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Can We Use Social Media As Currency?

Companies Embrace The Social Currency Movement

Social media may seem conceptual enough, but using it as currency? Really? The traditionalists amongst you will be shaking your heads but the big shots in branding and marketing seem to think they’re onto something. 

Kellog’s launched the first ever Tweet shop back in 2012 to mark the launch of its new Special K cracker crisps. Instead of customers handing over cash, they were rewarded with the product in exchange for a tweet with the hash tag #TweetShop. Topshop quickly followed suit with a successful campaign for their Halloween fashion collection, inviting fans to tweet their outfit into @Topshop with the hash tag #TrickorTweet. The idea of exchanging social media coverage for products has won fans in locations around the world; for example, in Cape Town a vending machine was linked into Twitter filters in order to dispense bottles of BOS iced tea when it received a tweet saying #tweet4t.

Marc Jacobs has become the latest high profile brand to harness the promotional buzz of a tweet shop, as it opened the doors last weekend to its one-time pop up in Covent Garden. In honour of fans’ loyalty to brand favourite the Daisy fragrance, the store encouraged shoppers to exchange #mjdaisychain tweets, pictures, Vines and Instagram snaps in order to boost engagement with its social media audience. At ‘check out’, shoppers then showed staff their tweet, which was considered according to its reach and innovativeness, in order to receive jewellery and perfume products. A simpler post may have received a fragrance sample whilst particularly creative posts were rewarded with more substantial items, such as a coveted Marc Jacobs handbag.

It was a case of Daisy treats for Daisy tweets, and throughout the weekend the latest live tweets and pictures were projected onto a wall of the pop-up store. Natalie Moon, UK marketing director at Coty, which owns the license for Marc Jacobs fragrances, told Marketing Week that the aim for the store was to reward the brand’s loyal social media audience.

A similar store popped-up in New York earlier in the year, attracting more than 10,000 shoppers. The pop-up stores will appear only once in each location around Europe and the US (so as to maintain an aura of exclusivity and excitement), but are a follow up to a more general campaign for Marc Jacobs to better engage with social media marketing. The company recently launched an online campaign to find real people from its Twitter and Instagram fan base to be the face of its global Autumn 2014 range.

Across industries it seems that a growing number of companies are embracing the concept of social currency. Earlier in the year, the art world harnessed virtual currency as part of an innovative Nokia campaign, which saw positive social media engagement rewarded with unique artworks.

This all sounds terribly modern, but what actually is social currency? Basically, it is the entirety of one’s actual and potential resources that arise from one’s social media presence. It’s about increasing a brand’s community and access to information and knowledge, helping to form a stronger brand identity and providing the brand with status and recognition. Instead of buying and selling with paper money (in itself simply a signifier of value), a brand’s value will be signified according to social media influence and it will exchange and trade off of this online presence. Social currency is based on the theory that businesses can derive value from social participation.

In the world of social media marketing, which is essentially word of mouth advertising, a brand's social media presence suddenly becomes all the more valuable as they can use it as leverage to exchange and trade with customers and other businesses; word of mouth marketing is considered the most effective form of marketing because friends and family are regarded as more trustworthy than businesses and companies. If brands can harness the potential of word of mouth they can change their brand perception in a matter of hours and a few thousand clicks.

Advocates of this innovative modern marketing would encourage their critics to view experiments such as Marc Jacobs’ as exploring the potential for exchange and trade as opposed to simply decrying them as gimmicky give-aways.

But can we actually calculate the value of a customer’s tweet? Surely we can’t put an actual figure on it? Well, analytics company, SumAll, have tried to do just that. Analysing over 300,000 tweets they found that each tweet from a business generates on average about $25.62 in revenue.

With regard to Marc Jacobs however, questions have been raised over whether this was the right message for the company to be promoting. It seems quite off-brand for a high-end luxury retailer to be flogging their most popular product for free on the streets of London. Are people really getting on board with the idea of social currency because they particularly need or want to engage with the brand, or because a couple of inane tweets will get you some free stuff? It’s probably the free stuff, isn’t it. Until social currency becomes a more stable and robust structure, promotional stunts like the Marc Jacobs one will remain as just that.

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Can We Use Social Media As Currency? Reviewed by Anonymous on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 Rating: 5
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