A Beginner’s Guide to Social Capital

People are the most valuable resource on the planet.

When you hear the word “invest,” you may often think of stocks or currencies. But the value of human relationships, a common resource, is often overlooked. Therefore, knowing how to build beneficial social capital is a crucial skill to have.

What is social capital? There are many different definitions, but primarily, it is the theory that social networks have value. “Social capital refers to the connections among individuals — social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them,” writes Robert Putnam in the book Bowling Alone.

Social capital is the combinations of all of your networks: friendships, professional connections and family relations, and the resources provided through those friendships.

Resources are anything that allows someone to get something done. A resource could be a piece of equipment or an important piece of information, e.g., when you tell your neighbor about the great food at the local diner.

Social capital is when people provide assistance. Your neighbor shovels your driveway. You drop your change at the register for Primary Children’s. Your basement is flooding and you don’t have a pump and a friend loans one to you. For those going through addiction, an AA support group is a lifesaving form of social capital.

If you are searching for a job, social capital will be your most valuable resource, since it is estimated that at least 70 if not 80 percent of jobs are found through networks.

Now in 2016, social networking has expanded to virtual relationships.

People who you haven’t met are providing resources and adding value to your life. If you post on Facebook about a need for a new bed, a friend of a friend- someone you’ve never spoken with before-is able to provide access to a resource. Maybe you had a question about what camera to buy and found some good information on Quora.

Social capital is increasing the quality of your life and the lives of those around you at this very moment. When natural disasters strike, like the recent Hurricane Harvey, social capital proved invaluable. The benefits of having a friend outside of the effected state whose home you could stay in was truly priceless.

Navigating the waters of social capital is a crucial skill. And like all skills it is one that needs to be developed.

Each person is born with some social capital, namely, the family. Your family is the first community you have, the first support group, and your first resource. How you expand your social capital beyond your family is crucial to your future success.

However, social capital can be of negative value. Everyone has relationships. The question is, are your choosing good ones? Do you seek out people who are in sync with the ideas, ethics and drive that you wish to cultivate?

If you are continuously invested in people who have zero sense of responsibility, make bad choices and bring you down, it will affect you.

We all have friends who have made poor choices in their friend groups and now suffer from negative social capital. Negative social capital will drain you physically and emotionally while creating resistance to productivity. Alternatively, invest in people who are going to support, encourage and connect you with opportunities.

And soon social capital will be the most valuable resource you have access to.

If you are extremely outgoing you may have a very large social network. However, I caution in trading quantity when it can come at the expense of quality. A huge network can have very little value when there is a lack of support or alignment of goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the number of followers you have on Instagram instead of focusing on the people who are adding value and support to your life.

Remember to be deliberate, when building social capital, of what values you stand for, what work ethic you support, and what your goals are.

The most valuable resource may be sitting right next to you. Invest in social capital.