The Currencies of Social Media

Based on the empirical work conducted in Egypt, Ethiopia and Germany we have established a set of parameters that can inform the design as well as the monitoring of development programmes that either use or intend to use social media. And social media is at the heart of this transformation increasing the pace and intensity of interaction. Our interviews have shown that what users mainly value about social media is that it provides instantaneous information.


A user is simultaneously active in multiple realities and receives information. Therefore we should first and foremost forget about the distinction between “the virtual and the real world”. First of all: both worlds are real, the virtual and the physical. Moreover, they are not just interconnected but for many users have already become interdependent. It is not any more the interconnectedness of actors, but the interdependence of their realities (augmentation). Users continuously create and are shaped by augmented experiences, which ultimately accumulate as their social capital. The more intensely physical and virtual realities converge in a user’s actions the higher their return is in terms of social capital. Social capital is defined as „the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups“ (Wikipedia).


One way to understand a nonmonetary capital and its rather fluid nature is to describe its particles. To continue along this metaphor I have called these particles currencies. As with any currency there are various bills and coins that represent value. That is also true for the currencies of social media too. I have organised these currencies in a decreasing order starting with the biggest buck: trust.


1. Trust – ultimately what you are aiming at with your social media activities is to create trust. Trust in terms of the content you provide, the reliability of your actions and communication. Building a trusted social media entity takes a lot of time and effort – sporadic attempts are not enough. Measuring
trust in online networks is rather complex and scientifically viable measures only recently entering the stage. Unfortunately, measurement tools are not yet built into social media platforms. Therefore it needs to be pieced together from the value you generate through smaller currencies. A possible measurement strategy that I have adopted from Sandja Brügmann is an equation:



2. Reliability – in order to create meaningful interactions with your community the goal is to engage them in your virtual community (and probably back this up with what you do anyway in the physical world). The reliability of your virtual identity can be measured by looking at metrics such as the page and tab visits in Facebook or even by looking at the communication between members in a Facebook group. Analysing how many followers, influencers and connectors are active on your platform also provides key insights into how reliable your identity is (the higher the proportion between influencers and connectors to normal followers is the higher is your reliability).

Insights into the reliability of an identity.
Analyzing the community of followers. Ducksboard -

3. Credibility – as soon as you move beyond sheer communication (telling people about yourself and your activities) your aim is at becoming an influencer. Of course in a positive way. You are in social media for a cause and you would like to win as many people to your cause as possible. In order to do so you need to establish a credible entity. Measurement metrics for measuring the reach of your content in social media tools. An important term in this regard is viral reach – that “the percentage of people who have created a story from your post out of the total number of unique people who have seen it“ (Facebook´s definition). Both Facebook and Twitter have inbuilt metrics that measure virality (see pictures). Viral reach is particularly important, since your fans have to bring in liability into the communication by committing their own identity to the story.



Analyzing the community of followers. Ducksboard - www.


4. Intimacy – providing a safe space for the community that you aim to reach is absolutely imperative. The users you are interacting with need to know that their identity is protected as well as that they are handled equally and are safe from any form of exclusion (be it political, racial, sexual, religious, etc). Experience shows that virtual interaction fosters the interaction of socially disadvantaged groups such as women for example. If you operate in environments where the inclusion of women is a challenge reaching out to them via social media platforms (if access is given) is a great way to build bridges and promote inclusion. Curating content and interaction (by removing nonrelevant or offensive contributions) is particularly important to maintain intimacy.


5. Outreach – it is the most straightforward parameter, which only provides insights as to how many people have been reached (or are currently in contact) through social media. This metrics is helpful in order to show cost benefit factors in communicating with the programme´s target group. 95 percent of the interviewees have confirmed that through social media they have reached their target groups cheaper and faster. Acquiring outreach numbers is simple since it is hardwired into all social media tools – just to mention the two most widely used ones: Facebook likes and the number of Twitter followers. Nevertheless, it is important to note that these numbers don´t provide any insight into the level of experience. In other words, they don´t provide any meaningful information about how people react and interact with the programme’s social media identity.


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