“The glass is neither half-full nor half-empty: it's twice as big as it needs to be.”
You could be rich and not know it! And I’m not talking about getting an email from a Nigerian prince. I’m talking geeky street cred, or as it’s known in more formal terms, social capital.*
Social capital is the richness of your network, and it’s the key to fansourcing, learning new things, influencing the world out there, and getting a favourable introduction to someone in a position to help you get your dream job.
Sounds great! Tell me more!
You can increase your social capital by sending me a million dollars...
No? Okay, fine.
You can increase your social capital by building up your personal brand, maintaining a good online presence, and networking through proactivity, asking around, and social networking sites.
Your personal brand is where the online street cred comes from. Write a blog, post your Flash creations, make tutorials, and so on. Consistently offer something helpful in a way that is recognizable and traces back to you. You know how on Newgrounds or deviantART, you sometimes see a particular name and you just HAVE to click on the link because you KNOW that person always creates something awesome? That’s how you want people to feel about you. So use your geeky skills and get famous, even if it’s a teeny tiny Internet kind of famous.
Your online presence refers more to you as a person. Think of yourself as the CEO of a company of one. You, personally, are your online presence, whereas your company is your personal brand. Go early and go often to the sites related to your preferred form of geekery and get involved. Answer questions. Comment on others’ work, being kind and helpful. Keep your negativity in check; don’t get “emo,” don’t spam with quizzes, and for the love of all things bright and beautiful, never ever EVER troll.
Lastly, network. Once you’re made a favourable name for yourself, you can put that street cred (or “brand power”) to good use. When you have people watching you, making a recommendation has more sway. When people trust you and your “company”, you can fansource your projects and people will be happy to help because they want to be a part of what you’re doing. I’ve used these techniques in the past on deviantART. I’ve got a small but loyal following to whom I recommended the artist I’m working with on a Real Life business. I’ve also called in the troops to find volunteer artists and voice actors, and I’ve asked a friend I met through DA to edit my novel.
This is where social capital is better than real companies or real money. You know how people often ask artists to work for free, saying they should be happy for the opportunity to show their work? This isn’t like that. Because you’ve built up your social capital, you are putting out an open call to ask a favour from a friend (or a lot of friends). You’re not a random person asking for free slave labour. You’re their friend, and if they needed someone to help them out for free, they know you’d do the same.**
One last thing about social capital is that it’s the key to networking upwards. The more people with whom you’re in good standing, the more of a chance you have of knowing someone who knows someone. It’s like Linked In, but not contained to any particular web address. Social capital is the Linked In of the whole world, both on and offline.
Use what you have, foster good relationships, and build yourself up by doing what you love to do: creating cool stuff and hanging out with geeks. Awesome!
*The official definition of social capital varies from discipline to discipline, so Your Mileage May Vary.
**You have to do the same. It’s all part of building a good reputation in the online community. Also, cough-Golden Rule-cough.