March 1, 2010
Social Suicide's digital savvy: bridging monetary value and social worth

Over the weekend, a rigorously fashion-forward friend of mine sent me a slightly perplexing message: "go bug social suicide on twitter so I can buy a couple of suits." Not being an avid follower of men's fashion, I wasn't familiar with the London-based retailer of immaculately hand-tailored menswear with provocative detailing.

What drew me to this wasn't just their whimsical naming schemes (though they certainly don't hurt), but their latest social media promotion for their winter sale. As a follow-up to their Winter 09 "Dictators of Fashion" line (with suits like Kalashnikov's Rifle and Mussolini's Turncoat), Social Suicide launched the "Dictator's Discount". The premise is fairly simple -- the general public will dictate the percentage of the sale markdowns in both the online and brick&mortar store by how much buzz they generate. The more twitter mentions, facebook updates, blog links, and unique site visitors Social Suicide gets, the higher the sale discount. The rate is dynamic, so the discount can go up or down (hence my friend asking me to help drive the discount steeper), with unique sale codes that will give users the current discount rate being released periodically on the retailer's twitter.

Social Suicide's campaign demonstrates exactly the kind of recognition of the monetary value of social capital that is needed to navigate an increasingly socially networked consumer-base. While there's no shortage of brands and marketers expounding on the glories of "dialogue" and "conversation" in digital marketing, but Social Suicide is putting it's money where it's buzz is.

Cultural Capital as Digital Currency
Like I've gone on ad nauseum here and elsewhere, just because of lot of stuff online comes without a pricetag doesn't mean it's free. We may think of consumer-generated buzz as free because it doesn't cost anything, but like I explain in my recently released white paper, things like data, attention, promotion and other benefits of web chatter around a brand come with social contracts between the brand and its consumers and fans.

Social Suicide takes it's recognition of the value of social worth by translating it directly into dollar value. Like Trent Reznor putting up the NIN album at no cost in return for fans' ongoing loyalty, they don't just declare their appreciation, but prove it by giving back in the exchange. It's easy for brands to say they are listening, to acknowledge the value of cultural capital.

Social Suicide's move shows that they understand that cultural capital isn't just a thing that exists out in the ether, nor their birthright by virtue of being a cool brand with good products and content. By creating a sort of cultural equity participation campaign, where the more cultural capital raised, the greater the kick-back on investment, they demonstrate that understand that this cultural capital is coming out of the time and social commitment of individuals -- a gift that needs to be returned in some form.

Participation Means Sharing (the wealth)
Social Suicide's campaign reveals common blind spot in thinking about how to merge socially-driven gift economies that dictate how information is shared online and the economically-driven exchanges that dictate how businesses run. Too often, when a brand seeks to "participate," they really only mean "profit from." Consumers get social worth, producers get economic value. That approach though doesn't match how a gift exchange works. Gift exchanges create a legacy of value such that the original giver feels entitled to some of wealth they've contributed.

What this campaign shows us is that if we want the two to come together, sometimes it has to go both ways. Participation means contributing and sharing, not just listening. And sometimes, that means you're looking at brand social worth that translates into monetary value for the consumer.

Rethinking Retail
I spent a lot of time thinking about how media and advertising industries need to adjust to the shifting dynamics of the new media landscape, but too often forget the retail side of commerce. As Kit over at the Real Time Project points out, the Social Suicide campaign is a great answer to one of the biggest concerns of contemporary retailers -- linking their digital presence to their brick&mortar stores in a meaningful, robust way. A number of fashion retailers have gone out of their way to create digital content that mirrors and elaborate upon the brand experience. But more and more, efforts like this one show us that there are tools to link online presence much more tangibly (and functionally) to their physical store. Just like we saw with media outlets, retailer are no longer seeing their websites as simply a digital copy of physical offering. Perhaps even more provocatively, the Real Time Project article suggests that we might, in some industries, see B&M locations become non-purchase showrooms.

Overall, it seems that these considerations signal a shift towards deeper and more direct integration of physical and digital commerce, and between social and economic value.