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Are Social Updates A New Form Of Merchandise?

LOS ANGELES (Hypebot) –
Guest Post: Matt MacNaughton is the co-founder and CEO of Culture Jam which has launched several Twitter and Facebook applications that power viral promotions, allowing artists to distribute promotional content, host listening parties or enter contests in exchange for a fan's post to their social networks. Clients include Paramore, Imogen Heap, Moby, and The Used.

The “update” whether it be on Facebook or Twitter, is beginning to cement itself as its own distinct form of expression. Much like the clothes you wear or the car you drive, the social network update is an outward bound statement of who you are, what you care about and what you believe those around you should care about. Lately I’ve been throwing around the concept of the update as a form of “Social Currency.” Quite simply it’s the idea that people value their update as a real form of self-expression, and that if any band, brand or artist were to influence someone’s tweet or status post, it should be recognized as such, a genuine, albeit bite-size, investment from their fans.

"bite-size social statements are no less valuable then the band t-shirt a teenager chooses to wear…"

So what is “Social Currency”? Well in this case it's an exchange between artist and fan where an artist provides a fan with a download, exclusive experience or a chance to win merchandise or some other merchandise in exchange for a fans post to their social network. Music fans put more value in such an exchange then one might care to recognize. An update takes thought, wit, humor. It often includes a picture you just took from your phone or a link to a page you think worthy of sharing with others.

These bite-size social statements are no less valuable then the band t-shirt a teenager chooses to wear to the mall or the sticker they proudly promote on their car's bumper. If you think about it, a 16 year old is as likely to choose to wear the new Drake or Paramore shirt to school today, as they are willing to post an update about either artist to their social network stream. That’s not to say that a $20 shirt is worth the same as a Facebook update or tweet. It’s not, that costs exactly $20 more, but the decision to wear it to school that day, to invest oneself as an advocate for that artist to their peers, well for the time being that just might carry an equal value to that fan.

Culture Jam, the company I run, brought to market the first “tweet-to-download” application for bands, filmmakers and other content creators that enabled them to distribute their works in exchange for a tweet or Facebook post. Part of the reason we developed the application PromoJam was to find a better way to reach people, distribute promotional content and make a lasting impression on fans. Through online social means we wanted to create the same feeling of participation and ownership that putting on a Minor Threat or Tupac shirt used to make us feel when we walked the halls of high school.

Fans take their time and effort spent online interacting with artists seriously. For those of us who are marketing to these fans online, its time we start looking at just how much social currency we are asking fans to fork over, and if we, in fact, are offering a one-to-one exchange. As silly as it might sound, this exchange will be the first step towards building a new generation of consumers willing to pay for content.

You can follow Matt MacNaughton and Culture Jam on twitter at