The Value of Social Currency in Social Networks

One thought I was having recently has been about the value of social currency within social networks. You’re social currency is the information you share. And like currency it has a value. If the information is of high value, meaning it’s engaging and relevant; it gets consumed. If the information is of the highest value, it gets passed along. So you can define the value of social currency as the frequency in which someone will respond to you and the number of people they will pass on your message.

Value of social currency = (frequency of response) x (number of people shared with)

That maybe a little pointless in and of itself, but as we consider that social content is openly shared with no immediate monetary gain, I think there should be a deep interest in what does motivate someone to take the time to either create a blog or pass something along.

When I post to my blog and it gets a lot of hits, I am excited. No one is paying me anything to do this. But, increasing the value of my social currency is what I am interested in. When someone posts to Facebook they anticipate a response. They look for validation, just like in the physical world. Even the most introverted people want that acceptance.

Reputation scores are how the blogging aggregator site Technorati works. The more people who link to your blog (along with some other things), the higher the rating you get. Reddit.com and other social bookmarking sites and even Google work on this principle. What we are not seeing on sites like Facebook and Twitter are these ways to judge the value of social currency even if it is somewhat implicit. The mayor feature of Foursquare is an excellent example of new ways to handle this.

Socially, we judge quality all the time. We look at how a person is groomed, what clothe they wear, and the car they drive. Aside from your mother telling you not to judge a book by its cover, evaluating other people is ingrained to our very existence. Who should I listen to? Who is my friend? Does this person know what they are talking about? It would be interesting to see more social media account for this.

Lately researchers have pointed out that social media in essence is simply the digital version of our physical relationships. We have strong, weak and temporary ties: http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/designing-for-social. We essentially communicate with a very small group of people on a regular basis. And with this high level of frequency comes a high level of trust. The value of social currency is tied to frequency of conversations.

As the social Web grows in sophistication we will really see this take on greater meaning. Designers will find more and better ways to display it, users will more easily find relevant content, and marketers will have new ways to target and proposition their sales based on it.

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