Spread Your Social Capital

by William Reichard on October 6, 2010

Share the social media wealth.

What are you holding onto?

We’re stuck in a scarcity mentality. It’s one more way that our old-school worldviews keep biting at our heels as we race ahead into the new world.

We think connections are a finite resource and that every connection someone else makes means fewer for another person. Networks don’t work that way, though–every new node makes the network richer.

One of the lessons of the The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid is that capitalism isn’t fluid enough. People in certain areas can’t get even the small amounts of capital they need to jumpstart their own entrepreneurial economies because the capital is being held. Frozen. Worthless. For capital to grow, it must be kept in motion. Money does talk, or at least it needs to.

In fact, one of the lessons of depression economics is that when money (which of course is only a stand-in for value in general) stops moving, trouble ensues, and I’m proposing today that much the same is happening in social networks. We see numerous studies showing that a small percentage of people create most of the content and that sites like Google and Facebook are dominating traffic. Meanwhile, we continue to measure success primarily by volume–how many, how much.

Cooperation gain doesn’t come naturally when competition is so highly valued. And yet, when one of us wins, we’re all a little richer. If you make more money, you have more to buy from me. If you’re healthy, you can spend money (or time or attention) on other things. This is among the points of the great new book The Mesh — that, counterintuitively, sharing can make us wealthier. Capital shared intelligently can be more effective than leaving capital idle.

Note that you have to have some capital to spread–so by all means, go out and earn it. Make as much as you can–do well. Make lots of connections. Make quality connections. The only point of this post is that you have to keep sharing it for it to grow and return value to you.

What does this mean in practice? A few simple things come to mind:

  • Produce. What you make is yours. That’s the entrepreneurial way–it’s what the United States was founded on. There’s an online landrush going on (and don’t be fooled…we’re just now in the homesteading phase) and it’s time to get your plot together.
  • Don’t re-create wheels. When you make, make something new. Add value and efficiency to the system by being original. Look for blue oceans to swim in.
  • Share. You have to keep investing in the system. Make connections not only for yourself but for others as well. Tip your hat to others when they do well, tell your friends about useful things that may not necessarily help you today, and look for opportunities to contribute. Recommend someone on LinkedIn. Comment on a blog. Find a new blog to read. You don’t have to…but it makes sense to.

As I’ve written before, if you give away everything you can give away, you will have nothing to fear from competitors, because all that’s left will be yours. That’s what you earn. If you forget the platform, though, you’re essentially eating your own seed corn. So quit hoarding and get out there and spread that social capital.

What do you think? Are we still operating in a natural-resources model that no longer applies? How could we better spread our social capital to help the larger network?

Afterword: Brian Solis has more fully defined the concept of Social Capital.

Will Reichard
Will Reichard has an MBA from the University of Mexico and is CEO of CrossCut Communications, LLC, a full-service marketing and communications company with a digital edge. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor at a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer focused nonprofit fundraising organization, he consistently helps to give voice to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He is also an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization and National Mortgage Professional Magazine.
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  • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

    Awesome work here, Will. I smell a discussion brewing…

    Some questions for you: What types of companies do you think this approach works best for? Which would it not work as well for?

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      Thanks, Mark! Great question. Just about anyone can learn from this, IMO. In the old days, the great capitalists invested in their communities because they knew great businesses could only exist in great communities. That said, they were primarily making tangible products, and they definitely weren’t sharing a lot of their social capital. Social wasn’t the platform at that point. Today, I think we’re going to see a world where very little *isn’t* social in some way. Even car companies now are turning to customers for ideas, involving them in design and marketing processes. Companies realize that recruitment is becoming a “life cycle” project that means engaging not just at the time of hiring, but throughout a person’s life. In many ways, companies are being forced to give up things that once “belonged” to them.

      That said, this concept is probably easier to enact on an individual level than a corporate one and that, really, is the way I’m thinking of it. One of the effects of social media and always-on technology in general is that the entire idea of “organizations” is becoming very porous. Organizations are being revealed as nothing more (or less) than networks of individuals, and their time, enthusiasm and energy are becoming the “capital” that’s hard to earn and hold onto. Some organizations may find this difficult to work with because of strong cultural traditions, and others may lack the internal communications capacity to channel it effectively. Scaling definitely will challenge many organizations.

      I think the combination of these factors favors companies with open-minded cultures, strategic flexibility, and a recognition that any business is a social creation rather than specific industries. Most of all, the idea of social capital favors companies with a deep respect for workers (thinking of people like Max DePree here). Thanks again–definitely made me think further about this!

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      Thanks, Mark! Great question. Just about anyone can learn from this, IMO. In the old days, the great capitalists invested in their communities because they knew great businesses could only exist in great communities. That said, they were primarily making tangible products, and they definitely weren’t sharing a lot of their social capital. Social wasn’t the platform at that point. Today, I think we’re going to see a world where very little *isn’t* social in some way. Even car companies now are turning to customers for ideas, involving them in design and marketing processes. Companies realize that recruitment is becoming a “life cycle” project that means engaging not just at the time of hiring, but throughout a person’s life. In many ways, companies are being forced to give up things that once “belonged” to them.

      That said, this concept is probably easier to enact on an individual level than a corporate one and that, really, is the way I’m thinking of it. One of the effects of social media and always-on technology in general is that the entire idea of “organizations” is becoming very porous. Organizations are being revealed as nothing more (or less) than networks of individuals, and their time, enthusiasm and energy are becoming the “capital” that’s hard to earn and hold onto. Some organizations may find this difficult to work with because of strong cultural traditions, and others may lack the internal communications capacity to channel it effectively. Scaling definitely will challenge many organizations.

      I think the combination of these factors favors companies with open-minded cultures, strategic flexibility, and a recognition that any business is a social creation rather than specific industries. Most of all, the idea of social capital favors companies with a deep respect for workers (thinking of people like Max DePree here). Thanks again–definitely made me think further about this!

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      Thanks, Mark! Great question. Just about anyone can learn from this, IMO. In the old days, the great capitalists invested in their communities because they knew great businesses could only exist in great communities. That said, they were primarily making tangible products, and they definitely weren’t sharing a lot of their social capital. Social wasn’t the platform at that point. Today, I think we’re going to see a world where very little *isn’t* social in some way. Even car companies now are turning to customers for ideas, involving them in design and marketing processes. Companies realize that recruitment is becoming a “life cycle” project that means engaging not just at the time of hiring, but throughout a person’s life. In many ways, companies are being forced to give up things that once “belonged” to them.

      That said, this concept is probably easier to enact on an individual level than a corporate one and that, really, is the way I’m thinking of it. One of the effects of social media and always-on technology in general is that the entire idea of “organizations” is becoming very porous. Organizations are being revealed as nothing more (or less) than networks of individuals, and their time, enthusiasm and energy are becoming the “capital” that’s hard to earn and hold onto. Some organizations may find this difficult to work with because of strong cultural traditions, and others may lack the internal communications capacity to channel it effectively. Scaling definitely will challenge many organizations.

      I think the combination of these factors favors companies with open-minded cultures, strategic flexibility, and a recognition that any business is a social creation rather than specific industries. Most of all, the idea of social capital favors companies with a deep respect for workers (thinking of people like Max DePree here). Thanks again–definitely made me think further about this!

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      And let me turn the question around–what examples come to mind for you?

      • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

        I keep seeing how even the best don’t fully feel the social web, which is not a challenge to any companies, per se, but rather how I naturally see them.

      • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

        Zappos is a great example of a company that’s leveraged Twitter to create a big following and engages the customer in terms of the sales function, but even they don’t fully grab onto the opportunity to socialize their brand as one might expect.

        Because of such examples, I’m unsure about how well any one brand can integrate their grey stuff into the social web the way the social web would seem to invite and support.

        My thinking is that some more noticeable social media consultants do it very well, but few if any companies take full advantage, perhaps for the sake of allocation of resources. Some of my very favorite companies, as a consumer, do not seem to care about what I think about their products and company, and it’s a huge turn-off right at the door of their virtual storefront. For me, Twitter is just as much a part of their virtual storefront as their website is. Ditto for Facebook. These are the two main forums in social media, and yet I don’t see reasons to like my favorite brands as much as I did before they “got social”, so it’s like the floor sales person being rude. When I ponder why the Twitter rep for Teavana doesn’t respond to a big fan like me, I wonder if they’ve got their heads on straight–not just about social media etiquette, but as a company marketing their experience to the public. It’s basically a chance to not just be a brand anymore, but a force in people’s lives, part of who they are, not just their current choice for a commodity.

        • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

          Spot on, Mark. I was thinking about how the Columbia people never found our Twitter conversation about them. Opportunities are being missed! And you’re absolutely right about the storefront…imagine going into a store and finding it empty.

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      And let me turn the question around–what examples come to mind for you?

  • http://twitter.com/dianadriscoll Diana Driscoll

    I hope it’s not too late to jump in here… Thinking about the recession and entrepreneurs, I have certainly seen less of the hoarding of ideas (“I’ll take my marbles and go home”) and instead, have seen more business people reaching out to others for introductions, ideas and information. Businesses that were well-established prior to the recession and have continued to grow despite the economy may not have changed their mind-set, and indeed, perhaps they don’t need to do a 180. An established business may need to be on the periphery of social media, but perhaps not immersed. Do you think that is a death sentence for them, or does that allow them more time to stay laser-focused on their goals? For those of us immersed, I’m a firm believer in giving and sharing as much as possible. It comes back, certainly, but many new business are thriving because of the alliances they’ve created. Thank you for an excellent post!

    • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

      Just to interject before Will gets a chance…I agree that it seems that social media has opened up a doorway for many small outfits who will use it to generate community whereas bigger corps dependent upon the colossal credit bubble (and really, that’s what it was, not a housing bubble alone per se) will not so intuitively flap their arms to swim. I personally think that established bizzes need to be even more immersed in social media for communications, not less. The gap is, in my view, one of a lack of instincts in businesses that ballooned upward on credit and advertising alone. I think those days are long past.

      • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

        Awesome comments! I think you’re both onto something here that I didn’t really think about when I wrote this, and that’s the new _social market_ that’s being born. Mesh talks a lot about how technology enables the sharing of physical assets in ways that never could have happened before, and social media are doing much the same thing in the social world. Thanks to social platforms, we can now say to a market of other social actors, Here’s what we could do together that we couldn’t do alone. Malcom Gladwell may disagree, but I think we’re seeing it every day.

        It definitely raises my hackles a little to think about social life as a transaction. I recall a quote from Kweisi Mfume that always makes me cringe a little: “We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” But I do think it has some truth in it. Mfume points out that social connections always have some practical aspect, whether it’s our proximate connections, the choice of citizenship, the affiliation of one’s hobby, or whatever. We _choose_ an awful lot of our social life based on what it returns to us, whether that’s personal satisfaction or some kind of remuneration.

        And I know that’s going to sound icky to some people…calculating. But no less than the Dalai Lama makes this point…that being deliberately good to others is good for everyone, both materially and spiritually. And I agree…I don’t think they’re exclusive. I think a marketplace can help to make participants more conscious of what they’re investing in.

        Diana, I think it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens in the corporate world as workers are increasingly self-employed. I wonder how organizations will be able to say, “Yes, you’ve amassed these skills and expertise, but you can’t use them in your career.” At some point, no one will be able to replace workers! I personally think that eroding pressure is going to be huge. Organizations are going to have to share in the platform in some sense. It won’t be tomorrow, but the pace does seem to be accelerating.

        Not to be too utopian about it all, but I think we are headed for a reputation economy where we’re paid in Whuffies and Eaves.

        Thanks, both–you’ve definitely given me more to think about here!

  • http://twitter.com/ehanesrn Elizabeth Hanes

    I just now came across this post and discussion, which is fascinating.

    I wanted to chime in on Will’s comment that we’re on the brink of a business world where “very little *isn’t* social in some way.” I’m currently involved in an exciting project to bring social media to a healthcare organization. In the past, doctors didn’t have to advertise, per se — in fact, they were barred for a long time from advertising for ethical reasons. Today, however, as consumers gain more latitude in choosing healthcare providers, medical groups and private practitioners are finding they need to quickly become more savvy about promoting their businesses.

    Social media could prove to be a double-edged sword for healthcare. On the one hand, wouldn’t it be great to discover a practitioner who’s personable and quick to share information and resources — say, via Twitter? On the other hand, there are many fine practitioners who lack the social skills to make them stand out on a platform like Twitter. Would it be fair for a patient to exclude them from consideration because of their inability to sow social capital? Will consumers begin choosing practitioners based less on their medical abilities and more on their social skills?

    It’s fascinating to watch this new model unfold across industries. I’m very interested to see how it all plays out.

    • http://will.crosscutcommunications.com William Reichard

      Thanks, Beth! That’s a great point about healthcare professionals (and would apply as well to financial and legal industries). It may be a perfect example of why people in those situations have to “buy” access to the social market.It’s not a problem particular to them but to anyone whose primary business isn’t socializing.

      At the same time, they’ve always had to be social at least in the sense of being interpersonal with patients, right? So it’s not as if there’s nothing to build on there.

      It will be fascinating to see what you’re working on–I can’t wait!

      Thanks again!

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