How Understanding Social Capital Will Boost Your Social Media Efforts
Editor's Note: This post was originally created by Spredfast before Spredfast and Lithium merged and became Khoros.
The dictionary's definition of social capital is "the interpersonal relationships, institutions, and other social assets of a society or group that can be used to gain advantage." It's a commonly used term in politics, sociology and economics, but also one that can easily be applied to social media and marketing. Digital social capital, then, is a way for a brand to understand the value of its online social networks. Social capital can also help brands frame how they maintain, develop, and expand their social media programs.
Just as greater amounts of economic capital can lead to more opportunities, greater amounts of social capital can lead to more opportunities as well, specifically when it comes to a brand’s impact on their audience. When a brand has more social capital, its community members are more likely to act on the brand’s behalf—think expressions of brand loyalty and communications that promote brand awareness. Having community members who are willing to speak out on your brand’s behalf is especially important in times of crisis, as we saw with Royal Carribean. The four main tenets of social capital are as follows:
Digital social capital is a way for a brand to understand the value of its online social networks.
1. Utility Through Accumulation
Social capital is similar to economic capital in the sense that the more you accumulate, the more easily you can affect your environment. In the context of social media, the more followers, comments, and interactions a brand receives on their posts, the more weight and influence their online presence holds. In many cases, engagement with your brand will go unnoticed. Luckily, keeping a close eye on your brand's social capital is an easy way to combat this common issue.
2. Inequality of Distribution
As with economic capital, social capital is often scattered—some brands have more, some have less. How much social capital a brand has is typically dependent on how a brand engages with key audiences. The amount of social capital a brand has can also indicate how well they know the social platforms they’re using. A great example of social capital put to good use is Wendy’s, who embodies the spirit of Twitter by being playful, engaging, and by even occasionally roasting their followers. Wendy’s social capital on Twitter is embodied in their nearly three million followers and in the high number of comments, likes, and retweets their posts usually earn.
The more follows, comments, and interactions a brand receives on their posts, the more weight and influence their online presence holds
3. Expiration Through Under-Use
Social capital can also expire through under-use (saving for a rainy day doesn’t work here—it’s use it or lose it). Social media users are constantly on the search for the next new and exciting thing, and they are bombarded with branded messages every time they log on to social media. It’s more difficult for your brand’s voice to stand out if your presence on social media is inconsistent. To avoid losing social capital, make sure your brand’s messaging is clear, consistent and honest.
4. Based Upon Trust
Social media marketing is all about developing trust and social capital is essentially a stockpile of audience trust in a brand. Brands can build audience trust by being authentic and open about their values and motivations, and by providing consistent quality with their services and products. When disappointments occur, brands can maintain audience trust by again being open about mistakes and setting things right as best they can.
These four main principles set the foundation for how social capital functions in successful social media activities. Social capital can fuel online conversations, maintain audience engagement, and extend a brand’s utility beyond their products and services.
It’s important to understand how brands can both have social capital and share social capital. Having social capital means a brand can employ its online social connections to create a positive experience for their followers. By sharing their social capital a brand can increase the social capital of their audience, other partner brands, and influencers who will in turn, hopefully, increase the brand’s social capital, too. Once a brand has shared its social capital with customers, it is crucial for the success of the activity that the customers can and will pass it on.
Measuring Social Capital
You can easily measure your brand’s social capital and doing so can give you unique insights into buyer personas, behaviors and buyer KPI’s. You can measure social capital by analyzing your brand’s online sentiment and influence. Thanks to new technology, it’s now easier to do it than ever before. Measuring sentiment and influence is, in effect, measuring the “tone of voice” that your brand’s online conversations have. This analysis can be conducted by using sentiment metrics which quantify the stockpile of trust that constitutes your brand’s social capital. Moreover, these metrics will help determine how trustworthy your brand truly is. Analysis can also be conducted using influence metrics. These metrics describe the efficacy with which a brand is able to make use of that trust in order to have a positive impact. Ultimately, metrics like these will show you how easily your brand is able to share knowledge on social.
The goal with all social media activity should be to accumulate more social capital. Brands can accumulate social capital by growing connections with and endorsements from community members who themselves have a high amount of social capital—like partner brands, celebrities, experts, and other social media influencers. However, it’s important to ensure that the social media connections your brand invests in are profitable for both parties by sharing social capital. If you don’t make sure benefits work in both directions, your connections are less likely to invest themselves much in your brand’s interests and your brand’s social capital is more likely deplete due to under use.
The goal with all social media activity should be to accumulate more social capital.
The accumulation and spreading of social capital is what makes social media such an intriguing and profitable platform for brands. The constant ebb and flow of social capital transactions makes social self-sustaining and it makes social one of the most reliable places to solidify your brand voice. Understanding the advantages of using social capital is vital in maintaining a positive, profitable and strong online presence.