The concept of social capital is an integral part of the larger idea of online influence. In order to understand online influence better, we must first define social capital.
Social capital can be broken down into two parts:
According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, trust is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”
So for example, you have a certain amount of faith that your barber will cut your hair the way you like it every time, and for a fair price.
Moving onto capital, Merriam Webster defines it as “accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods.”
An example would be a $1000 you received from your grandfather, and instead of keeping it under your mattress, you invested that $1000 in the stock market so that you could earn more money.
Taken together, social capital is a certain level of trust you have in a specific individual and that individual has in you, to satisfy each other’s “social” needs. Take the example of you and a food vendor. By selling you delicious meat pies, he satisfies your need for sustenance. Since you were hungry and bought his delicious meat pies, you satisfy his need to provide for his family. You two have just created social capital.
And like capital, social capital is made to be exchanged – meaning it can be earned, invested, spent, and lost; especially true on the internet.
You can earn social capital a few ways:
– Transferring social capital from your real world relationships to your online world. Think Facebook friends.
– Providing something useful, whether it is a product, service, or content.
– Helping others, such as retweeting a link to a Twitter user’s blog post.
You also can invest social capital. Take Twitter for example. You might not have much to gain replying to Ashton Kutcher’s tweets, but if you do reply to a user’s tweets who might one day be famous, you have a lot to gain.
Social capital can also be spent. Has a friend of yours ever used Facebook to conduct a survey? They are spending social capital by asking you to fill out the survey. In exchange, they would hope that you would do the same for them.
But just like capital, social capital can be lost. If you spend more than you take in, you can go broke. Imagine if you constantly asked your friends to fill out your surveys, but you didn’t fill out any of their surveys. They would eventually ignore you.