Have you ever wondered what makes stuff on the Internet go viral! What is it that drives netizens berserk making them crazy about a video, picture or a piece of animated content. That’s all about Social Currency. In an age where meticulous planning and carefully crafted boardroom strategies go in creating a marketing niche, what made Priya Prakash hog the limelight and turned her an overnight celebrity with just the wink of an eye or a song like Gangnam style spread like wild fire making it the most viewed sensation in YouTube by late 2013 thus amassing more than 1.8 billion views. What explains such hysterical sensation storming the digital space!
In an age where technology emerges as a saviour in narrowing the opportunity gap and apps such as Tik Tok becoming a household name, every budding and bourgeois artist has been blessed with a platform to rise to digital stardom.Something that is evident is that class privilege can no longer be a merit in rising to digital stardom..With low or almost negligible entry barriers, every individual today has found their creative space in the social media.
How do individuals and organisations shape their message with a compelling narrative and strike the right chord among the community of social media users.
What does it take to sell your brand to the audience.
This is where Social currency does the magic.
So, what is Social Currency?
Social Currency finds it’s roots from the Social Capital Theory – a nuanced idea which advocates in deriving value from social participation. It is the ability to make people talk about your product by generating buzz and spread the word among their closed circles.
In other words, it means the sentiment it instills or the feeling it gives when people talk about you or your product.
When you are able to get people talk about your products and spread the word and thus be the the talk of the town, the value of your social currency increases. It is termed so because you build your narrative and gain foothold in the social space by giving this currency. This is what made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister in 2014 – the ability to spread his word, the ability to make his foot soldiers the poster boy of his election campaign rather than he personally indulging in self endorsements and spending recklessly on advertisements.
Because, advertising brings in customers but Word of mouth brings in the best Customers.
So, how do you earn it?
Jonah Berger in his book Contagious – outlines and deconstructs six different factors that make ideas go viral.
The first on the list being Social Currency. He dismantles the concept of social currency and helps us decipher its conception.
1. Finding the Inner Remarkability
Remarkability works beautifully in shattering stereotypes. Because knowing anything remarkable always nurses an inner urge to share and discuss in desire of appreciation. This increases our Social Currency. When you tell your peer groups that you are going to tell them something interesting , you tend to do it because it makes you appear more appealing. When you hear jokes elsewhere, you crack it among your peers because you feel an inner sense of appreciation from the sense of recognition it generates. We share more of such jokes because it makes us appear as someone with a strong sense of humour. We discuss ideas and opinions because it instills within us a sense of intellectual fulfillment. This is known as Social Currency. People share things because they feel it’s cool to know facts and information thus keeping others anchored to them. The inherent desire to boost our value and appear compelling in the eyes of one’s associates motivates people to share,discuss and spread word of mouth about the latest gossips.
As Jonas Berger puts it, one way to achieve remarkability is
“breaking a pattern people have to come to expect” (42) or just focus on what about your product makes it stand out from all the rest – Identify your Unique Selling point.
Having a distinct USP always gives us a solid launchpad to propel our business model to prominence. USPs are inimitable and are exclusive to brands and enterprises.
Blendtec, the blender company, started a series of commercials titled “Will it blend” to advertise the superior capability of its blenders. The ad commercial featured the CEO Tom Dickson in the video to promote his remarkable blender that could blend about anything. Renowned as one of the most successful online marketing campaigns in history and costing only around $50 ,it garnered six million views in the first six days. Dickson has since uploaded over 150 videos blending marbles, Apple products, glow sticks, neodymium magnets, Bic lighters and many more.
The idea was conveyed in a simple backdrop – Bring anything and the blender does the magic!
So, a story that with very humble beginnings went on to become a household name in the US.
Thus,the key to find the inner remarkability is to think something different and innovative, that resonates perfectly well with the crowd.
2. Leveraging game mechanics
Game mechanics are simply the elements of a game such as scoreboards and feedback loops where it stimulates users to use your products more and more…One of them is presenting scoreboard at different levels of the game that keeps them motivated to move up the ladder.
Creating captivating game mechanics with a compelling story really helps customers to clutch on to the brand.
The feedback loops incorporated help users to gain tangible information thus making them perform another action seeking further pleasure.
One of the first organizations to have successfully employed this technique was the American Airlines. The airlines came up with the idea of loyalty score, which was a way of quantifying air travel.
With customers reaching the desired number of miles travelled, they were given advantages which included a VIP lounge and priority boarding. This tends to give travellers a sense of elitism – something to brag about in their social circles, an indicator of social comparison. In 2009, the British fashion brand Brueberry capitalised on the social media revolution by creating a website with photos of people in Brueberry trench coats thus generating massive buzz for the iconic fashion house. In addition to photos of photographers,even amateurs were allowed to submit pictures of theirs in trench coats. A few of them, with fashion styles from across the world found their place on the website of the high end fashion brand.
What if one of our photos made it to the photo gallery! We would probably dial up everyone and let them know because it gives people a sense of achievement and people love to show off their achievements. People were compelled to name the brand which rewarded them. As a result, the brand witnessed a 50 p.c. upsurge in sales.
So, from the Brueberry success story, it’s clear that game mechanics need not be necessarily infused into products or services but promotion by organizing games and contests also act as an image booster for brands and organizations willing to engage in word of mouth promotion.
3. Making people feel like insiders
Human beings always love to be in groups – To be a part of the flock. Being associated with a group gives them a sense of identity.People identify themselves with groups because it gives them a feeling of being a part of something greater. For example, if you are a hard core supporter of a foodball club, you try to be a part of its legacy and its success story. Thus, being a part of the success story and sharing the values tends to stimulate emotional instincts.
One of the key mileage in being part of a group is access to insider information. Having access to insider information ignites a sense of prestige. This privilege is what marketing professionals term as the ‘Feeling of an insider’.
It is known to have two components – Scarcity and exclusivity. Scarcity is creating limitation and exclusivity means restriction to a particular group or tribe.
People believe that limited goods are more desirable and are attributed more value because of their scarcity of availability. It’s a myth that efforts invested to cling on to them is really worth because of the difficulty to obtain.
The American Fast food chain MacDonald incorporated the same when they witnessed a sudden drop in the demand for Mac Rib – a barbecue flavoured pork sandwich.
Rather than resorting to conventional measures of cost cutting or spending heavily on ads and promotions, the brand adopted the principle of scarcity by making it available only on specific seasons and the idea of exclusivity by making it available only to chosen locations. People started exploiting their social currencies and started spreading the information about the next probable destination and season for their craving to spring out. This strategy worked very beautifully for McRib not only by boosting demand but also making it a street craving by opening it up in every local franchise food outlet.
People were given a waiting token to get this item on their plate. So in this way the brand was also able to flourish without losing existing customers. So, the crux here is. Make customer yearn for your product without by making it difficult to access, not impossible to get.
One should note that marketing is not science where static forces play around. It is rather dynamic and taken over by volatile intricacies. Remember that the final product or service is the ultimate manifestation of our thoughts and ideas..Ideas are volatile and so is the sustainability of strategies woven around the noteworthiness of the product . But the perfect combo of finding the inner remarkability , using game mechanics and making consumers feel a part of a tribe are the driving forces for the contagiousness of a Brand or marketing content. The right mix of these ‘sutras’ along with a little personalization can build brands and create a thriving market.
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