Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

15 Examples Of Social Currency Successfully Used In Marketing

Professor Jonah Berger has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral.

What he found were 6 principles of virality (STEPPS):

Contagious: Jonah Berger's 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing
  1. Social Currency – We share to look good in front of others.
  2. Triggers – We share what’s at the top of our minds.
  3. Emotion – We share what we care about. [You are here!]
  4. Public – We imitate what we see people around us doing.
  5. Practical value – We share what has value to others.
  6. Stories – We share stories, not information.
In this series, we’ll provide real-life examples of brands that utilize these principles.

First off: Social Currency.

Why do we share cool photos, videos and witty jokes on social media?

Because it makes us look good.

Social currency is a concept based on social capital theory – a nuanced idea about how people behave in reciprocal ways in social networks.

We don’t share stories that are boring because people will just think we are boring.

Jonah Berger identified three ways we can make people want to share our brand for to earn social currency amongst their peers.

A. Identify what’s remarkable about your brand
B. Utilize game mechanics
C. Make people feel like insiders

A. Identify what’s remarkable about your brand

When we come across something exciting/cool/funny/awesome, we can’t wait to share it with others.

Do you want to see a blender destroy some golf balls?

Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” series provides entertainment value, and showcases their blenders’ impressive abilities.

So even if your product is as seemingly unremarkable as a blender, don’t fret.

Ask yourself: What separates you from your competitors? What makes you unique?

Place that remarkable element front and center, so people will feel more compelled to share it!

(NOTE: Incentivize your customers to share with their friends by using ReferralCandy!)

1. Bellroy – Shows you just how slim their wallets are

Bellroy Slim Your Wallet Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Bellroy takes pride in slimming your wallet.

The way they compare their wallets against conventional ones paints a very compelling picture of just how slim their wallets can be.

You’ll feel amazed, order one, and proceed to show it off to your friends!

2. Firebox – Novelty gifts + cool website + witty descriptions = share!

Firebox homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Novelty gifts are fun to look at and innately shareable.

Firebox’s beautiful website design and witty item descriptions makes you even more likely to share it with your friends.

Firebox valentines day Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

3. Dyer & Jenkins – Selling apparel, and promoting the explorer spirit as part of the whole package

Dyer and Jenkins homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Caution: images might cause Stendhal syndrome

The folks at Dyer & Jenkins have the explorer spirit baked into every aspect of their brand.

Dyer and Jenkins Instagram Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Their website and social media platforms are filled with beautiful photographs of mother nature at her finest.

Exploration guides are even included in their blog!

Dyer and Jenkins Great 59 Guide Bryce Canyon Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Bryce Canyon National Park, part of Dyer & Jenkins’ The Great 59 series

4. Hunter Boots – Provided boots for the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen

Hunter boots homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Hunter boots are famous for their long history, high-quality products, as well as having provided waterproof protection for British royalty.

5. Shop It To Me – Your free personalized sale shopping assistant

Shop It To Me homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Shop It To Me takes the hassle out of searching for online deals for your favorite brands.

All you have to do is choose your favorite brands, indicate your measurements, and Shop It To Me will alert you when your favorite items are on discount!

All you need to do is have your credit card ready…

6. Trunk Club – Hand-picked clothes that suit your unique personality and needs

Trunk Club homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Trunk Club is perfect for those of us who hate shopping and aren’t the best at picking out clothes.

Real-life stylists at Trunk Club will personally select pieces that match your unique personal style.

The clothes are sent right to your door for free, and you only have to pay for what you like.

Another good thing about Trunk Club is you don’t have to pay every month; only when you need some new clothes.

B. Utilize game mechanics

What’s so appealing about games, and why should you include game mechanics in your brand?

Because they can motivate customers to remain engaged in certain actions for the sake of achievements.

Game mechanics such as scoring systems, levels, and leaderboards tell you how well they’re doing in relation to others.

This encourages a form of competitive spirit, and internally motivates us to be better than others – that’s social currency for you.

7. My Starbucks Rewards – Drink your way to a Gold Card!

Starbucks My Rewards Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Customers are given stars for every purchase using their Starbucks cards.

Starting from the Welcome level, they have to collect stars to upgrade to the Green and Gold levels.

Each level provides more benefits than the previous level.

This encourages customers to drink more, so that they can gain more stars, unlock new levels and get more benefits.

8. Step2 – Leaderboards to encourage reviews and sharing

Step2 Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Children’s apparel retailer Step2 has a leaderboard system that displays customers has given the best reviews.

This rewards the customers who are currently leaving reviews, and motivates those who haven’t started doing so.

9. Foursquare badges – Unlock badges for checking in; gotta collect them all!

4Squaredbadges Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Foursquare users can unlock badges through various aspects of the app, from checking in to four nights in a row to being a douchbag.

There’s even a website dedicated to listing the badges, and how to get them!

These badges are effective because they motivate users to keep using the app, and also help promote the brand as they show off to their peers.

10. Stop, Breathe & Think – Building up good habits with the help of stickers

Stop Breathe Think stickers Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Instead of awarding badges, Stop, Breathe, Think, a meditation app, rewards stickers to users who continually use their app.

It’s a good thing the app is helping me build up a healthy habit!

C. Make people feel like insiders

We learnt from Dr. Cialdini that when things are scarce, people desire them much more.

Exclusivity works in the same way; only some people have access to it. That’s social currency.

Those people can’t wait to share it with others, and your brand instantly becomes more desirable.

However, building hype also increases their expectations, so make sure that your product is rock solid.

11. OnePlus phone  – Only the invited ones can buy it

OnePlus homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

OnePlus doesn’t sell their phones in stores; they’re only available through invites.

If you want to get your hands on one, you’ll have to find someone who has it.

They are confident that their phones will speak for themselves, and people will naturally recommend them to their peers.

OnePlus how to buy Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

12. Google Inbox – The exclusive inbox invite that someone paid $205 for

Google Inbox homepage Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Developed by the Gmail team, Google Inbox was promoted as the smarter, more efficient Gmail.

Everyone wanted to try it out, but could only do so by asking Google for an invite.

I waited three weeks for my invite, and boy, was it worth the wait!

Google Inbox invite Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Apparently, someone couldn’t wait, and bid for it on eBay for $205.

13. Crowdfunding – Exclusive perks for supporting groundbreaking trends

Kickstarter discover Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Crowdfunding sites (e.g. Kickstarter, Indiegogo) are where new ideas and products are introduced to the world.

Anyone can back these projects, many of which are trendsetters or technological breakthroughs.

Supporters of these projects are receive exclusive perks for their efforts.

These often give us bragging rights to being a supporter of novel ideas.

14. 11K Club – Proof that exclusivity is indeed extremely persuasive

11K Club Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Would you sign up for something exclusive you have no idea about?

That was the question creators of the 11K Club wanted to find out.

Only 11,000 slots were available, and no one know what the membership benefits were.

Still, more than 11,000 applications were submitted, purely on the premise of exclusivity.

This is perhaps one of the best proofs of how persuasive exclusivity can be.

15. Facebook – Generated hype by opening up to one school at a time

The Facebook Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

When Facebook started out, it was only available for Harvard students.

Within the first month, more than half of Harvard undergrads were Facebook users.

This helped the site build up a lot of hype, since the other students had to wait till it was available for their school.

Make your customers feel special, so they’ll tell everyone about it.

Ask yourself: What will excite my customers? What will make them feel unique, or look awesome?

But make sure that your product can bring genuine value to your customer; not just hype without substance.

Learn more about the other 5 principles of contagious marketing:

  1. Social Currency – We share to look good in front of others. [You are here!]
  2. Triggers – We share what’s at the top of our minds.
  3. Emotion – We share what we care about.
  4. Public – We imitate what we see people around us doing.
  5. Practical value – We share what has value to others.
  6. Stories – We share stories, not information.
Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

Monkey See, Monkey Do: Public Visibility Used in Marketing

The fourth principle from Jonah Berger’s STEPPS model is Public Visibility.

Imagine you are in a restaurant in a foreign country, and you see everyone taking off their shoes before entering.

Chances are, you’d do the same.

Why do we do that? Because we base a lot of our actions on those we see around us. If a lot of people buy something, it has to be pretty good.

So how do you make your brand/product more public-facing?

Here are 10 examples of brands that have gained traction from incorporating public-facing elements in their products/marketing:

1. When you see red soles, you think of Louboutin.

Louboutin Red Soles Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy 2
The trademark “china red” color on Louboutin shoes

Christian Louboutin noticed that red nail polish was really eye-catching, and made his soles of his shoes the same color.

Today, those red soles have become a synonymous brand trademark.

_____

2. The iconic Intel jingle is heard every 5 minutes somewhere in the world.

In 1994, composer Walter Werzowa was commissioned by Intel to create a three-second jingle for the Intel Inside TV commercials.

Since then, the five-note “Intel Bong” has been around for more than 20 years.

It is arguably one of the world’s most recognizable sounds.

_____

3. Salting the tip jar – Putting your own tips in to encourage others to follow

Salting the jar Baristas Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

In cafes, some baristas used a technique called “salting the tip jar”, where they place a bit of their own money in the tip jar.

People are more likely to contribute to a jar that has money than an empty one.

_____

4. Hotmail gained one million subscribers in half a year without spending a cent on advertising.

In July 1996, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith started Hotmail, a free email service.

Within their first month, they gained more than 20,000 users.

They hit one million subscribers in less than six months.

This was their secret:

Hotmail default signature Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Microsoft Hotmail’s default email signature

Hotmail had inserted a one-liner in the default email signature: “Get your free email at Hotmail”.

With a link to sign up included in the message, every email became a free Hotmail advertisement.

The word of mouth element meant that users were more likely to sign up when they saw the message in emails sent by their peers.

“My friends are using it, and it’s free. So why not?”

 

Today, most emails sent from smartphones contain a default signature that goes like “Sent from my iPhone/Blackberry”:

Default email signature when sent from iPhone
Default email signature when sent from iPhone
Default email signature for Blackberry
Default email signature for Blackberry

These default signatures might not be as effective and viral as Hotmail’s case, but they are still useful.

The more often we see such messages, the more popular we’ll think that product brand is.

_____

5. Apple’s distinctive product features makes them distinguishable from a mile away

White iPod earphones Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Back when Apple revealed the very first iPod, it was accompanied by a series of commercials.

They featured people in black silhouettes dancing while listening to a iPod and white earphones.

During that time, almost all earphones were black, so Apple’s white earphones became a brand trademark.

Thanks to the non-conformist consumer identity Apple had developed, customers wanted to be seen as part of that identity.

Some would buy white earphones from elsewhere just to follow the trend.

Apple Macbook Pro Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Even today, Apple continues to set themselves apart in product design.

Their range of laptops come in a beautiful brushed aluminum finish, coupled with the iconic white Apple logo.

This sets them apart from other laptops, which usually come in shiny smooth black or other solid colors.

In entertainment media where laptops are shown, you can almost always spot the distinctive brushed aluminium laptop.

People now associate the brand with cool and stylish, so they won’t be caught dead carrying laptops from other brands.

_____

6. 85 million Livestrong sports bracelets were sold because they were bright yellow

Livestrong yellow bracelet Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Scott MacEachern from Nike was tasked with promoting Lance Armstrong as a cultural icon.

In addition, he wanted people to support the Armstrong Foundation.

He came up with the idea of a yellow sports band, and it became a huge hit.

Yellow was gender-neutral and stood out against any type of clothing.

_____

7. Branded shopping bags boost social image as well as serve as mobile advertisements.

Branded shopping bags Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Big brands often produce shopping bags that are of a higher quality.

Customers are encouraged to reuse them because they feel bad throwing them away after just one use.

Some customers also want to be seen associated with an expensive brand.

_____

8. Men walking around with moustaches in November is a great conversation starter.

Movember logo Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
“Changing the face of men’s health”

When November comes, we tend to spot more men sporting moustaches.

They’re raising awareness for a variety of men’s health charities through a campaign called Movember.

Originating in Australia, this campaign has gained a huge follow world-wide, and proven to be very effective.

Moustaches, especially seen on those who do not have the habit of keeping one, can be a great conversation starter.

_____

9. Koreans used the yellow ribbon logo on their profiles to show support for the MV Sewol ferry disaster.

Students at Danwon high school writing messages to the 304 victims of the ferry disaster. Most of them were Danwon high school students.
Students at Danwon high school writing messages to more than 300 victims of the ferry disaster. Most of them were Danwon high school students.

On 16th April 2014, a South-Korean ferry MV Sewol capsized, killing 304 out of 476 people on board.

More than 300 passengers were Danwon High School students.

Soon after, a yellow ribbon campaign was started to help pray for survivors.

Many wrote messages of hope on little yellow ribbons, and stuck them to gates and trees near Danwon High School.

Korea Yellow Ribbon campaign logo Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
The Yellow Ribbon Campaign logo

The campaign also took off online, where many were seen sharing yellow ribbon illustrations on social media and messaging platforms.

Several local celebrities also joined in by putting up the yellow ribbon images as their profile pictures.

Donations to the National Disaster Relief Association were also encouraged.

Park Shin Hye Korean actress Yellow Ribbon Campaign Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
South Korean actress Park Shin Hye’s Twitter profile picture.

The yellow ribbon has been used worldwide as a universal pledge of hope and support for victims in tragedies.

People willingly swapped out their display pictures because they wanted to show support for a cause they felt strongly for.

_____

10. Oreo engaged fans worldwide with the age-old question: Cookie or Creme?

Cookie, or creme?
Cookie, or creme?

In February 2013, Oreo launched a two-month campaign on Instagram titled: Cookie vs Creme.

Fans were asked to take a side by attaching photos with either a #cookiethis or #cremethis hashtag.

Selected photos were translated into actual sculptures using either cookies or creme from real Oreos.

Oreo cookie vs creme campaign 2 Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Accompanied by a “Whisper fight” commercial, the campaign boosted Oreo’s Instagram follower-count from 2,200 to 53,000 in a matter of days.

It worked for several reasons:

  1. Fans got to vote publicly for what they like, so their peers would know about it.
  2. They would tell their friends about it, and it’ll spread through word-of-mouth.
  3. A chance for their beloved photos to be transformed into edible works of art.
  4. They could then display that pic on their social media profile for some sweet social currency.

Competitions and voting campaigns are great because your customers get involved, and their engagements are public-facing.

_____

Your customers will adopt your brand better if they associate it with their core identity.

For the examples above, customers didn’t imitate others for the sake of it.

They followed it because it meant something to that. It appealed to their identity.

Wearing Louboustin is classy, owning an Apple product identifies you as cool, and sporting a moustache means you care about men’s health issues.

At this point, it is important to know your brand’s identity, and communicate that through public-facing elements.

The more people can relate to your brand identity, the more likely they’ll think it’s worth imitating.

After all, no one would follow and buy a Macbook if they didn’t think Mac users were cool.

 


Professor Jonah Berger has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral. This is part of a series of his research into the 6 principles of virality (STEPPS):

Contagious: Jonah Berger's 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing
  1. Social Currency – We share to look good in front of others.
  2. Triggers – We share what’s at the top of our minds.
  3. Emotion – We share what we care about.
  4. Public – We imitate what we see people around us doing. [You are here!]
  5. Practical value – We share what has value to others.
  6. Stories – We share stories, not information.
Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

1 comment

  • Love these examples, can’t wait to read more! But it would have been polite to mention the author of the principles you mention in the conclusion – Jonah Berger, who describes them in the book Contagious – Why Things Catch On