Jonah Berger's Contagious

by Aruna Singh

In Contagious, Jonah Berger discusses social currency as a factor in why things go viral. But what is it?

Social Currency is a simple concept driven by the character of actual currency. Think about it, how many times do you make transactions involving some sort of currency (whether it be cash, credit, or debit) in a day? Now think about those transactions of a period of time, let's say, a month. I'm sure you now realize that you make hundreds of transactions in time whether they are material or not.

Now think about how many times you talk about brands or services in your daily life. Something as simple as "I drive a Honda" or "I drank a Coke" is included in this type of conversation. Even if you spoke about the a particular professor in the school you are going to, you are making a comment on a certain service. Therefore, the term "Social Currency" was coined to denote the extent to which people share a brand or information about a brand with others as part of their daily social lives.

A basic motivator for social currency is the correlation between certain brands or services and a status that gets tied to that. For example, if you own a Ferrari, you most likely are going to talk about it because you believe it makes you seem more wealthy and daring compared to others. Tying "game mechanics" into social currency is a good way to drive peoples' inherent knack for competition. For example, FourSquare embraces this concept by deeming people "mayors" of a certain location if they have checked in that area more than anyone else in the past 60 days. Feeling like winners is exactly what makes people happy.

I've known some people in my life, including myself, who like to label themselves "brand whores." This term is not really derogatory in any way and can be applied to both men and women. A brand whore is someone who buys and prominently displays name brand products under the belief that such loyalty to a label or corporation brings prestige to their reputation. Chances are, it doesn't bring prestige, but it brings some social currency. My sister got me started with this sort of attitude. She bought her first Louis Vuitton and I thought I didn't care. But because everyone else noticed that she had one and asked her how much it costed, I had to have one, too. The same ideas apply to cars and clothes and even food.

It has become and addiction of sorts. Neither myself nor my sister would buy something if it didn't have a logo that would get people talking about it. Some would say that we have built our life around social currency. We not only want people to talk about us, but we want them to notice the brands we associate with.

Therefore, social currency is a fairly new concept, but has always existed in reality. How have you been affected by social currency? Sound off below!