The Currency of Social Value

When we say the word currency most think of money, foreign exchange, ice grills or the $ sign in Ke$ha’s name. But currency is simply a medium of exchange. Coins, notes and plastic are just one form.

Time, mobility and authority are a few other forms of currency. But today I want to talk about a currency called social value.

Social value is an interesting concept – most people know it exists but few have quantified or qualified it.

Social value is what gets you into a night club, it’s what lets you dodge a ticket with the police, it’s what attracts a large crowd to your party and it’s what gets you the girl.

Social value is not only useful in social situations it also helps greatly in the world of business.

What is Social Value?

Social value can come in many forms and different people will value different forms. Below are a few:

Offering Positive Emotions by Being:

  • Fun
  • Interesting
  • Engaging
  • Exciting
  • A good listener
  • Empathetic

Offering Physical Stimulation by Having:

  • Contacts
  • Knowledge of interesting places
  • Knowledge of interesting activities

Offering Vicarious Status Through:

  • Fame
  • Power
  • Education
  • Good looks
  • Belonging to a certain ‘class’

By now you probably agree that at least a few of these can bring influence at some level. But notice none of them are material? No yachts, platinum credit cards or diamond rings – things associated with the currency of money.

So what do you do with social value?

Social value can be traded like any other currency. It can be traded for different forms of social value, for time, money, authority etc…


If you have certain contacts that can get you into a cool party, you could ‘trade’ access to that party for the time of someone who brings interest and humour to the night.

Or if you have fame or power, you could trade that for time by having others complete menial tasks in exchange for ‘being in your presence’.

How does that Help in Business?

Social value is too big of a topic to break down in a single post but here are two examples of business use.

Situation 1: You want someone’s time

If you want someone’s time (a form of currency), you will need some form of currency to trade. Of course you could forcefully ‘take’ someone’s time by cornering them in a meeting room and chewing their ear off, but more than likely this won’t end productively.

Money will work if you want to buy something and they are providing a good or service. Authority will also work but only with people who report into to you.

But what if you are trying to sell something, gain advice or want free media exposure? Offering social value may be your only option. If you can display to the person you will be funny, interesting and a good listener who will implement the advice given – chances of booking that meeting are higher.

Situation 2: You want someone’s money

I want you to think like a middle manager in a Fortune 500 company. You have a $1 million pa budget, small change for a fortune 500. With your budget you need to purchase goods, say software and office supplies. Both software and office supplies can be obtained through many resellers, all selling the exact same product for very similar if not identical prices. So why would you choose one supplier over another? You’re not even spending your own money.

The answer is: whoever gives the most social value

The salesman who takes you out for drinks and shows you a good time. Who brings you to events and introduces you to new, useful contacts. The salesman who makes you laugh or always has the latest on your favourite sports team. That’s who you’ll buy from.

So what do I do Now?

Social value is something you should always have in mind. Are you taking more from an interaction than you’re giving? If so, you may be pissing someone off.

If you call someone to ask for help understand you’re taking a currency off them (time) and be sure to try and give some form of currency back, either now or in the future. This will ensure a healthy relationship.

What about Friends?

Glad you asked.

The currency ‘exchange’ changes greatly with close friends. Through spending time with someone and building shared experiences the exchange starts happening over longer periods of time, years instead of minutes. This is a good thing don’t worry. Please don’t stop doing favours for your friends because it’s not a fair trade.

That being said, it’s still something to keep in mind. Large inequalities in currency exchange have been the downfall of many relationships.

Pay it Forward

I learned this term the other day from reading Colin Wrights book: Networking Awesomely. Paying it forward is offering value without seeking value in return. If you’re always out giving any form of value (including social), chances are you will receive some back somehow somewhere. Colin goes into depth on this subject talking about how to give value without seeking return but at the same time not being taken advantage of.

This was a brief overview of social value. Social value is used in every relationship from romantic, family, friends & business. It’s used everyday by everybody. It’s not something that one should try and manipulate but understating its value (!) and being aware of how you interact with the world may come in useful down the line.

Have you experienced the value of social value?


7 responses to “The Currency of Social Value”

  1. Great concept. Social value is a powerful type of currency. Good thing we recognize this concept at an early stage of our life. I know people that end up doing big things just by knowing people. What other people don’t realize is that we “pay it forward” before we expect to get anything in return.

    Most people like to make the quick buck, social value is not a quick buck – but it lasts for a lifetime thats why it far more valuable.

  2. Excellent points Tony.

    It’s true lots of this happens automatically or subconcioisly but it is
    important and long lasting qhich is why having it at front of mind is important.

  3. All im going to say is this is an awesome topic but you are only just scratching the surface of it. Social value is core to everything we do and is critical to succeeding in any big city, we all have value just some us have more than others. A person’s social value can be increased by life experience basically getting off the couch and off the internet and live an interesting life that other people would want to part of. Just be awesome 😉

  4. Thanks for the comment Matt.

    Yes its such a big topic, I may write about some other aspects of social value in the future.

    Its also true that anyone can change their value. Sometimes its as simple as just deciding to give the value you already have. Sometimes it will require lots of work. But its all within your control.

  5. Great post! A lot of things Love Systems teaches has a lot to do with social value.

    One thing to keep in mind that social value is relevant to its context. Unless you’re an A-list celebrity, most of the time social value is relative.

    At an house party you host, you have the highest social value. But in an army full with other soldiers…you’re just another guy.

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