What is Social Currency? Why do you need it, and how you get more of it?


You know what's cool? Social Currency is cool. Social Currency is what you have when you participate in a hot topic and contribute valuable discussion points. It's what you have when you discover some juicy gossip before anyone else. Social currency is knowing something that others want to know. It's relevance that you can exchange for benefits ranging from money to esteem to friendship and more. 

The paradox of social currency is that the more you share it, the more you have it. The trick is: it's time sensitive. You need to share your currency when people are most likely to find it interesting, and that is increasingly as it happens.

To see social currency in action, go to Twitter and have a look at the trending news topics. On every topic people are sharing memes and insights to the discussion. What do they get from it? Social Currency. But it doesn't spread evenly, here the Matthew Effect applies: "to those who have shall be given more"

Fashion is also a form of social currency. A look is hot for a small time, and if you get onto the trend early you benefit the most from it. Fashion through the lens of a sociologist is basically a conversation - it's showing that you're plugged into the stream of coolness and style. 

According to Wikipedia, the concept of social currency derives from Pierre Bourdieu's social capital theory and relates to increasing one's sense of community, granting access to information and knowledge, helping to form one's identity, and providing status and recognition.

Social Currency is one of the primary reasons why content spreads online. Jonah Berger, who has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral, says there are 6 principles of virality (STEPPS):

  1. Social currency – we share what makes us look good.

  2. Triggers – we share what’s at the top of our minds.

  3. Emotion – we share what we care about.

  4. Public – we imitate what we see people around us are doing.

  5. Practical value – we share things that have value to others.

  6. Stories – We share stories, not information.

How do you get more of it? 

Gathering social currency is not just about sources of information, it is about your own skills and ability to make sense of the information you get and share it with panache. As with most things social, you need to develop momentum - developing habits and systems to feed you fresh insight, developing trusted sources, and growing your following as you interpret the info you get.  

Some practical tips: 

- participate in live events and conferences where thought-leaders and pioneers are speaking and attending. 

- curate your news feeds for relevant insight

- participate in Twitter trending topics and see how much traction you can get with your commentary.