What do Rihanna, Jay-Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Beyoncé have in common with Shawn Megira (@shawn_megira on Instagram) and YOU or I (@INSERTYOURNAMEHERE)? When we speak, people listen. Stated another way, all of us have what is often referred to as “social capital.”
Robert Putnam and the Harvard Kennedy School’s “The Saguaro Seminar” have defined social capital as “the collective value of all social networks (or who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.”
To illustrate the power of social capital, let’s look at some statistics. According to a recent study, 58% of Americans are on Facebook and the average American has 350 Facebook friends. For those between the ages of 18 and 24, they have an average of 649 Facebook friends. Based on the current structure of most social media platforms, including Facebook, a post by an individual on any given day has the potential to be viewed by hundreds of others that very same day.
For businesses and individuals alike this is a profound thought, particularly in the commercial setting. Why? Because the power to generate attention and to influence others’ behavior is no longer limited to just the most famous celebrities in our world. Today, social media has turned all of us into “micro celebrities,” and our celebrity status can be credited in large part to the social capital we each possess. After all, many would consider a celebrity famous not only because of what made him or her famous to begin with, but also because at a given point in time celebrities have more than a few people paying attention to what they say and what they do. Sound familiar?
In a 2008 New York Times article entitled “Nothing Sells Like Celebrity,” the author correctly points out the long tradition of using celebrities to sell products, highlighting Joe Namath’s promotion of Hanes pantyhose back in the 1970s, or more recently Totes’s (the umbrella company) use of Rihanna as a spokesperson after the singer released the hit song “Umbrella”. Most of us may not be able to throw a football like Joe or sing a tune like Rihanna, but plenty of us command the respect of our social networks; and it’s important that our value within our networks be recognized commercially.
For those selling a product or service, the key is to not take the ordinary person’s value among his or her network for granted. Much like a traditional celebrity would be rewarded or compensated for their social capital, so too should the ordinary person. For those who have achieved “micro celebrity” status, including each of us considered “average” by Facebook standards, be mindful of the free promotion on social media you provide to those selling a product or service. We ordinary people have tremendous value in our networks, and it’s time we begin to cash in our social capital.
André Walters is the founder and CEO of Yuno, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based social commerce company that rewards users for leveraging their online communities.