Fast Company: Five steps to earn social currency

Fast Company has a fascinating article on ‘Five steps to earn social currency‘, looking at the results of research by Vivaldi Partners (an international brand consultancy) and Lightspeed Research. The study examines more than 60 companies and assesses customers’ brand affiliations, advocacy, and sense of community, among other factors, for how they create true value for the companies, no matter whether it’s online or off.

To me what’s most interesting about the findings is how it confirms many of the things that we’re always explaining to client. Lots of the ‘big number’ gimmicks – such as apps, games and viral videos – might generate volumes of ‘buzz’, but achieve very little. Public relations practitioners have always had to focus on providing ‘something of value’ – the story, content, event or whatever has to benefit the recipient. That’s why many of the ideas suggest are designed with ‘social currency’ in mind.

Simply achieving more and more Facebook fans, Twitter followers or YouTube viewers achieves very little in itself. Erich Joachimsthaler, managing director at Vivaldi Partners, explains "There is a lot of wasted effort in social media. We forget that these programs have to pay into something, a shared value or a social context where the product actually gets used." What’s valuable isn’t mere buzz but what Joachimsthaler calls "social currency."

Fast Company has helpful pulled out some of the most interesting findings including:

Dunkin’ Donuts ‘advocacy approach’ is more effective than Starbucks’ big numbers approach.

Beer drinkers care about totally different things to big brewers who are potentially wasting millions of pounds of their advertising and marketing budgets.

Axe’s (Lynx) over-the-line risqué humour is just seen as a goof, whereas Clinique’s instructive approach (YouTube videos showing how to apply make-up) has earned it stronger social currency with its consumers.

Burger King and Wendy’s help demonstrate why gimmicks marginalise trust. Wendy’s ‘You Know When It’s Real’ makes the product the hero, while Burger King simply relies on stunts created by advertising agencies which might get lots of attention but as Joachimsthaler says: "it doesn’t motivate me to have a hamburger at Burger King today." Indeed they probably do more for the ad agencies’ ‘social currency’ than they do for the poor old client that is paying for it all!

Fast Company social currency infograph


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.