Business Insider reports on a new book, coming soon to a seller near you – Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger– that concerns itself, in part, with this idea of “social currency.” Usually a phrase heard in marketing, Wikipedia has this definition:
Social currency is a common term that can be understood as the entirety of actual and potential resources which arise from the presence in social networks and communities, may they be digital or offline.
The story cites a Harvard study that found people are more likely to take a job where they make $50,000 rather than a job that would earn them $100,000. In the first instance, the respondents would be making twice as much as their hypothetical colleagues; in the second, they’d be making half as much as the imaginary people they work with.
“They preferred to do better than others, even if it meant getting less for themselves,” the article says.
Put in other terms, participants preferred to have the social status that comes with making more money than others, rather than the goods that come with making more money, period.
Social status doesn’t only come with money. One only need to listen to the latest chart-topping songs to know that. Kanye and Jay Z don’t just talk about all the stuff that they have that you don’t. They talk about the lifestyle that their fame and fortune affords — going places and doing interesting things (like hanging out in Paris or some other far-off place). The Herald-Sun in Australia reports that “keeping up with the Joneses” these days means exactly that.
“The New Joneses are still middle class but instead of buying the latest kitchen appliance they spend their money on learning a new language, taking an exotic vacation or developing a new skill in craft,” the paper says. “They want fewer objects and more experiences.”
In the online world, that means having more “friends” and followers. The media regularly keeps tabs on the number of millions of people tracking the tweets of Justin Bieber or Rihanna. And Psy, the Korean pop sensation who brought us “Gangnam Style,” toppled the Biebs as the most-watched YouTube video over the Thanksgiving weekend. This, we’re told is significant, even if the Biebs is still winning in actual album sales.
This doesn’t mean that having nice things is totally unimportant. But these two stories suggest that we’re more willing to sacrifice cold-hard, quantifiable dollars for this more undetermined and un-spendable “social currency.” Are you?