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 Its not BitCoin. What is social currency and how can your advertising dollars be spent more effectively with it in mind?

Social Currency

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Entertainment and information have always been and forever will be, the currency of the web. The term “Social Currency” addresses the digital exchange of entertainment and information as an incentive to attract users, guide their behaviors online, and ultimately boost engagement for the publisher. As advertising changes shape for the digital realm, influenced more and more by social media, marketers are beginning to better understand this idea of Social Currency. Businesses that grasp the concept are able to host digital advertising campaigns that are significantly more effective than ever before. These same companies maintain active and engaged networks of followers both on the web and in the real world, and ultimately accomplish their advertising goals.

If you’ve spent anytime online in the last year, you’ve probably heard the term “Content Marketing”. The term itself is very on trend right now and even those in fields on the fringe of advertising are talking about it. Its popularity, at the moment, is well founded in a few concepts which have been enormously successful in recent years. Content Marketing is the tool organisations use to embrace the idea of Social Currency, and participate in that valuable exchange of entertainment and information. This article is not about Content Marketing, however. A quick search will return a thousand interesting and credible sources discussing what Content Marketing is, why you should adopt it, and strategies for implementing it in your business. What many of these articles will not explain, is how to think about your audience to decide what type of content to produce. I want to discuss the theory behind Social Currency, and give you the tools to break away from the list of “Top 10 Ideas for Great Content Marketing”. Once you as a business owner, advertiser, fundraiser, or even student of marketing, master the forces that drive engagement online, it is possible to build content and campaigns that successfully drive conversions (whatever your conversions may be).

The principles of Social Currency apply to more than just social media. When creating a website, writing a book, even throwing a backyard summer barbeque, thinking about your users and how you can be more valuable to them will serve you well. Users of social media specifically, demand the content they interact with on their favorite networks, create value for them, in some way. Effective social marketing pays the consumer with informational, creative, interactive, or entertaining content long before that user ever even considers making a purchase. If articles are boring, users won’t read them. If photos are bad, users won’t look at them, if videos are too long, or apps not useful, or ads too salesy your users won’t ever take the first step towards interaction. If you cannot provide clear value to your users immediately with the work you publish, your advertising dollars will wither at the bottom of newsfeeds in the place all things people don’t have time for go to die.

So how does it work? How can you attune your senses to the concept of Social Currency and make your advertising dreams come true?


1. Define Your Goals:

What are you trying to accomplish with advertising? If you say “SALES!”, Ill give you a hint. You’re wrong. “Sales” is a byproduct of some other conversion. We know its the part you care about, but if you forget about what your customers care about those sales will never come. Think through the process logically. If you have an app that you’re marketing you want to get that app into the hands of consumers.

Lets use an example of a weight loss app which costs $2.00 to download. From your perspective, as a business, you want people to download the app to get their $2.00 so that you can go buy a jet ski. From the consumer’s perspective, however, the reason they are downloading the app and paying you for it is because they believe this app will improve their lives, increase their self esteem, make them healthier, happier, more attractive, etc. On the next level, if the app not only makes them believe those things, but actually improves their lives, your customers will share the app with their friends and family and suddenly that $2.00 becomes $200.00. If you read that closely, you saw that the point I’m trying to make is that “sales” or “downloads” or even “exposure” wasn’t the force driving income here. It was the belief of consumers that this app will make their lives better. This should be where your goals start.  A good example of a goal for the weight loss app described above would be…

“To communicate to consumers that our app will increase their self esteem”

This kind of goal is an excellent place to start. It automatically sets your subsequent advertising campaign on a path that is oriented towards the consumer, providing good information, and focusing on the most valuable aspects of the product. Goals should be SMART (a caveat that my inner marketing textbook demands I add here). Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed. So an even better iteration of this goal would be one that holds you accountable.

“To communicate to 100 consumers that our app will increase their self esteem, through advertising efforts hosted on Facebook, in 30 days.”

Any good sales seminar will tell you that you need to create value for your customer. Don’t try to sell them the product, make them need what the product does. (Think about how Leonardo DiCaprio sold the pen in The Wolf of Wall Street…you know, minus the hookers). Approach it from the consumers perspective.

2.  Know Your Audience

Consider the people you want to sell this app too (or any product). Who are they? What about their life makes them a candidate for your product? If your goal is to let people know that this app will improve their self esteem, what kind of people want higher self esteem? Maybe its not just people struggling with their weight, but you may also want to include people that are on the cusp of a life change. People starting something new who may need a little extra encouragement. People that need to feel more productive, in control, or accomplished. Once you know who you’re marketing to, figure out what they want. What interests them? What questions do they have? Where do they spend their time online? What other brands do they relate to? Etc.

3. Paying with Information

This is the most abstract, yet most pertinent piece of the the Social Currency puzzle. Once you have an intimate understanding of your goals and target market, you need to decide what type of information to put in front of them. This information needs to serve the needs and interests of your audience in such a way that find each published piece vital to accomplishing their own personal goals. As a company or brand, you are effectively paying your consumers to give your product or service a try. You’re paying them, not in cash, but in enrichment. Giving them something they need to make their lives better even BEFORE they pay for your product.

Using the example, again, of our weight loss app, we need to come up with content that will bring users a step towards their own goals of having higher self esteem, without purchasing the app at all. We could give them free recipes,  downloadable meal plans, streamable workouts, discounts or coupons on exercise apparel, an opportunity to discuss their fitness goals with a live wellness coach, a printable food log, advice on working out with children around, etc. The best content for social currency answers the question “What does my target market need?”. And the answer to that question depends of your unique situation. What can you offer? Who are your customers? What questions do your customers have about you, your industry, complimentary industries, related problems or difficulties?

What your clients DON’T need, is ads. They don’t need to hear how great you are. They don’t need to hear about all your special features. They don’t need to hear about how terrible your competitors are, and they don’t need you to tell them to “CALL US TODAY!”. Instead of berating your customers with loud instructions to call or click and order right now, entice them with the opportunity to use your product without committing, demonstrate to them you are an expert on your topic, and offer them tools to get started on the path to meeting their needs.

Once you’ve mastered the art of “paying with information and entertainment” (Social Currency), you can begin structuring your campaigns to create more of an economic exchange with your currency. Demonstrate to your followers that you are willing to give them tools and data they need, and your followers will be willing to give you something in return, of an equal value. You suddenly have the ability to encourage desired behaviors by offering higher value content (content which your audience needs more immediately, or fulfills a greater need), for actions of the consumer that have a higher value to your organisation. The table below demonstrates an example of the social currency at work for different levels of value.

Social Currency Values
How are you embracing social currency and giving your potential customers an incentive to interact with your brand on the web? Tell us in the comments.


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