Your Online Reputation and Access to Opportunity

Social Capital and Productive Social Networks

Social capital is the combination of a person’s reputation and the access to resources their reputation provides. Within the context of social content collaboration platforms (a type of multi-sided platform), social capital is the reward for contributing content that is deemed useful by other users. Social capital is a tremendous intrinsic motivator for people, and is the cornerstone of what drives people’s contribution toward common good. Within online social networks, it may be accumulated or bundled within other constructs, such as badges or levels, or it may be transparently displayed as a user’s score.

Social Capital Morphs into Real Capital

How does social capital create real-world benefit for content contributors? This benefit ultimately reveals itself by morphing from social capital to one of several types of other capital. If you imagine social capital as an online currency of social reputation, what is the exchange rate of this capital in real-world markets? This exchange rate may be direct financial capital ($), reduced search costs for employment, partnerships, or investment. For example, if you have a great reputation on Quora, SlideShare, YouTube, or Stack Overflow, certain doors will swing open more freely to you.

For platforms like YouTube, reputation directly translates into financial capital through the advertiser revenue-share model employed. Great content contributors don’t need to attempt to broker their reputation from YouTube to the real-world. The exchange rate is built into the deal.

For other platforms, this is less clear. For example, how does a top Twitter contributor get benefit from being on top? Having a ton of retweets doesn’t pay the bills, but it does help start conversations. This is an example of how social capital improves access to the broader social network. It’s easier to get an introduction, people are more likely to respond to you, and will trust you more quickly when you have substantial social capital on a platform that is relevant to the introduction.

In the early days of these platforms, the social capital promise is hard to back up. In other words, there is little incentive to social capital if it doesn’t translate into real-world opportunity. If the brand of the platform lacks reputation, your reputation on it is irrelevant.

Imagine the beginning of Twitter. You create your account and start tweeting. You get a bunch of followers and retweets. How do you differentiate quality on this platform? Tweet volume isn’t relevant. The ratio of retweets per tweet is the measure that best demonstrates network impact. So, imagine you have a massive reputation because every time you tweet you get a million retweets. Besides being able to say you are the most retweeted person on a platform nobody has heard of yet, there isn’t much benefit…yet. Once the platform takes off, the story changes.

Read more

Read how social content collaboration platforms like Stack Overflow and GitHub incentivize contribution with social capital.




Engineering and Consumer Platform Leader @Xpanse; Product design, technology platform strategy, and ground fighting geek in Seattle

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Dave Thomas

Engineering and Consumer Platform Leader @Xpanse; Product design, technology platform strategy, and ground fighting geek in Seattle