Social Currency for Brands: Where to Start

Social currency is how we enable consumers to interact with a brand in ways that are most natural and everyday for them. It means that we’re meeting consumers in their day-to-day life and providing utility from the brand without interrupting their flow. For example, we’re not asking them to visit a brand page to (go out of their way to) seek out our material. Instead, we’d identify their natural social behavior and give them an enhanced, more streamlined way to execute that action.

An example of a natural activity that could be converted to allow for social currency in a sample digital loyalty rewards program is for photo sharing. For example, fans sometimes share pictures of the reward they won on the brand page, and it would be optimal to enable a cohesive experience to upload and view reward pictures. Interject that action and allow them to take a picture of their reward and text the photo to a central area where photos of rewards from fans are all housed. Include the text code within the package that shipped the reward.

Another idea is that fans have a desire to trade or barter value instead of making purchases. This month’s hot trend from TrendWatching.com is recommerce: why for smart consumers, ‘trading in’ is the new buying. This may refer, for example, to a retail store that offers a discount on a new purchase if the participant trades in their older model or version. Another application is to imagine how to facilitate an open trading environment within the website. Allow fans to switch points or other currency exchanges (e.g. an old recycled bike) for Facebook credits or other currency (e.g. gift cards) to enhance the “bartering” experience.  For cash-strapped consumers looking for creative solutions, they coin the term “Exconsumption,” which is an extension of this concept. Brands can also make recommendations for content and exclusivity to best capture this trend.

From an industry standpoint on social currency, there’s a comprehensive study from Vivaldi Partners that’s a good starting point. Even better, though, are the are highlights from a concise piece on the Starbucks card and its impact on changing not only loyalty programs but commerce in general. Excerpts below.

“What the Starbucks Card Teaches Us About the Future of Transactions”

Social currency is the connectedness between customers as much as with a business. It’s about thecommunity being created as much as the transactions.

Which is why the Starbucks Card shines. The card is facilitating and enhancing existing social interactions, rather than forcing the customer into some preconceived mold. It turns the card into a means of buying a friend a cup of coffee or being known by the employees of their favorite store. It creates connections, not just transactions.

And out of this community naturally springs an adherence to this alternative currency it represents. These cards are not just being charged with “credit.” The money being used to fund these cards is literally being “converted”—as surely as you convert dollars to euros when you travel—into a currency that creates a better value exchange for the customer. This “Starbuck” represents not just a purchase, but trust in a monetary system that more closely aligns with the customer’s point of view and desires.

Questions I still have: What are other applications of social currency? How is social currency an indicator of the evolution of the interaction model with participants altogether? 

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