Writing About Social Capital: A Halloween Nightmare

Every week at PR News I’m tasked with coming up with two lead stories. Ideally, Lead 2 should be a tactical tome, like How To Send Tweets. Lead 1 should be a more strategic, Harvard Business Review-like piece (which is tough because I’m a People kind of a guy). So for the 11/1 issue, I decided to tackle “social capital” as the first lead. Knowing close to zilch about it, I called a friend, James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego, who does a lot of research in social networks and co-wrote a popular book on the subject, Connected. James was busy when I called him. He and a colleague had just published a paper identifying the gene that causes people to be liberals. Needless to say, Fox News and others were all over him for interviews. James did manage to give me a few nuggets on social media (overrated) and social capital (hard to define and measure).

Later I called Don Bartholomew, VP of digital research at Fleishman Hillard and author of the MetricsMan blog. Turns out Don had done some consulting for a company whose model revolved around social capital. Later, however. the company decided that social capital was too “ethereal” and changed its strategy. The problem with social capital, says Don, is that there’s too many “intangible benefits.” I was beginning to believe the “ethereal” part and question the benefits of writing about social capital, but I did write about it, and you can read the story next week. You can also catch Don at our How-To Conference in D.C. on Dec. 1. He won’t be covering social capital—tying PR to sales is much more interesting. Have a safe Halloween!

–Scott Van Camp

  • http://www.socialcapitalvalueadd.com Michael Cayley

    Next week …

    So there is still time for you to consider how to move from the ethereal to the corporate boardroom?

    Check out “Introducing Social Capital Value Add”, either the short ChangeThis version or the fuller ebook (which is full of links and has a bibliography that will cut short your research time). I propose a method of solving the measurement problem.


    I recommend that you look to Nan Lin’s paper “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital” http://bit.ly/9wqdQT for definition and disambiguation of the term social capital.

    Brand is has been described as the biggest driver of corporate value for the last 25 to 30 years and it is a measure of intangibles.

    Intangibles now account for over half of stock market value, so I think linking PR to social media and corporate social capital encompasses the link to sales and is far more interesting.

    Good luck with the piece. I hope that this helps!

    A lot of the ideas are being taught to PR students right now, for example in the post grad course that I designed and taught in one of Canada’s leading programs. http://bit.ly/bPuPgI

    Best Regards,