with images of beautiful, exotic locales, and they regularly put out travel guides as a way to hook people’s interest. The product is clothing, but the brand is all about experiencing the raw beauty of the world and the thrill of adventure. That’s the brand’s social currency, and that’s what people tap into when they associate themselves with Dyer & Jenkins.

So, if someone wants to be seen as a rugged world traveler, or as someone who appreciates the world’s natural beauty, then this is a brand whose content they might share with their social circle.

What Do You Reflect Onto Your Customers?

Ask yourself, what it is people get from being associated with your brand. For example, the “Will It Blend?” series of commercials by Blendtec showed people they both offered a high-quality product, and that they were a fun brand who didn’t take themselves too seriously. It’s similar to the commercials for Ginsu knives. Because no one needs a blender that can destroy golf balls any more than they need kitchen knives that can cut through their shoes, but sharing those videos shows you’re fun and in-the-know. Owning them also has that undercurrent of, “I don’t need this… but I have it, just in case.”

So, before you set out to create your next buzz, ask yourself what people will look like if they talk about your brand. Will they seem boring? Or will they have the inside track on something fun and interesting? What social currency are you offering along with your product?