Online Social Capital: We are all dogs.
Ivan Pavlov, as many may remember from intro to psychology, was the father of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning trained dogs to salivate when a bell rang. Pavlov gave his dogs a reward while ringing a bell. Eventually Pavlov’s dogs salivated to the ringing bell. In Pavlov’s dogs’ world bell equaled reward. The dog’s response was a conditioned reflect like a muscle twitch.
Our modern world is replete with rewards. We live in a time of plenty. Our basic needs, food, clothing and shelter are taken care of (says the man without a job at the moment LOL). The human mind is a wonderful perpetual motion machine; it thinks all the time. Take food, clothing and shelter off the table and our minds find new information to parse, categorize and understand.
Smart Web Marketers Create Social Capital
I just earned my “Newbie” badge from http://www.FourSquare.com. FourSquare is a mobile phone application that links friends, shares “underground” information and “unlocks” a city. Pavlov, if he were alive, would work at FourSquare. The FourSquare development team are online social capital geniuses.
FourSquare’s game is have members “check in” when they go to a place. Checking in garners social capital and alerts friends to your location (controlled by privacy settings). Check in more than anyone at your favorite restaurant to become The Mayor of StarBucks or Panera Bread or whatever.
I can hear the “so whats” as I write this. Anyone saying “so what” doesn’t understand web marketing. Web marketing is about engagement and creating user generated content. FourSquare’s users update its database. When a favorite spot isn’t available for check in users are encouraged to “add” it thereby keeping FourSquare’s database up to date (for free, or more accurately for some social capital). By the way, engagement is the hardest thing to create online (Read Citizen Marketer to discover the magic 1% who normally contribute). Engagement is the holy grail of web marketing, yet few e-commerce platforms engage well. A few examples of engaging platforms include (REI, Bass Pro Shops and Amazon). These e-commerce web sites are good, but no one understands social capital better than FourSquare. FourSquare started with fun and worked backwards (smart, very smart).
I’ve managed multimillion-dollar e-commerce web sites. We don’t have enough resources to create all needed content was a truth we came to quickly. Content is king online. Search engines demand it. Search engines demand so much frequently updated content there is no way, no way, your company, no matter how substantial or rich, can create enough. If your site is going to be a search engine-marketing (SEM) player it must creatively outsource content creation.
Earning social capital is the only reward system your company can afford. FourSquare does what all good web marketing teams should – they crowd sourced their database, created a social reward system and made playing their game fun and easy. If you understand web philosophy half as well as Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, then participation is sufficient social reward. Problem is few are smart enough to place their company so effectively in line with the web’s altruistic roots. Appealing to hard-core webhead isn't easy either. Trying to be the next Wikipiedia is a no win game if your company makes a profit. Wales understood he wouldn’t get help if Wikipedia was for profit. He created the not-for-profit Wikipedia foundation and has faithfully kept his hands off.
Your company is not and never will be Wikipedia (sorry). If you do want to help a worthy charity please don’t forget Martin’s Ride To Cure Cancer :). If you want to make profit your best content creation bet is develop a system of fun social rewards such as banners, buttons and badges. Social capital must be seen and competed for to be effective.
Somewhere down the line convert social capital to a low cost forms of cash such as gift certificates (for the uber-contributors and use sparingly) or special contributor discounts (maybe). Other social capital reward systems exist. Facebook wants you to complete a profile. LinkedIn tells you how close you are to a complete profile and contributing to Wikipedia makes you cool. Few online social reward systems are as complete or tongue and cheek fun as FourSquare.com. If you want customers to contribute reviews, comments and blog posts study FourSquare.com and remember Pavlov’s dog (I’m salivating just thinking about it).