Memetic Brand & Social Capital Value Add start socializing

Is this like dating?  I have some well planned and thought through moves that I have played over a million times in my mind but it is all a bit different when you are out there playing the field.  Will private moments be reconciled with public pronouncements? Will we score?

Now that Tim Kitchin & I have decided to take our chats at the intersection of social capital and brands public, I think that I am starting to have some insight into how Whuffie expert Tara Hunt and open source leader Chris Messina felt during their online adventure.

Where will this lead?

Where will this lead?

Maybe I am a bit like Chandler Bing?  Leading with some boyish humour.  Just trying to make the nitty gritty of connecting social media to corporate value a lot more entertaining than it really is.

In any event, what is certain is that while I am full of wonder about where this tangent will lead and can’t promise what “we will” do, I am confident that Tim is a credible thought leader on brands.  I am honoured that he is interested in having these public chats.  Even if I throw in some high jinks, Social Capital Value Add and memetic brand will be better from this exchange.  Along the way there will be something of interest to provoke your thinking or at least a smile.

“Towards Social Branding”, Tim’s post to open this series, starts out with some discussion about brand valuation and the merits of stock values correlating to underlying values.  During this time of financial turmoil it may be popular to throw the corporation as a form of organisation under the bus along with the functioning of capital markets, but at the risk of attracting the ire of the double bottom line set, I am convinced that like it or not, the corporation is a very resilient idea and markets suss out efficiency.

You can spend time questioning markets and trying to impose motives beyond profit on the corporation like arbitrarily selected social “good”.  Social Capital Value Add is not preoccupied with this. As a farmer’s son, I begin from the basis that I can not change nature.  Self interest is undeniable, people trade and, faster than most individuals, the corporation is adapting to new forms of making meaning that have emerged since broadband overtook slower forms of connection.  The corporation will be around, purely motivated by profit, long after I am dust.

Brand valuation was developed to try to bring insight into part of the sources of stable future earnings of the corporation.  That is why it is, and will continue to be, an important part of the haggling over what a corporation (or a product line) is worth to buyers and seller.

Brand valuation is product centric.  It is designed to get a handle on any enduring difference between what a product costs to produce and the price it may command from buyers.  There are many sources (not just brand) of the ability to maintain margins.  They add up to: the buyers’ perception of the product value is greater than the cost of delivering it (including cost of capital).

Broadcast media – from packaging to television – emerged as the dominate method for the corporation and its agents to shape common perception (in the pursuit of profit).  Impact on perception was unbalanced by the articulation of most insiders and virtually all outsiders (the little guys) because broadcast media required lots of capital to emit and has traditionally out scaled (drowned out) alternative interpretations.  In this context attributing intangible value to an idea like brand, i.e. a form of broadcast media, makes sense.

The problem is that brand has become a golden hammer of corporate management.  There is no shortage of conversation about what brands “do”.  Stories, cues, symbols all remain vital parts of value creation.  But when Tim starts talking about brand loyalty or another fellow I respect, Stephen Byrne asks me about participant marketing or brand advocacy, I start to worry that we might be getting off the point.

Do brands invent?

I think there is a point when the term brand gets applied too widely.  Everything looks pink through rose coloured glasses.

We have entered an era where broadcast’s ability to dominate perception is quickly eroding. (Update, Dec. 3: Tom O’Brien makes this point in a very practical way.) To have insight into stable future earnings in an era where common perception is formed by millions of competing channels (i.e. broadband empowered people) I think we will uncover new keys to productivity and value defense and creation if we open up an equally vital examination of the structural factors that underlie the content layer.

Why confuse the examination of a new media form that is a product of connection by attempting to contort the notion of brand, which is rooted in broadcast?

Lots of smart people like Nan Lin, Olav Sorenson, Brian Uzzi, Barry Wellman, Tom Snijders, Martin Van Der Gaag and Matt Jackson have established ways to describe and analyze connections between people also known as social networks.  Social capital describes the resources that reside in these networks and I think social media are artifacts of a new scaled up form of it.

If, in the new context of the networked era we are looking for new competitive advantage as we consider the content layer, then I have found the established work of Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore and Ben Mack (who used the term memetic brand first in a powerpoint presentation that I can no longer find online) and other replicators of memetic theories to encompass the content layer but also provoke new insight into the structural factors that cause ideas to spread.

Let’s give the brand establishment the day off.  Sorry Tim, Social Capital Value Add is not “a prescription for the measurement of brand value”.  I have not proposed it to compete with or replace brand valuation, I think it is a useful compliment to brand valuation.  It is proposed to measure scaled up forms of social capital that are an important corporate asset distinct from brand.  For example, if I pick up a great idea or contact like Kim Patrick Kobza at Verna Allee & John Maloney’s value networks LinkedIn group, why should we use “brand” to describe that transaction?

Having said all of this, Tim is bang on in noting “a fundamental change in the way that brands drive value” due to the emergence of scaled up forms of social capital.  I think bouncing these related concepts back and forth will help all of us understand them.

Tim & I are committed to this effort over a series of posts ahead.  We hope our opening two posts are received as an invitation to others to link up their thinking.  In addition to the many esteemed thinkers referred to above, Chris Brogan and Julian Smith have a related manifesto and book in the works. Maybe they already have this Whuffie thing figured out in Cory Doctorow’s Magic Kingdom? Tim O’Reilly has been tweeting it up about social capital lately.   Jonathan Salem Baskin says Branding Only Works on Cattle.

Feel free to add a tweet or post and please use “SoCap&Brand” as a tag.  For example, I hope that Tom Chapman &/or his peeps over at add the SoCap&Brand tag to this related post:

Social Capital and building a quality social graph. (I hate registering to leave comments by the way!)

What are the boundaries between social capital management and brand management?


15 Responses to “Memetic Brand & Social Capital Value Add start socializing”

  1. Collin Douma Says:

    If I am the “Johnny Cash” of social media… you are the “Stephen Hawking” :-)

  2. Kim Patrick Kobza Says:

    The difference in part between brand value and social capital is that social capital is created in part as an emergent property of the network (unexpected), while brand value reflects perceived, rather than authentic attributes that lead to transactions. Social capital is real. Brand value is perceived.

    Both can lead to transactions. Both are intangible.

    Great discussion. Hope to learn more.

  3. Michael G. Cayley Says:

    Collin if there was a vote Johnny Cash wins every time!

    Thanks Kim, looking for to your post.

  4. Social Networks in Plain English by Commoncraft | Social Capital Value Add Says:

    […] hope that both Simon and Sachi & Lee LeFever consider contributing to the SoCap&Brand meme that Tim Kitchin started […]

  5. sal rasa Says:

    Good discussion.

    If we can assume that brand is about loyalty (traditional thought) and loyalty is about logic, then it is possible to consider collective intelligence as rationale for brand building.

    In a networked economy (good and bad), decisions are often a collection of influences. Social Capital is deeply connected to trust. Trust is indeed measurable, but more important is the consequences when a lack of trust exists.

    One great philosopher said: “Reality, not the real is dependent on care”.

    Through social networking, it is possible to build a sense of trust and reality. One can begin to tell the difference between valuable interaction and hype.

    Sometimes, I am reminded while networking of my old neighborhood in Brooklyn New York where I grew up.

    When a family had a trauma, meals would suddenly show up at their door. Somehow, the neighbors instinctively took up caring for the routines that the traumatized family could not pay attention to. It was collective instinct and implementation for the neighbors to react and be supportive.

    I see much of this kind of supportive collective instinct and intelligence in collaborative spaces today.

    What I don’t see, is the acknowledgment to understand that brands are often very personal selections between millions of people.

    Just think about the power of connecting that reality to sustainable and continuous improvement. And, to what that could mean to our worlds.

    Sal Rasa (hope I can stay in the discussion)

  6. Charles Ehin Says:

    Social capital is all about relationship and identity dynamics. These are emergent properties that define both life and work. Good article!

  7. Innovation: You Need to Eat Your Children | Social Capital Value Add Says:

    […] Here are a couple of blog posts with additional thoughts: […]

  8. Joseph Rueter Says:

    Capital is something that can be spent and lost and gained and invested. Look no further than the recent coaster ride of the US stock market for evidence. I see no reason to believe social capital is really any different.

    If it is true, and I think it is, that marketing and advertising (the former brand capital builder) is shifting to utility and pragmatism in their ways then so also should our social capital efforts. But wait, hasn’t it all ways been about helping people? But wait, hasn’t it always been about who you know?

    Yet, that idiom is a bit awkward too. In the end knowing people is not enough. The real leverage in knowing people is that they know you. This make sense of people that have all kinds of influence (read social capital) that don’t know all the people they influence. Here I am thinking of people like Oprah and the like.

    Anyway, Lets pull these thoughts together. To my mind social capital is something that can be gained and lost and invested. To my mind a huge way to build capital is to be useful to the people that know you. So the questions are… what can you produce that is useful? Who knows of you and that thing you can produce?

    In this new digital social space the fragmentation is outstanding. People have bits of their content all over. It is hard to find where people have invested their social capital as it were. So, to my mind, we need a condensed space for collecting all our stuff. Some of us do it with our .com, sorta. Some of us do it with our blog. Some of us don’t do it at all. In the end, it seems to me that we are all really bad at digital introductions. We’re bad at building our personal social capital portfolio. We can interact to the nines and all over but we make bad digital first impressions for the most part.

    One solution for this could be to have a website for all your website activity. Most of us have many places we’re active online. This is why I started We interact everywhere… but where to do introduce our digital selves? For the most part our social capital is invested in many disconnected places and therefore does not leverage the reality of our social capital portfolio.

    Questions like these come to mind… How can we make it easy for others to know us? How can we let others decide how they want to interact with us verses having to control the interaction to the point of often squeezing the usefulness out of it?

    Maybe the simplest of sites is the answer. Maybe not. Thoughts?

  9. links for 2008-12-08 < Chris Abraham Says:

    […] Memetic Brand » Memetic Brand & Social Capital Value Add start socializing […]

  10. Pace Says:


    I think you may be overgeneralizing. It’s true that the new wave of social media marketing is solopreneurs, and that’s where a lot of the buzz is. But that’s just a special case where the social capital (or to be more precise, the person building up the social capital) equals the brand.

    In the general case, you may have individuals who are part of a (branded) group participating in social media. Then you can’t ignore the effects of branding. If people establish positive social capital with “Jane from FooCorp” instead of just “Jane”, then Jane has just strengthened the FooCorp brand. And even moreso if they also establish positive social capital with “Oliver from FooCorp”, in which case they’re more likely to say, “Those FooCorp folks sure are nice and helpful.”

    I’m in a tiny version of a similar scenario, being one half of a duopreneur team. I’m often “Pace (of Pace and Kyeli)” instead of just Pace. “Pace and Kyeli” is basically our brand.

    So to (finally) answer your question, I think the boundaries are pretty close to the boundaries between individual and group. When the group consists of one individual, the boundaries are obviously blurry, but it seems more clear to me in groups of multiple people.

  11. Michael G. Cayley Says:

    Thanks Pace,

    I think the corporation is a form of individual. It was created so that a group could transact and accumulate in collaboration (typically with proceeds distributed according to capital input).

    The scaled up effects that I am talking about are as critical to a solo blogger as they are for a transnational corporation.

    As a duopreneur if your positive feedback on the web out paces your negative feedback by a 10 to one, you have a chance for growth.

    The same is true of GM or Nortel.

  12. The Wizard of Oz is a Carny: the Macworld or Jobs question? | Social Capital Value Add Says:

    […] Note: This post is part of the SoCap&Brand series started by Tim Kitchin.  You are invited to add you own post. […]

  13. greencard Says:

    Is there any information about this subject in other languages?

  14. Michael G. Cayley Says:

    The ebook introducing SCVA is available in draft in Mandarin Chinese

    I would love volunteers to translate to other language.


  15. Value Networks: Placing a personal or corporate brand – spatially relevant Says:

    […] will ultimately provide a better way to find/participate in high value networks, discussions and channels for brands. So what would be the benefits for folks with this type feature on Twitter or any other […]

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