Social capital is an idea that has been around for more than a century, though its meaning has shifted over time. In the past, social capital defined the way a group of people in a community came together to build mutual trust and work together. Today, it also applies to the way brands interact with one another, and with their audiences.
The idea of social capital is that every person and brand has a set of “reputation points” they build up over time. Social capital functions like an unseen trustworthiness score. Essentially, it’s an invisible metric determined by how people see you and how seriously they take your influence.
Here are some of the basic tenets of social capital:
- Shared values and/or identity
When we establish strong connections with people and brands who share our values, we build the ability to work together toward a common goal. This shared work can be alongside each other, or as a combined unit.
Social capital measures the effects of our collaborative efforts–and our ability to collaborate in the first place. It also tells us a lot about the people we team up with and the ways we mutually benefit one another and our broader networks.
These days, social capital goes far outside your local community and extends into the global collective. As a result, social media, online marketing, remote work, and the internet have made it possible to connect with people from far beyond our own backyard.
Let’s look at ways we can build social capital, leverage it wisely, and protect it in the long term.
You can build social capital in multiple ways, including through your personal network, your work, and other brands external to yours. We accomplish this by establishing meaningful connections with other individuals and brands that share your core values or goals.
Collaborators can be members of your network, co-workers, or other brands, entrepreneurs, and partners. An organization can build social capital from within through meaningful relationships from the top down. A person or organization can also build social capital by collaborating with sister brands or other personalities with shared values and goals.
For a company, working collaboratively with other brands broadens your reach. For instance, you might align with your collaborators on many points, or on one area you each feel strongly about. Your collaboration will impact your respective audiences, which will help build your audience’s trust in your products or services.
External social capital comes from collaborating with partners across other brands. These can include:
- Brands and entrepreneurs you partner with to share ideas and innovation
- Members of your supply chain
- Brands and personalities that publicly endorse your products or services
- Sister (or peripheral) brands in your industry that you collaborate with
Social capital builds on itself, setting collaborators up for success through mutual trust and respect. It also helps to boost visibility for brands whose audiences share their collective goal.
To use your social capital well, be generous and discerning in the collaborative partnerships you form. It’s important to consider not only how collaboration will affect you and your brand, but also how it will impact your audience.
When you use your social capital well, you:
- Grow your audience
- Open possibilities for partnerships and sponsorships with strong brands
- Boost brand awareness and value
- Attract loyal customers
- Build stronger relationships in your networks
Here are a few great examples of social capital in action:
- Amazon leverages social capital by featuring user reviews of products they purchased. You can look at buyers’ feedback to see what they thought of the product, how it worked, and whether it met their expectations before you buy.
- LinkedIn helps professionals build social capital through shared professional connections and industries. Members can follow brands they’re interested in, connect with colleagues in their industry from all over the world. Additionally, you can use the platform to recommend one another for future work.
- Brands build social capital by partnering with one another on marketing initiatives such as social media takeovers. They partner with and feature one another when possible in order to increase each other’s brand awareness. By doing this, they leverage their respective audiences’ trust in a mutually beneficial way.
When consumers see one trusted brand or personality endorsing another–or a variety of examples of social proof, as in Amazon ads–they’re quick to trust those brands.
In order to protect your social capital long-term, you’ll need to be constantly looking outside of yourself and your own collaborations. You’ll need to keep your finger on your audience’s pulse. You will also need to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world around you.
Collaborative partnerships can become cliquish and too focused on themselves if you aren’t careful. Be sure to stay focused on the world outside your brand. That included your audience and the events that are happening around you. If not, your brand’s message and mission could inadvertently become tone-deaf.
As you build goodwill with your collaborators and your audience, work to empathize with them. Stay true to your shared core values, your identity, and be true to your word.
Mismanaging social capital damages brands and personal reputations. Accepting a bad sponsorship, agreeing to a poor influencer deal, choosing the wrong KOL, and making disingenuous recommendations on the basis of collaboration can hurt your online presence and alienate your audience.
Avoid partnering with brands and personalities that are known to be problematic or controversial. Additionally, don’t fall into the trap of shoring up prices between you and your collaborators. Keep your focus outward and on your shared vision. How does that affect your customers? How does it resonate with the world at large?
If you use your social capital to manipulate your audience or for selfish gain, they will be able to see through it. Therefore, it’s best to work from a place of integrity and take actions that are going to be constructive for your brand and beneficial to your audience.
As you work to build social capital for yourself and your brand, stay focused on your core values. Do your collaborators share those values? Are they aligned with your audience? Continually re-evaluate your positioning and the entities you parter with to stay true to that core.
How have you built social capital? How has that affected your brand awareness and your audience? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image via Viktoria Kurpas / shutterstock.com