Social Capital

A lot of attention gets paid to social media without really understanding a fundamental concept - social capital.

In addition to all its other characteristics and traits, social media transactions depend on - for lack of a better term - a currency. You earn it as you give and pay it when you ask.

This makes a certain amount of sense if you think of the pesky neighbor who always wants to borrow your lawnmower but never returns it with gas in the tank. It doesn't help matters if he returns it with a bottle of beer when you don't drink beer.

That underscores a different - and more common - problem with social capital. So many people work to "create compelling content" without realizing that their "compelling" is my "no thanks." What should have resulted in a deposit to their social capital account winds up being a big fat withdrawal.

Most of the time - and I think, most people - fall into the "revenue neutral" portion of the continuum. Sometimes what they post is interesting enough but not engaging. They're the crazy uncle who tells a story about his trip to the grocery store when some kid was whining for candy and his mother wouldn't let him have any. They're the people who scour the web looking for "compelling content" to "share."

If you want to build up your social capital, don't do that. Reach out to somebody and talk with them. Authors, artists, creatives of all stripes can make a huge impression by reaching across the web to talk with fans. Congratulate them on a new job. Sympathize over their recent loss (even if it's only hair). Treat them like people - not contacts you count like coups. Every time you do that, you get a few bits of social capital. Every time some lurker sees that, you get social capital. Every time somebody notices that you're not asking for something but offering something without expectation of payment, you're earning social capital.

Sure it's only a few tiny slices. You need to do it a lot to get a pile big enough to make a difference, to accrue enough in your account to be able to spend it effectively.

When you spend, you don't spend little slivers. You spend big chunks.

Every time you ask somebody to look at your book, or read a new 5-star review, or even just link to your website, you're spending capital. A lot of people are running a deficit budget and wondering why things aren't moving.

Even things that you'd think would pay off big - like recommending a book that's not yours - can backfire on you if the person getting the recommendation doesn't like the book you recommended. If they remember who promoted it to them, they'll blame the you - not the author. The obvious advice is "don't recommend a book you don't like" but too many people recommend books because the author asked them to - or because the author is a friend. If you love it, say why. If you only liked it, say why. If you didn't even like it - or its in a genre you don't read - don't do anybody any favors because you're spending social capital that's difficult to recoup.

Before you make that next social media post, remember: You earn in pennies but you spend in Benjamins.

Image credit:
Steve Snodgrass: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass
Creative Commons: SA-BY
Nathan Lowell
Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

4 thoughts on “Social Capital

  1. This is so true. Far too many writers use their Twitter account for nothing more than “buy my book!” spam. It’s the ones who don’t advertise that make the most connections with readers and other writers alike and earn success through their social media.

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