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Building Social Currency: 3 Things You Need to Know

  |  May 9, 2011   |  Comments   |  

To create a campaign that will go viral, you'll need social currency – consider this framework.

Many agency folks would be familiar with this scenario – getting client briefs with campaign objectives to create something that will go viral or generate "buzz". Perhaps this may have risen from the success of campaigns like the Old Spice Guy that now has every marketer pandering to leverage on earned media to help amplify marketing efforts in light of reduced budgets.

Achieving buzz and getting something to go viral is an outcome of a well-developed and -executed campaign and not the objective. Creating content that ignites conversations is the objective. Content is what starts conversations and the content must have social currency in order for people to want to share it as part of their everyday social lives.

Social currency is what helps businesses create unique brand identities and provides the accessibility and permission to continually interact with consumers and customers.

Social currency involves creating a sense of community and strong affiliation between consumers and users of a brand. It usually involves getting these participants to co-create content and is communicated by the brand through pervasive storytelling that delivers a unique point of view.

Here are three key pillars for developing social currency:

1. Value

In order for brands to achieve engagement with its audience, it needs to consider the value that the content will deliver. Looking at it from the user's perspective – what's in it for them to participate and be engaged?

If the content has high value, then not only will the recipients be more likely to engage with it, but they will also be more likely to engage in conversations with the brand, compelling them to pass along the content to their friends because it has social currency.

Value can come in the form of entertainment, information, or utility.

Entertainment includes things that bring users pure delight and can come in the form of music, videos, humour, and games. Most Internet memes stem from frivolous content that provides humour, silly and frivolous entertainment that users can associate and appreciate. Value could also come in the form of content that employs gaming mechanics (an actual game or game-based interactions) that requires active participation and engagement, resulting in fun and competitive entertainment. An example of this is with men vs. women in the Trivial Pursuit experiment.

Information contains things that are emotionally useful to users such as knowledge, gossip, fame, or exclusivity. An example of knowledge as valuable content is information that is developed or curated and provides thought leadership. These are usually produced in various formats such as videos, slideshare presentations, and blog posts. Opportunities to gain fame or exclusivity are also extremely compelling value-drivers if you look at the popularity of reality shows around the world.

Utility covers value that is functionally useful and includes monetary rewards such as prizes, vouchers, and free trials as well as utilitarian applications that can make life easier, help users save time, or enable them to perform certain valuable tasks. Value is also provided by connecting participants as members of a shared community in mutually beneficial ways. One great example of this is Nike +.

2. Story-ability

Ever since the dawn of time, storytelling has been one of the primary ways humans have communicated. Humans crave stories and technology constantly advances the art of story telling that helps marketers connect. Value is created through ongoing narratives that educates, inspires, informs, and connects consumers, participants, and members of the brand community.

In order to tell a compelling story, brands must have and provide a unique point of view that users can draw an affiliation with. The point of view is formed from the brand's unique purpose within the digital landscape and how that point of view comes together to provide value and association with what consumers need and crave for.

Puma created that connection with "after hours" athletes by paying homage to the champions of late night games from foosball to beer pong, night golf, and even the highest number of karaoke hits one can belt out within an hour via its branded community Puma Social. If 5 a.m. cab rides are more your style than 5 a.m. runs, then this platform for fans of old school diversions to come together and share in social exchange and friendly competition was tailor-made for you.

Sometimes, stories can be used to build digital movements where brands come together with consumers to rally behind a cause that is fuelled and amplified by the use of technology and social media. Pepsi Refresh is one such movement where a brand and its consumers band together to try to make the world a better place.

3. Co-creation

Not all content that comes from the brand needs to be created from within the organisation. Brands need to involve consumers in the act of creating content and conversations. Value is established through the collaborative efforts of participants who share, curate, and edit each other's (and sometimes the brand's) efforts. Good examples are Burberry's Art of the Trench and Vitamin Water's Flavor Creator.

The ultimate proof of social currency is when your content is remixed and or parodied as it happened with Cadbury's Gorilla and Old Spice Guy.

Maybe the secrets to creating something that will go viral lies in Jennifer Aniston's viral video for Smartwater that parodies a bunch of Internet memes including dancing babies, kicking a random guy in the groin, and being aptly named the "Jen Aniston sex tape".

For marketers who need a viral cookbook, the above three key ingredients will provide a good framework to help you create more buzz than an entire swarm of bees put together for the next campaign and beyond.

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Vincent Teo

Vincent is the co-founder and partner at C//IQUE, a product development studio and incubator that focuses on developing digital products and services that disrupt traditional business models and empower consumers. He has over a decade of experience both on the client and agency side, most recently as a digital planning director at BBDO/Proximity and lead digital strategist at Publicis. Prior to that, he started-up and managed the Hong Kong office of Splash Interactive Group and built the online business at Citibank and HSBC. Connect with him on Twitter @intersphere.

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