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Social Media as Social Currency

Social Media is a form of currency.  It’s a Social Currency.  It works based on the exchange of information, in exchange for your attention.  If I give you my ears, I let you tell me something, and equally, I will only listen to you, if I value your contribution.

For the longest time ever (perhaps as early as 2004) I’ve been actively using and advocating social media as a tool, or mechanism to build ever stronger relationships with the people you know and trust, as well as start screening across the many people who you know, to discover potential business relationships, potential customers, friends, and peers.

Pretty quickly the online space is starting to fill up, and it becomes increasingly difficult to start finding “real” value in exchanging meaningless messages in the ether we know as the Internet.  Slowly, for me, I’ve been starting to wonder just what does it matter, or how useful is it to just “talk” with, or exchange messages with completely random people who I hardly know?

In actual fact, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t matter one bit.  And then it hit me.  “Social Media”, unlike traditional online presences are not about hiding behind an anonymous identity.  Instead it’s about amplifying the presence we have in real life.  It’s all about being more of who you really are.  Which means that if in real life, you’re generally anti-social, or prefer to be introverted, and keep yourself to yourself, the moment you start to use Social Media, that doesn’t somehow magically change.  It doesn’t suddenly make you a public extrovert.  It does however allow you to stay more visibly connected to the people who you know, and meet, and want to engage with.

Since using Social Media, I’ve come to find many interesting and wonderful people, who I definitely would never have met in person, in real life, in the same way.  Common interests, mutual recognition of other colleagues in the same field as me, and also just generally people who I work with are all visible and present on the Social Web.  The difference is, that on the social web, what I say can be picked up, and can be left unnoticed.  There isn’t any necessity for everyone in all of my communities online to read every word that I post, blog, tweet, email, or communicate online.

There is however, something in having people’s attention online.  That I give mine, and in exchange receive other people’s attention in return is already starting to bring up questions of quality over quantity.  Given that the number of hours in a day are finite, that there’s only so many people I can reply to, and that there’s only so much I can do, until my primary motivations of income, survival, and relaxation/chilling kick in.  So far, I’ve been “playing” on this merry-go-round of Social Media, joining upto new services, and new sites, that are popping up, a dime a dozen.  But now, I’m starting to get “saturated”.  Saturated with noise, with media, with messages, with adverts, and with stuff that I don’t want to have to deal with.  I have to manually filter through all of this noise, before I get to the stuff that matters to me.

This has a cost associated with it.  It’s my time, it’s my energy, it’s my effort.  I don’t want to sound harsh, uncaring, or ungiving, but I only have so much time and attention to give. The same is true for everyone else.  Sooner or later, when you hit rock bottom on that bank account, you feel depleted, and drained, and you step back from it all.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about just yet.  You could still be in the “oohh, shiny new toy” phase when it comes to Social Media.  Which is great! Enjoy it while you can.  It’s just sooner or later, it get’s old.  Sooner or later, you hit a low, or a bottom, or your account runs out.  This account, this balance, is the Social Currency I’m talking about.  It’s what happens when you give, give give, and get nothing back in return.

It’s a part of learning and growing… You stretch beyond your limits, you go as far as you can, you look everywhere with an enthusiastic, zestful gaze.  And then, one day, it hits you.  Or slowly, it starts to dawn on you, that as much fun as it is to just give, give give, and as much as you enjoy just “hanging out” online, with all these thousands or hundreds of cool friends, you actually have a life to live.  You actually have “real work” that you want to get done.  You have dreams, you have aspirations.  Things you actually want to accomplish.  And when that moment comes, suddenly you start questioning the real value of Social Media.  What have you been building up? What have you been putting all this time, and energy into?

Is it really all just a popularity contest where it only matters how many people are following you on twitter? Is it all about just blogging, and getting hundreds of comments?  Or is it really about regular people just talking with regular people?

Sooner or later, once the realisation kicks in, that relationships as great as they are, don’t put food on the table, keep a roof over your head, or keep you warm, and clothed, you may start to look at it all very differently.  I could be wrong.  It could be that Social Media is a great way to escape the world that provides you with your sustenance, and lets you look onto the world that you would love to work in, if you had the means to support yourself, or a job taht paid enough.  But for me, that’s not the case.

Looking at “social media”, and making sense of what it really is, and what it really means to me, has really been put into perspective recently.  I’ve realised that I’ve actually put a lot of time energy, and attention into my online social network.  I’ve built up my social capital.  I’ve earnt currency and favour with many people on line.  Some I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with in person too.  Not everyone is necessarily the type of person I would want as my best friend.  But then that never was or is the point.  I’ve built up this pool, this reservoir of a network or community, and occasionally, I can tap that with some of the social capital that I’ve built up in that community.  For those times when I feel a bit low, or just need some moral support, I can find friends to confide in, or peers, to encourage me on.  It’s a tight knit community, in my mind, in that I feel tight with many of them, and hope they feel the same with me.

Now, that social capital that’s been built up is a bit of a nebulous, unclear currency.  Something that doesn’t have a clear boundary, or delimitation at present.  Typically, you can tell your generating value, and contributing more into your online community when you start to draw more attention, and people into the conversation.  Likewise, the reverse is true too.  When people start dropping away, or stop following, or unfriend you, more often, than not, then you are clearly milking your Social Capital more than you’re contributing into that pool.

It seems I’m actually a bit slow with my thinking and ideas, since there’s already people out there who had understood this social capital as something of value, before I had gotten to it.  Eiso Kant (@eisokant), and Mac Taylor (@macwind) had already figured this out, and put into motion the beginnings of a tool or mechanism to help capture, and measure this inherent social capital that exists in our communities.  Their project Twollars, is a “gratitude currency”, that helps to start capturing some of the gratitude and thanks that people feel towards someone in their community.  At present the system works only on Twitter, and all you do is send out a tweet, using certain words, in a certain order, and the Twollars platform picks up your message, and adjusts the balances of your and your recipients twitter account accordingly.  Try it out say “Give x twollars @USERNAME [give reason]” where X is the number of twollars you want to give, and USERNAME is the twitter ID of the person you want to give twollars to.  By default, everyone starts out with a balance of 50 Twollars, and there’s no need to register to start using the service, since it is listening to the twittersphere stream of conversation all the time.

The idea behind twollars is that when someone is grateful, or want to show their appreciation to someone else, they can show that appreciation by giving twollars.  Then, companies can sponsor a charity, who can then receive twollars as donations, from people, and the sponsoring company would then buy the twollars, and give the charity $1 for each twollar they buy from them.  The idea being that then companies can gain some kudos in the community by making a positive contribution to the charity, and gain access to some of the social capital within the online sphere.

Of course how those companies then use twollars, and give them out to people will affect any real success they have with their social media campaigns.

It’s interesting, given that this week is the Charity SmackDown, where celebrities are competing to get as much money raised using social media tools as possible.  It’ll be interesting to see the fallout, and where the social capital that these celebs have built up, will land.  I’m gonna hazard a guess, and say that most of these celebs have all established such a strong bank account of social capital and goodwill with their communities, that they’ll have no trouble getting people to fork out, and participate, and contribute in the causes.  If anything, their requests, and appeals to their communities will build an even stronger bond, and make them even more liked, and loved by the people already following them.   It’s times like these that everyone’s social capital becomes a positive asset in it’s own right.  Of course, if someone with hardly any community were trying to accomplish something as simliar, it’s still entirely possible.  Look at Amanda Rose (@amanda), organiser of the Twestival fundraising event that happened globally.  Whilst her personal following isn’t more than a few thousand followers, her social capital and the social capital that was built up around Twestival made a readily available pool to tap into, and build upon.  This pool of social capital allowed the Twestival team to generate a tremendous amount of potential social good, with all the money that was raised (at least $250k) from just a single night of events, happening around the globe, on the same day..

I think Twollars is an excellent way of starting to calibrate some of the social capital that we take for granted, and never really appreciate, and will help us, in days to come help put some baby training wheels on brands and big business, as they start to tip toe their way through the minefield of social media faux pas, and start using their own money to buy some social capital to start building some of that trust for themselves.

Obviously translating this social capital into a currency, like Twollars, isn’t going to remove the need to learn the basics of Social Media etiquette, and it certainly isn’t going to be a substitute for real relationships.  But now that there’s a way to measure and give away Social Capital on Twitter, perhaps now people will start accounting for their time in terms of real value that gets generated for them, or that they contribute back, rather than engaging in mind numbing conversations, just for the sake of talking.  Only time will tell, I guess.

Disclaimer: I am currently being paid by Twollars to help them raise awareness around the Twollars concept, and whilst these ideas, and thoughts are my own, I do want to declare that I am being paid to write this content.  That being said, I do firmly believe in what I’ve written, and were the Twollars guys just good friends, I would probably still write something very similar to what’s been written here.  The thoughts insights, and ideas, shared here are all my own, with the exception of the concept and implementation of Twollars, which remains the product of Eiso Kant, and Mac Taylor, the founders of Twollars.  I have also drawn upon my experiences of my Twitter community online, without which these insights and thoughts through reflection would not have been possible.

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4 Responses to “Social Media as Social Currency”

  1. Do you remember Beenz?

  2. Social media is not only a great way to share useful information and meet like minded people but is a great way to market yourself to others.

  3. Interview Request:

    Hello Dear and Respected,
    I hope you are fine and carrying on the great work you have been doing for the Pakistani side of Internet. I am Ghazala Khan from The Pakistani Spectator (TPS), We at TPS throw a candid look on everything happening in and for Pakistan. We are trying to contribute our humble share in the blogistan.

    We at TPS are carrying out a new series of interviews with the notable Pakistani bloggers, writers and web masters. In that regard, We would like to interview you, if you please take some time out of your busy schedule. Please send me your approval for your interview at ghazala.khi at gmail.com, so that I could send you the questions. We would be extremely grateful. We have done many interviews with many bloggers from Pakistan like Dr. Awab, Kashif Aziz, Fahd Mirza, Unaiza Nasim, Omer Alvi and host of others. We have also interviewed prominent figures like renowned writer Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, Dawn Columnist Urdsher Cowasjee and plethora of others.

    regards.

    Ghazala Khan
    The Pakistani Spectator
    http://www.pakspectator.com

  4. Farhan RehmanNo Gravatar on April 22nd, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    @riaz – no, I don’t what was it?

    @jenny – indeed, that’s an element of it, but more importantly, it helps you selectively form your community around you, and then stay in touch with it ;)

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