428 Words on SOCIAL CURRENCY: the gap

I’ve been kicking around using the social media tools for a while.  I’ve been asking questions, lots of them.  Some thought provoking, some off-key, others quirky and some a little less serious; but it all comes back to one thing:  a gap.

mind the gap
Image by limaoscarjuliet via Flickr

A huge gap exists.  It exists between the people who are sharing information and the companies who are wanting to use the media platform and it is actually stifling their competitiveness through poor time/money investment.

To clarify this, I’m not talking about networking.!  I’m not talking about using social media tools that people use to talk to people, share ideas and develop relationships – we all do that; what I’m talking about is the gap between social media and selling product or service, lots of it too!   The key ingredient that actually creates your community or network.

We earn, when we transact commercially, not when sales staff are randomly talking bull to people using online networking tools.

I’m going to contradict someone.  The guy who I think has mis-used the word #SocialCurrency.  I am not familiar with him, but I think the term should be defined differently to help fill this gap.

Many of us are aware that ‘social’ requires a different way of thinking because the business proposition is put in a social context, i.e in and amongst peoples conversations.  We’re not all media savvy, nor are we trained in large CSR departments or PR departments either.  When you consider 80% of the 4.8 million businesses in the UK are small and many fledgling business users of Twitter are constantly talking about their lunch time meals and blogging about things buyers don’t care about, it’s no wonder a lot of people spend a lot time head scratching thinking WTF is this about?  The head scratching represents the gap.  And the gap is a big one!

Let’s explore the idea of a currency.  Building on the idea of #SocialCapital that a person acquires over time, a business, which is a separate entity, needs a currency.  One that it can bring to the social sphere.  Like all currencies it will have a value, with your traditional customers being offline, how do we get them online?  A #SocialCurrency will do this.  It should have sufficient value to compel them to engage the business on Web2.0 with positivity.

Ask yourself, what is it, over and above exceptional service that you can give your customers?  It has to be something tangible that will encourage the positive engagement to happen.

When you answer that question, you will know what your currency is.

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  1. Nice post. There are precious few people out there giving good,accurate information on this kinda stuff. I’m trying to get in touch with what my social currency is. Im not quite there yet but the fact that I am at least trying to figure it out makes me feel better!

    • Trying to get somewhere without a map is difficult at best, we rely on the Sun, sense of direction and experience in tracking. It’s great you’re looking for that special currency, the one thing that will compel your customers to transform in to magic of a raging fan… the only advice I can offer is to make a map, find a good compass and make sure it’s calibrated.

      Naturally, you’ll know north when you see it. Things progress bit by bit and those insignificant observations seem to build up to a point where it starts to click. I think there are 1000s who want maps and compasses, so when you find a good compass, keep on to it…

      After a 2010 of fuzz and listening to 3rd rate self confessed gurus who play chinese whispers, I’m keen to understand this too.

      Where’s your next way point?

  2. From your initial premise of the gap between information sharing and companies that want to use and share this platform effectively – you’re suggesting that there is an unyet definable chunk of value that is not fully recognised, which if understood and managed correctly would inject value into a users business … am I right?

    In response I’d have to ask what is the value of social media? And what is its role? I’d argue that social media’s prime function is to enable conversation between customers, brand owner, and interested parties the purpose of which is to enhance brand reputation, customer/market synergy, and build interest and loyalty. These elements are crucial to building and maintaining market and customer perception and impact on buyer behaviours, brand perception and the positioning of products and services.

    The culture within the social media space currently is anti-direct sales, although a posting on Twitter about a product release can immediately impact on sales, why? In my opinion its about understanding the ‘buyer behaviour continuum’. ‘Transaction’ is very late in the chain of events that lead to the sale. A Tweet or social media posting impacts on the early aspects raising awareness and interest. However, if there is a developed relationship in place between the sender and receiver, the customer will very quickly respond and move down the ‘buyer behaviour continuum’ and action a transaction.

    Therefore, the ‘gold dust’ appears to be the quality of relationship, and the mechanism which makes the customer repond quickly and decisively. These I see as the ‘social capital’ which is the inherent equity in the relationship, and the ‘social currency’ which is the value exchange that sparks the customer into action.

    ‘Social capital’ I see as brand equity translated into the social media environment. ‘Social currency’ are the nuggets of value exchanged to empower the customer and stakeholders in the brand. In my opinion these are not unique concepts. Customer incentives are central to many sales promotion programmes. What is unique (or so it appears) is that the sharing of intent and ‘give back’ the customer provides back to the community – e.g. “Just bought Jessie J’s first single. It’s fabulous! Seen the video, epic!” – this advocacy is forms part of the customer value exchange, and in turn empowers other customers, and enriches the brand’s equity/’social capital’.

    • Thank you Mark, what a great reply.

      Yes. You’re 100% correct, I’m talking about the larger portion of the business community, which is, by definition not departmentalised and most definitely without sufficient knowledge of brand to get any value other than order value in the sales ledger, one where efficiency is key and there are no human resources to intervene.

      Whilst networking, sure, we accrue capital in relationships, but what about at a business level, where brand doesn’t necessarily exist in a form that holds any real value, where there’s no real equity in it? How is it that we can create equity at every touch point? Should those who are networking really be looking to build a fluid currency that works outside of person-to-person relationship building? Is there an explicit ‘thing’ that can be put in to the system at one end, given to the customer for it to be spent in kind back at each social touch point?

      The question I raise is using systemic logic, adding some form of goodwill in to the system that encourages a kind of synergy that propels the customer in to action to spend the good will back on the business to accrue value, create visibility via the customers network and build brand value from the ground up?

      If it’s a question worth asking, it must be worth discussing.

      Pizza Hut used something with 4Square… their currency was a kind of location check in thing going on. It’s pragmatic, so simple that it just makes sense.

      There’s something to be said for simplicity.

      How can we simplify?

      • 1. First I’d say ‘brand’ is often erroneously associated only with large corporates and their offerings. The ‘one-man band’ is a brand in their own the right, the esteemed local butcher serving locally sourced meat has a brand identity – the accumulation of perception, values, financial value, and equity of associated goodwill, loyal customers, and a role that impacts on the market in which they operate.

        2. I take your point on the ‘hard value’ point in para 2. Outside of the sale on the order book, the value in social media terms I’d propose is the; content provided, the willingness to support and advocate another, the act of advocacy and referral itself, the opportunities that arise form that value exchange – e.g. referring someone so they pick up an order, or can source a product/service they need, or locating expertise they may need. In a sense its building the ‘credit of goodwill’ which we can trade with others. I see this as running parallel with financial transaction of business, and they can operate separately or together, generating further ‘goodwill income’ or ‘financial income’.

        3. I don’t quite understand the question in para 3. Are you asking how does that goodwill help build the business? Or how does it translate into business equity? Or how do we get the customer to ‘spend’ the goodwill? My initial reponse to this point is goodwill is amorphous, and difficult to quantify like £. A trade in goodwill is a fluid arrangement, whose success can only be seen when both parties feel that mutual benefit has been gained. The problem with this is that it’s highly subjective, and can vary considerably between different parties. I don’t think over-scrutiny of ‘goodwill’ should extend beyond recognising that it involves the exchange of ‘like for like’.

        I see your point with 4Square – but I have a fundamental issue with 4Square anyway. I just don’t see the value of it. I know what it does, and the premise on which stands both for advertisers and the end users – however, for me the benefits don’t outweigh the losses made by the end user when it comes value exchange – i.e. loss of personal privacy. I see 4Square as an idea based on technology capability, rather than meeting a real need of the end user. A classic example of ‘because we can, we should’…. although I continue to watch with interest.

        • Mark, can we put something tangible in to the system that creates good will..? Is there a social gift in kind we, as retailers can give over and above product supplied that creates empathy and equity at a service or brand level? If there is, I’d suggest this may be called #SocialCurrency.

          Once formed, it’s a currency like ££ notes you give away. Some people trade in nice comments, others in retweeting, some in supply good content, but there are other things that we retailers can define as currency other than supplying content, material along the supply chain.

          I’m asking the question about What / How / Where and When?

          4Square – lol. I agree with you, totally. All the same, they developed a currency, quickly, implemented it and it was a good currency. I accrue capital with people, yet the shoe seller needs a currency.

          I’m drawing on the countless fan page owners where the owners have SocialCapital, they have BrandValue, but are yet to develop a fluid currency to trade in. For those trading in Retweets and Blog Comments, feel free to pass this on and add to the discussion.

          Let’s increase the debate: how about a return blog…

          • See what you mean. Then we getting into the area of quantifying goodwill, points etc as you get with loyalty schemes, and dare I say the ratings you get on ecommerce sites such as eBay and Amazon.
            I see why you’re attaching a hard value, but doesn’t that almost devalue goodwill? Almost impersonalize it? Which flies in the face of what it is? I’d argue that it’s the grading, standardising, and mechanisation of loyalty, and customer processes (that have evolved and drive retail in the UK over the past few decades) actually disconnect the business/brand owner from the customer – the personal, random aspect which typifies what is so good about a relationship.

            Have to get my blog page set up very soon.

          • Quantification. Sure, you can measure things, but the essence of the gap is surely giving customers something to spend with us.? Is it not? On social media, people often have nothing to spend, fans are not customers, followers are often lose associates and as such there is a kind of currency.

            But what about the customer? The one who has value in the brand? Do we not want that customer to spread the love online? How do we transform that offline customer who is on Facebook in the evening and maintaining a personal blog in to a Freak of Nature who is the biggest ADVOCATE of all time? What do we do to initiate this?

            Where the lock? Who holds the key? and how do we fire that engine?

            Yes, we’ll want to measure it in sales 🙂 That’s the fundamental point of marketing, to open the sale, we’ll measure the volume of increased sales in the order book.

            Mark, here’s a track for you 🙂

            We have accrued SocialCapital //
            You sub-concious will be working on this at the Gym tomorrow

          • ‘Essence of the gap’ – Do you mean, How do you turn people your connected to through social media into purchasing customers? And what can you provide within that social media space that can used as a currency (akin to the points in 4Square)? My response to this is I don’t see social media as a trading platform. I see it as a communication platform where dialogue and discussion takes place. The benefit of this being:
            – To the customer – feeling valued through being engaged and holding dialogue with the brand owner, and fellow ‘stakeholders’ within the brand environment, therefore having a sense of ‘ownership’ of the brand.
            – To the brand/business owner – having engaged customers who want input and share in the brand, and demonstrate a passion/following – which is demonstrated through feedback, advocacy, and purchasing.

            Getting a customer to step from their online world and become an advocate requires multiple points of access that fit their world. Surely, marketers should become adept at capturing and encouraging this through both online/offline environments – whichever the customer prefers and finds easiest.

          • Again, yes.

            But not quite as you describe, slightly different and something that is more harmonious.

            I’m taking about parallel running through sales, production and order that spurs the customer to engage online, but not engage, come running on to the network shouting their head off like a maniac discussing it with all friends, neighbours and connect’ees.

            It’s social right? Let it be so… does a businesses (not a self employed person) need a currency, a very social currency to bridge this gap?

            Would love to put this in to more concise words, but the reality is, discussion is where it’s at :)))

  3. If a small business with a small range of products or services tweets only about the business, the only followers they have will be the most fanatic, or spambots. I agree, you have to add something to make it worthwhile and bridge the gap.

    As small businesses, one currency we have is giving away part of your real life, that is, personal information. So that you are sharing experiences and interests and behaving like an ‘ordinary’ tweeter.

    Most people except this and will follow a business if they know there is a ‘real’ person behind it as well as occasional sales promotion.

    This gave me a few worries at first. I am new to retail and thought that you must have a professional impersonal relationship with customers. My background is in homelessness and benefit advice where a professional distance is essential to your efficiency. I didn’t know about the sales maxim that people only buy from people they like.

    My first quandary with changing this relationship was on Facebook. A customer had generously posted a glowing review about our product “Trabasack” ( a new type of bag that you can work on as a desk) on their blog. They had also mentioned us and recommended us on forums, all over the web. They found me on Facebook and ‘friend requested’ me, how could I snub them?

    To my surprise, knowing the real me, with my rants and moans, did not put them off the product. I had previously reserved ‘Facebook friend’ status for trusted old mates. Changing my attitude made be more generous and trusting and I have lots of new contacts, opportunities and laughs now because of it.

    I think that with small businesses using social media we are returning to the retail model of our grandfathers. You buy from people who you know quite personally. The relationship is like visiting the newsagent/corner shop, you know a bit about the retailer, his family and his social life. You like him and use his shop, you don’t mind if he has an orange luminous ‘buy now’ stickers up or points you to a new product, as long as he has a chat and a laugh as well!

    • Now, this is what we’re talking about.

      Clearly there’s a currency in there… the personality and nature of the retailer working with and serving people in the community. Perfect for a boutique store. In fact, this currency is one that I also use, it’s simply the way things are done in my world. Great to see this in social spaces.

      Does this approach apply to a high volume, hypothetical, busy sandwich shop though? You know, the one where everyone goes to buy their food from?

      • My local busy sandwich shop is on Facebook and he mostly posts information about new menus, asking fans for their preferences and ideas (great move!) rather than chatting. However, he is a very chatty person when you’re in the shop, so you mostly get the personal in person, and the semi-business on facebook. He only needs to post something every few days, and he’s of the generation that is social media savvy.

        My boyfriend, on the other hand, is very retro and old fashioned. Although he uses the computer, he dismisses social media with a harrumph. You couldn’t drag a post out of him if you had him tied down and anaesthetised! His business ( is extremely niche and expensive. However, I think he could benefit from the first three points in Marc’s food chain by running a small blog on his website.

        And I mean small – just a few sentences talking about new jobs which have come in, and the technical challenges they bring, latest news in the vintage racing calendar, cars they will be putting in to race at various events. These posts would NOT be aimed at buyers, who are typically rich old fogeys and completely non-IT literate, but at men who like cars in general. Get the business’ name known more widely outside his specialised niche, so that recommendations flow by word of mouth. Given that each project generally involves thousands of hours of work, the marketing effort doesn’t need to bring in many projects, especially if it is costing nothing to produce.

        However, it has to be written by someone who “gets” social media and who has sufficient personal investment in its success. Plus the time to do it. I guess that would be me, then!

    • The opportunity to provide a personality, a ‘real face’ to a business/product/brand is a huge benefit that social media provides. However, I still think people need to be careful – think about adopting a ‘professional personality’. At a recent seminar, Sarah Beeny (of ‘Property Ladder’ fame) admitted that she wished she could have unsaid a few things she shared on Twitter. Her advice to a questioner was ‘only say what you would be prepared to share in a magazine interview’. I know there are some that are sharing ‘warts ‘n all’ thoughts in social media, and it’s thought ‘progressive’ to be so open, however I’d suggest that people best relate to a ‘personality’ that’s open, accessible, and yet values privacy by not sharing every intimate details of their lives, or expecting others to do the same.

      Personal reputation, I agree has stepped into the fore, and the example you mentioned is very apt. My own observation this year, is that as we have passed into the post-broadcast age, we have almost reverted back to how we’ve down business over thousands of years up to the late 1800’s – one to one contact, business based on personal reputation, the recommedatio of others, and the tailoring of products to meet bespoke customer needs. It makes me laugh when I hear some young ‘social media’ types talk about this new bespoke connected way of working, but it’s understandable given that we’ve all been born into a mass market, broadcast age (20th century) where our needs have been met en masse, and we’ve be spoken to with national/global advertising campaigns speaking in one voice.

  4. Great post from Duncan. I completely agree about social media making retail personal. I too am new to retail and am a lawyer by background, a profession not known for being particularly personable. I had to put aside decades of learned caution to engage with social media and have been astonished (and heartened) by the results. As internet retailer we cant have a chat with our customers in the shop but we can tell them who we are and speak to them via Facebook and Twitter.

  5. I btw I can’t seem to edit my posts. I’ve made some typos that I’d like to amend. I hit the edit button, then get a bank box, no text to amend. Please advise. Thanks!

  6. Doug,

    As always a really well written piece. I love the thought process. I do have a ‘but’ & really it is a big ‘BUT’ (no comments). I say this as I feel you’ve started debating too far down the ‘food chain’ to make broad sweeping assumptions. It is a common mistake. Media planners will tell you Message, Audience, Media is the mantra for planning.

    Social media as a communications channel, (like TV, press etc.) will have a very different use/purpose depending on market sector, target audience etc.

    Social media can be used, in very simple terms, in 1 of 4 ways.

    ‘Awareness’ – When asked someone says ‘Oh yes, I have heard of them’.

    ‘Perception’ – When asked someone responds with view about ‘subject’ that is different to norm.

    ‘Influence influencer’ – When asked someone responds saying ‘Well x says they are great’.

    ‘Direct’ sell. As per your blog.

    I have tried to keep this very simple but hopefully it makes sense.

    • Marc, thank you for your presence.

      I’d like to know more about this ‘food chain’. Reason: most people I know are at the top of it and they are producers, hence, they are at the top of the food chain. As for Media Planners and small business who work in niche fields, the planners can’t work on our budgets and as such need a steady supply of money, kind of like a parasite… parasite is a good analogy and has been used many times over.

      There are no media planners in the world of small enterprise. I’d hate to think my local butcher, who could actually benefit from social media, would come on here and try to sell sausages or raise awareness throughout the region that he’s local.

      There’s got to be something in it for the regular business 🙂 // you know, the ones who are upstanding members of society and regular players in the local community.

      You can always ask the people who write about 1-4 to qualify themselves here. In my world, nothing is taken for granted and we rarely make assumptions either.

      To raise questions is good practice, it supplies (No.3) Perception…

      Lets invite the people further up the ‘food chain’ to come over and socialise 🙂

  7. A nice article Doug, as always thought provoking.

    Everyone uses SM differently, some just to chat, others to attempt to promote themselves, some to promote their business and then some businesses purely for customer service.

    You hear a lot about “klout” and all other kinds of social media buzz words. Is there really any value in having klout in SM? Personally I couldn’t give a monkey’s about a score here or there and it would not make me a follower or fan.

    I like to use it to chat to good people and raise a little awareness for myself and my business. Rather than spouting off about the business I’ll drop the odd link from my blog or interesting article.

    I have my twitter name on my business cards in the hope that clients who also use it will talk to me there from time to time or drop the odd good comment. I’ve had a few nice comments from clients which is always nice.

    One thing I’ve noticed is the rise of the professional moaner. People now moan first on Twitter or Facebook about a company or product than anywhere else. Some even before they have made contact to get the company to rectify the problem. This is why is it always great to see a company respond to complaints

    Not fully on topic with your blog, but this is what came to my mind after reading.

  8. Not sure I’m qualified to comment on this Doug, but as you have asked me if I’m interested in joining the discussion, I’ll add my thoughts.

    I’m a fledgling business owner; a sole trader that is home-based. Whilst I’m part of a wider network of similar franchisees, if I’m not out meeting customers, most of my day is spent alone, in my office, at my PC. As it should be you may think. But my background is corporate. Big company, big budgets, lots of people and bolt on agencies = lots of buzz. I miss that. Whilst being a sole trader gives me a unique sense of fulfilment, and a whole new wave of self-motivated pressure, I miss the people, the buzz.

    And then you Doug, introduced me to Twitter. With help from yourself and Helen Stothard’s ‘I don’t Get Twitter’ guide, I soon got to grips with it. My colleagues of old that I shared a drink with at the coffee machine, the drop in’s from colleagues and agencies were simply replaced by a new work based, social environment sitting on my desk – happy for me to drop in and out as I please.
    For me, that’s exactly what it is… A social environment. I don’t use Twitter to broadcast my products or services, I use it to chat, research and meet people in a similar situation, looking for similar things, ie the ‘I’m not alone’ feeling in my sole trader environment. I don’t see that as social currency, and I’m a little baffled why we have to term it as such. To me, all that does is give the wannabe gurus another stock phrase to blast at their clients, who will end up paying a small fortune for something they don’t understand either.

    For me, I’d ban the terms ‘social currency/social capital’ and get back to basics. Just as I have a bee in my bonnet about the trendy use of the word ‘journey’ to describe a certain period/patch of people’s lives, ‘social currency’ is in danger of confusing people, when really we’re just dealing with personalities.

    Interestingly, I see that you tweeted to the lovely @totally4b that her social currency is #lovelylady and cc’d myself (@dititoria). I don’t see that. I just see a lovely lady that I met on twitter, I get on with, can engage with because I like her personality. Simples.

    So Doug, unusually for me (I’m generally a great supporter of your blogs) I hope you don’t mind if I pass on the ‘social currency’ bandwagon. You guys go ahead, this one’s not for me.

    • the currency: it’s illusive, probably whispering it would even go so far as destroy it. Being a #lovelylady was merely a little parody on the essence of what a currency is. Take the guy who sells sausages, you know, the guy who has a company, he’s not here, he’s told to be here, yet there is nothing for him unless he wants to be the social media expert or goto guy for sausage questions.

      Fact is, he wants to sell sausages, the business has 10,000’s of 1,000’s of fans, yet there is only a fan page with 50 likes and they actually look like the worst sausage company south of the Meat Market.

      I use the social networks and media (tools), same as you Vicky. We “live it up”, we enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean that Mr Sausage can’t use it as well. Is Mr Sausage somehow not part of this online world, when in fact, he’s part of the community at large. What I mean is, I buy his sausages and I’m a big fan 🙂

      Currency is as in the post, a separation from self and business and it’s what the ‘business entity’ can bring with it to the social sphere online.

      Again, the question remains… what’s your currency (aimed at the ‘business’ not ‘you’)…

      Let’s re-consider our view here and have a think those traders we work with who want to take part and connect as well. We’re not all wanting to be ‘expert’, yet we are all part of the same world.


  9. A social currency is not a currency. They are nothing more than a “token” with restricted use value and when used no longer have any intrinsic value whatsoever. A true currency circulates as it represents a “unit of account” that has an intrinsic stored value that is accepted in the marketplace. For example take a look at WIR Bank in Switzerland, an excellent example of a complementary currency, something that a social currency most certainly is NOT.

  10. A true currency circulates as it represents a “unit of account” that has an intrinsic stored value that is accepted in the marketplace. For example take a look at WIR Bank in Switzerland, an excellent example of a complementary currency