February 12, 2019

What’s your Brand’s Social Currency?

I have a small circle of close friends, so it sparked my interest when several of the local ones mentioned a new bar in town called The Atlantic Lounge.

Here’s what you need to know about this new watering hole in downtown Raleigh, NC:

  • It’s modeled after a speakeasy
  • You have to have a “key” to get in or come as a guest of a member with a key
  • To get a key, you send an email to a specific address and request one
  • You’ll likely have to wait a little while to get a key because they’re only offering them on an “occasional basis”
  • The key will cost you $40 once you’re approved
Atlantic Lounge, Raleigh NC social currency
The Atlantic Lounge in Raleigh, NC builds social currency by requiring the purchase of a $40 key to enter and limiting access to keys

My wife is dying to get a key, because she wants the status and it must be the hip new place to be.

I can’t even, but I get it.

People like to feel special. They like to think they are getting something exclusive.

In his book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” author Jonah Berger credits the following common ingredients or factors of ideas or brands that catch on:

  • Social currency (sharing things that make us look good);
  • Triggers (things that keep ideas and products top-of-mind);
  • Emotion (when we care, we share);
  • Public (the more visible, the more opportunity to imitate);
  • Practical value (sharing things that are useful to others);
  • Stories (highly effective way to sell your brand)

The story of The Atlantic Lounge falls in the social currency category. Telling your friends about this bar makes you look good because you have information about a cool new place. Having a key makes you look cool because it is exclusive and not everyone can get it.

There are, in fact, similar examples in the book to the Atlantic Lounge. Barclay Prime in Philadelphia could have been just another steakhouse, except that it launched with a $100 cheesesteak on the menu. It’s not about how many people order the sandwich. It’s about the restaurant being top-of-mind because of it. It’s people who haven’t even been to the restaurant that talk about it. It’s the publications and internet sites that cover it. It’s the visits from the TV food shows. It’s the celebrities that stop by.

It’s social currency.

An even better example may be Please Don’t Tell, a bar in New York’s East Village.

After you walk into Crif Dogs, a hot dog shop that purports to have “NYC’s #1 Weiner,” you enter an old-fashioned phone booth, pick up the phone and dial a number. After a voice answers and you’re approved, the wall of the phone booth opens to a small room with a bar in the center. The bar’s website has one picture and a phone number. No other pages, no other information.

“Did you hear about the bar in a hot dog shop with an old-fashioned phone booth? It’s so cool! You have to get approved, then the phone booth opens up into the bar!”

Social currency.

And so, it’s time to consider how to make social currency work for your radio station or podcast or media brand.

Every city has steakhouses, many of which are interchangeable. But Barclay Prime is the only one with a $100 cheesesteak.

Every city has bars, many of which are interchangeable. But the Atlantic Lounge has a $40 key. And Please Don’t Tell has a phone booth in a hot dog shop.

Every city has radio stations, many of which are interchangeable.

They have different styles of music or talk, just as restaurants and bars have different menus.

They have different personalities, just as restaurants and bars have different servers and ways of presenting the product.

But how is your radio station, podcast or media brand creating social currency?

You don’t need (or want) a long list of things.

Barclay Prime has one thing: the $100 cheesesteak.

The Atlantic Lounge has one thing: the $40 key.

Please Don’t Tell has one thing: the phone booth.

What’s your one thing?

What’s your social currency?

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