Friday, October 5, 2012

Social (Media) Capital and Why It's Important to You

Today's world of social media is rewarding those people that build huge followings online.  Fans, followers, connections, and friends are like a form of currency in social media.  Just like money, having more tends to buy you more.  Those of you who had MySpace accounts in its heyday probably know of Tila Tequila.  She was one of the first personalities that was able to grow relevance in the entertainment industry primarily through social media.  In 2006 she was the most popular figure in all of social media.  She built a profile to over a million and-a-half friends, with a huge gap to the number 2 profile.  Now, if you take an objective step back and think about that, you know she didn't acquire that out of celebrity status alone.  If that were the case then the cast of Friends, Brad Pitt, and every other A, B, and C-lister would have been at that level long before Tila Tequila.  She worked MySpace for all it was worth, and rode that popularity to other gigs in music, television and fashion.  She had either brilliant foresight or great advice from someone in her social network.  Regardless, she has profited, greatly, from those connections within social media.

The term for what Tila Tequila built is called "Social Capital".  Social Capital refers to the collective value of all social networks.  The term has been around for a lot longer than the Internet.  It originally referred to more human social networks like yacht clubs, fraternities, teacher's circles, and high school alumni.  It's based on the principle of reciprocity, that people within a given circle will help each other out.  Now term has been transformed for social media.  You can call it "Social Media Capital" if you like.  It's the totality of all your connections on social media.  This includes Twitter followers, Facebook Fans, Google Plus connections, and yes, even MySpace friends.  Those platforms listed are the most popular, but new ones are springing up seemingly all the time.  Social Capital can be built on any network.  The more popular the network, the more important your connections on that network become.

So the logical follow up question would be "what can I do with social capital?"  Well, there are a few examples out there today.  To think of the value of large social media followings, think of advertising.  Advertisers pay for attention. Whether it's a Billboard on a busy freeway, a popular radio station, or a sporting event like the Super Bowl with millions of people watching. The more "eyeballs" your particular medium has, the more advertisers are willing to pay to be on it.  Brian Solis has coined a term "The Egosystem" and refers to one's influence as the value driver in social media.  The more people your are able to influence, the greater your earning capacity.  Social Media networks are great because you have greater influence over your connections than any billboard or commercial will ever have.  Brands are now paying social media celebrities for tweets.  According to a Huffington post article, Kim Kardashian earns around $10,000 per tweet and Charlie Sheen earns up to $50,000 for a tweet to his audience.  There are even new platforms that are developing payment systems that are based on follower counts (we'll see if those stay around given the new Twitter changes).  I've even heard stories of bloggers using their audience as leverage when negotiating with retailers.  Some people will react based on fear that one will broadcast a negative message about their business to a large audience.  This is, kind-of, the opposite effect, but still an example of influence and social capital.

There are sure to be more innovative ways to use social capital.  I can envision, in the not too distant future, a scenario where follower counts will be common job interview questions.  If you have other examples, I would also love to hear them in the comment section.  The main point is that this stuff matters.  So get out there, build your profiles, connect with people, and make the most of the opportunity.  Your future self will be glad that your current self did.  Good luck!