This great image of earning social capital from Socialize Yourself (which offers training on social media using social media) provides a great understanding of social capital, but let’s take a look at a definition — and there are a wide range of different definition. Here’s a great one that reflects what businesses mean by social capital from the Kennedy School at Harvard:
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]
Today, we’ll discuss:
how to build social capital — through
- vast social networks
how social capital helps you reach your goals by:
- earning attention from prospects
- motivating engagement from customers and your network
- amplification of brand messaging
- generating a positive brand image
I’ve never heard of social capital before
That’s probably true. Social capital is most often used in management, not marketing, to reflect the currency that helps businesses get things done. You need social capital to grease the wheels of cooperation so a business functions as a well-oiled machine.
Maybe an example will help.
Let’s assume you have a big project that’s due tomorrow. There’s a lot riding on the project being done well and on time, but you don’t have all the pieces together yet. You can “spend” capital to solicit help from a colleague or motivate another department to put your task ahead of others they’re dealing with.
Social capital is your best tool when you’re in a situation where you can’t offer tangible rewards (like overtime, bonuses …) in exchange for cooperation.
In marketing, we often ignored social capital because we had better tools to get what we wanted from consumers. We could offer:
- special offers
- paid content, such as TV, radio, and print programming that consumers enjoy
Marketers didn’t need cooperation from consumers when they only used traditional media. They paid for your attention, didn’t need you to amplify their messaging, and motivated purchase through discounts and offers.
All that changed with digital media. Now, there isn’t paid content. Instead, everyone in the community contributes content. In fact, they resent your content turning up in their communities.
Sure, you can still offer discounts and special offers, but they won’t net you as much attention or encourage amplification of brand messaging, which should be a big part of your digital strategy.
Instead of slavishly watching your advertising interspersed with content the consumer wants, consumers today need inducements to see your branded messages.
Earning social capital
So, what does earning social capital look like?
Over the last 5 months, I gave away free chapters of the book to anyone interested and gave away the entire book to Beta readers. Earning social capital means you do something of value first. Don’t expect folks to do something for you first — it’s a pay-it-forward world.
Even my writing was designed (in part) to build social capital. The book is set in the Rio Grande Valley, where I lived for 6 years. Not too many folks write about the unique and interesting aspects of living in the Valley. So, by setting the book there, I was building some social capital. (BTW, Dan Brown found sales spiked in DC when he set his book there).
I offered reviews of books from other writers, which earned me reviews of my books (not reciprocal reviews, which Amazon doesn’t allow, but feedback. One reviewer even gave me line-by-line edits). I also now have an army of writers willing to share my book with their social networks because I spent effort earning social capital.
Having a large, diverse network
Building a large network is one key to earning social capital to fuel your digital strategy.
You get benefits from your large network because your content only shows up in your network. Sure, you can buy ads (and I find Facebook ads particularly effective) but they don’t work well if you haven’t earned the social capital needed to enhance distribution through engagement.
Building your network relies on social capital. You have to reach out first by liking pages, following, retweeting, and providing service to those you want to join your social networks.
I did a little experiment. I had an old Twitter account that didn’t have many followers (it was a relic from a client who never paid his bill). When I first started marketing my book, I resurrected the account (probably just because I was lazy). It hadn’t had more than a few new followers in about a year.
So, I started following other authors, publishers, agents, publicists, anyone Tweeting about writing. Just a handful at a time. It started pretty slowly. But, now, I get 10-15 new followers every day. Not fabulous, but, over time I’ll have a large network. BTW, I unfollow those who don’t reciprocate within a reasonable amount of time. They’re not earning my engagement by paying me back.
Now, imagine you’re a large, recognizable brand with a couple of social media folks who are working to build your network and you’re earning social capital with your employees who share your content on their social networks and you’re probably gaining hundreds of new followers every day using just the same strategy I do. As a startup, which is usually who I work for, this is a FREE source of engagement.
Spending social capital to fuel your digital strategy
After earning social capital, it’s time to spend it.
But, don’t lose sight on continued efforts at earning social capital.
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