Social Karma, Social Capital & Your Cosmic Debt

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Recently I had  an incredibly meaningful conversation on Twitter involving Jeff Turner (@respres) and  Ines Hegedus-Garcia (@ines) where we discussed Social Capital versus Social Karma. The conversation was actually started by Kim Wood (@kimwood) with a simple tweet stating, “Whuffie or Building your Social Capital should not be done with the intention of “building your social capital”. I’m jussayin.” She rocked my world with this and the discussion began.

For me, this hit the nail on the head because I have always been a little leery of how people were using the term of “social capital”.  I’ll disclose that I have read “The Whuffie Factor” as well as the predecessor of this with regards to Social Capital, “”Down and out in the Magic Kingdom”. But this isn’t a book review, this is simply my take on Social Capital, what I will refer to as Social Karma, how they affect one another and more importantly that they two are not mutually exclusive.

Ines has written a brilliant post on our conversation over at Agent Genius entitled, “Social Media Politics can Suck You Dry” which sparked a wonderful conversation of comments.  It’s written from her point of view and perfectly honest.  As she says in her post:

“There is so much talk about being genuine and doing things for a greater good without expecting anything in return, but to tell you the truth, most of us are here to make money and to improve our business.  This doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in the process and show our personalities, but I’m not Ghandi or Mother Theresa – I volunteer my time, I raise money for charities and truly believe in the Universal Law and Power of Intention – but my time here has a goal and I have strategies for business as should you.”

God bless you Ines – you are totally on point and have spoken the truth about your intentions on social media.  She succinctly puts the difference between Social Capital and Social Karma into a beautiful one word (and very Zen) sentence.

Social Capital is a way to quantify your presence and the depth of your involvement whereas Social Karma goes so much deeper than that.

Karma and Capital

Social Capital has many different definitions and has been around for years prior to the best seller “Whuffie Factor”.  It has not always been positive, however, and its negatives are discussed in depth in the book “Down and out in the Magic Kingdom”.  In it (and other books) the negative elements of secular Social Capital are explored in the terms of Bridging vs. Bonding Social Capital.  This, however is another post for another day… (but can be referenced here)

Quantifying or calculating your Social Capital is a huge discussion with regards to Social Media/Networking today.  It is often times discussed as a piggy bank where deposits are made (by a means) for future withdrawal (i.e. asking for something in return).  What often times is NOT discussed is your potential Social Debt (or Karma) when operating in this social capital marketplace. Where this is the means to the end, I believe that what affects these deposits and debt is where my idea of Social Karma comes into play.

But what is Social Karma?

First of all, Social and Karma are kind of redundant (as pointed out by @repres) since Karma already has to do with society as a whole. But I want to use Social Karma to indicate that I am discussing Karma with regards to “Online Social” interactions.  To understand, (and these are my opinions only), I think we need to understand what the principles of Karma really are.

“Karma is the universal principle of cause and effect. Our actions, both good and bad, come back to us in the future, helping us to learn from life’s lessons and become better people.” – Wikipedia

Social Karma is then, in essence, the overall world in which all things reside with regards to a society.  Social Capital; respect, influence, and all of the other benefits and negatives actually reside within the world of Social Karma.  Karma is basically energy. One person throws out energy through thoughts, words and actions, and it comes back, in time, through other people.

The process of action and reaction on all levels—physical, mental and spiritual—is karma. One must pay attention to thoughts, because thought can make karmas—good, bad and mixed.

A big part that is often overlooked in this is that Karma is both good and bad.  It’s not ALWAYS your positive actions and rewards associated…  your karma can also be something selfish or negative that adds to your overall cosmic debt.  So with this being said, Social Karma (in speaking about Social Networks/Networking) is actually the MEANS, or one way, in which one can actually affect their Social Capital (or make deposits into said piggy bank).

“Karma is the best teacher, forcing people to face the consequences of their actions and thus improve and refine their behavior, or suffer if they do not. Even harsh karma, when faced in wisdom, can be the greatest spark for personal growth.”- Wikipedia

So here’s my thoughts on this:

Social Capital is what you seek
(influence, reach, positive or not)

Social Karma is HOW you get there
(consider them guiding principles, ethics, beliefs, or your energy)

Karma Diagram with effects on Social Capital

There are three types of karma in Hinduism:

1. Sanchita karma -  the sum total of past karmas yet to be resolved;
2. Prarabdha karma – that portion of sanchita karma that is to be experienced in this life; and
3. Kriyamana karma -  the karma that humans are currently creating, which will bear fruit in future.

Sanchita Karma (Sum Total Karma or “Accumulated actions” or the Arrows in the Quiver)

*This is your total cosmic debt. Every moment of your every day, you are either adding to it or you are reducing this cosmic debt.

Praarabdha Karma (Fructifying Karma or “Actions began; set in motion” or Arrows in Flight)

*This is Karmic Template of that portion of Sanchita Karma that is ripe enough to be experienced by you and allotted for this lifetime for you to work on.

Kriyamana Karma (Instant, Current Karma or “Being made” or Arrows in Hand)

*This is the daily, instant Karma created in this lifetime and that we create in our life because of our free actions. These are debts that are created and worked off – i.e. for example, you park your vehicle in a ‘No Parking Space’, you get caught and you are fined (punished) immediately.

What the hell does this all mean?

An 800lb gorillas in the room that no one usually discusses, (except Ines!),  is what you seek through gaining social capital, or what is your intention for growing it?  Whether it be business, respect, more readers to your blog, speaking engagement opportunities, or simply ego-driven popularity – I would venture to say that everyone has some kind of reason for building social capital.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as @joespake said the other day “there seems to be alot of posturing and less actual genuine participation”.  As a business coach, I would even venture to suggest that you make sure you have some kind of strategy for building this.  But does it have to be your defining ultimate task?

I think this is the million dollar question.

The idea of “Whuffie” is based on the idea of a “post-scarcity” economy as described in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” and we are far from that in today’s society of  real life.  People still need to make a living and close deals to pay the mortgage, (regardless of social capital I’m not thinking that your bank is going to accept it to pay off your mortgage).  Also, we are all human beings and often times think about ourselves first (which isn’t always bad… as Ines says we are not Ghandi or Mother Theresa).

I think that this is all about balance (and yes this is me trying to bring it full circle).  Personally, I’m not looking for any kind of financial gain through my online contributions, but like anyone else I enjoy being quoted, tweeted, asked to speak at an event, etc.  It benefits my self-esteem, my self-worth, and makes me feel good by doing it.  But at the same time these actions benefits others because I focus on providing value to them through my thoughts, words, presentations, teachings and research.

Some might take a look at this sentence above and say, “wow – that’s egotistical or self serving.” But this is me being honest and open about the goals of my Karmic Actions and truth – is me being genuine and authentic through transparancy.

In closing and through much thought on this topic, I think that Social Karma and Social Capital are intertwined regardless of your take on my post.  Whether your are a “Whuffie” fan or not, Social Capital and Karma are just revisits to the Golden Rule of which we were raised on as a child, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” I think that by approaching Social Karma as “the defining principles” as to how you build Social Capital, it allows us all to formulate (one again) guiding principles or guidelines for your online campaign.


  1. Good post, Matt.

    Though I do wonder if your perspective would change at all if you consider that “karma” is a _religious_ concept developed by a society that was hierarchical in the extreme with vast gaps between the haves and the have-nots. The upper classes (the brahmins, etc.) used karma to justify why it was that they were wealthy and privileged, while the lower classes were poor and oppressed.

    Karma is a tool to keep people quiescent in the face of inequality and oppression; if you’re good and obedient, you will be reborn in the next life in a higher caste, etc.

    Might actually explain social media hierarchy quite well too, now that I think about it.


  2. Thanks for the insight, Matthew. Even though Rob’s statements are correct, “karma” has taken on a more pop definition over the last 40 years or so.
    Whuffie, Karma, social capital, whatever you call it, the flaw of the social media community is that some aren’t willing to make much of an investment at all. They want to use the social ATM without putting anything in their accounts. And the snake oil salesmen and charlatans are selling Instant Karma and Magic Bullets to show them how to do it.

  3. I believe Karma is real. I even tell my clients they have “house karma” – I feel a blog post coming on. You know, the house that has been sitting on the market for 6 months no one wants it and then everyone wants it. My folks dont get it. I always tell them a better one is coming, and it always does? Don’t know why that is, must be their karma?

    I think some folks involved in social networking think that being popular and social capital are the same thing? I don’t think it is the same. I think there needs to be more to whuffie than popularity, maybe a little heart.

  4. Damn Rob – how do you do that? Matt and I were all zen and you bring up extreme hierarchy which makes soooo much sense – back to the Dharma for me.

  5. Matt and Ines,

    You ARE zen – even now, as the spirit of intent IS flowing from your heart. The strength and inspiration that you both feel in your thoughts and ideas is great energy, shared with many others and appreciated in social capital from those who chose to receive and spin the energy/value/goodness. It’s not egotistical or self-serving because your intention is to make a positive difference for common good and beyond. Rob makes a very valid point with his perspective on karma, hierarchy, and status, which does apply in social media circles today. And within this society anyone can achieve as much status, hierarchy, and zen as they so choose via their spirit of intent and valuable contribution provided to their social circles and the vast universe. And as Joe raised, those snake-oil salesmen and charlatains whose purpose or spirit of intent lacks benefit for the GOOD of all, will ultimately reap massive cosmic debt which will, at some point, result in a disappointing outcome for them. So keep doing what you’re doing – providing inspiration and example to others each day. If there’s a method to measure the effectiveness of your communication and message, then do so, to help you understand how effective your efforts and energy are in aligning with your spirit of intent for maximum benefit and connectedness. Matt, thanks for sharing your information and ideas with us.

  6. Rob – Thanks for bringing karma back out of the pop culture for taking a minute to help de-mystify it – its always a pleasure to see money well spent on a classical education ;-)

    Ines: You are always zen-like (or is that goddess like?) But I agree with you when you say its time to get back to the Dharma (defined by Wikipedia as “one’s righteous duty or any virtuous path in the common sense of the term”) since Dharma is the key to social capital. Its about doing things to benefit the coomunity without regard for your own agenda- something you do all the time.

    Joe: No matter what you call it, I think that being genuine is key to being successful in any online efforts. If you aren’t the person your community thinks you are when you meet f2f all of your social media efforts have been wasted.

    Audrey: IMHO being popular doesn’t give you social capital – however sometimes doing things which build social capital can lead to being liked by others – but its not the function of building social capital, its a possible side effect. People just tend to like people who do good things.

    A great post, and an interesting twist on the concept of social capital, but I get a little confused when you say “Social Capital is what you seek
    (influence, reach, positive or not)”.
    Social Capital is what you build when you contribute to others – in a genuine way. Pretending to be charitable, gracious, networked or helpful doesn’t build social capital, BEING charitable, gracious, networked, or helpful builds social capital. People just aren’t that easily fooled as – is evidenced by the skepticism that “talking the talk” evinces when you don’t “walk the walk”.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing good because it makes you feel good. Even Mother Theresa must have had a moment of pride or satisfaction when she helped someone, and I think that’s just fine. And I think you make that point yourself when you say “I’m not looking for any kind of financial gain through my online contributions, but like anyone else I enjoy being quoted, tweeted, asked to speak at an event, etc. It benefits my self-esteem, my self-worth, and makes me feel good by doing it.” And that is still a return to you for your efforts. No one says that the benefit received for doing good has to be financial (though I would point out that as a coach these things increase your brand and therefore your potential earning power) and these types of benefits are really important returns for people that have reached the point in their lives where self-actualization is important.

    Even more important, a financial benefit is not in and of itself a negative, its more about why you did what you did. If you’re a phony, pretending to be a valuable member of the community without really being a participatory member, I think you’ve done the wrong thing even if you get no financial return. Conversely, if you do things for the right reasons, and make genuine contributions, those contributions are not diminished just because you later received some benefit. Again, let me quote you when you say.” at the same time these actions benefits others because I focus on providing value to them through my thoughts, words, presentations, teachings and research.” So in my opinion, if someone read your work, recognized your contributions, appreciated your selfless efforts, and offered you a big check, or a great job, or the opportunity to be on TV or in a movie, that would not diminish the contribution you made to the community.

    I think the confusion here is the fact that we are using concepts like deposits and withdrawals to help people understand the positive and negative impact that different types of actions have as they develop their online presence and their online reputation. But let’s not let the form in this case define the function, or over complicate what we need to do to be valued in our communities.
    Remember the Spike Jones movie “Do the Right Thing”? Ozzie Davis played an older man named “Da Mayor” and Spike Jones played a young man named Mookie. In the start of the movie there’s a scene that defines social capital (possibly unintentionally, but it’ll work here)
    Da Mayor: Doctor..
    Mookie: What?
    Da Mayor: Always do the right thing
    Mookie: That’s it?
    Da Mayor: That’s it.
    Mookie: I got it. I’m gone.

    See? Simple Social Capital -

  7. Bill,

    Thanks for commenting – expected a “lively” comment back from you.

    And you make some great points. As I said I don’t think it’s a bad thing to engage and add to others with the idea of benefits down the road. I was simply intending to point out that there are few that acknowledge this like @ines does.

    Allow me to make something clear however. I am very comfortable in my current position and although ” as a coach these things increase your brand and therefore your potential earning power” this may be true, this is not the final goal of my efforts. I think you can attest from our conversations that my efforts come from being a giver and a lovecat .

    As you bring up in your comment as well, part of the confusion comes from the referring to “withdrawl and deposit” mentality, which (regardless of the historical briefing by my friend Mr. Hahn) is why I believe that Karma is a better choice of words.

    Thanks again,

  8. Though it looks like I’m a bit late in reading this, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a philosophy major, I couldn’t help but smirk at Rob’s initial comment.

    Christianity, too, has its own form of Karma (“reaping what you sow”). The idea of Karma, reaping what you sow, or whatever you want to call it- as it relates to a moral dictate that governs one’s way of life- is innately selfish, imho. The zen-like approach of balance and appropriation makes sense conceptually, but there is no logical argument to substantiate it. And, no matter how secular we want to keep the idea of Karma, it is attached to the hip of morality. I don’t think there is a such a thing as “universal morality”, so where does that leave us? As Rob pointed out in other words, what’s good for the goose may be good for the gander, but it’s not always good for the people walking below getting s**t on.

    Anyway, Social Karma is the Los Angeles approach to success, whereas Social Capital walks the streets of NYC. And, while Social Karma may indeed be the path to Social Capital, is there anything wrong with saying, “Screw it… I’m going to skip Social Karma and get straight to the point.” Don’t we live in a world where constructive brazenness and transparency are commodities?

    While I agree with Social Karma being one path to Social Capital, I say there are two more: the one of blatant Social Capital, and one of Social Utilitarianism.

    After all, if we do good solely in the name of the whole, instead of what cosmic rewards we might receive in the future, doesn’t everyone win? To me, that’s how genuine Social Capital is built. It’s about as close to altruism as you can get, but you’re undoubtedly reaping the benefits of your own actions.

    Anyway, that’s my .02… I fell like I ranted a bit there. Originally, all I wanted to do was mention a cool new site called, in which things are bought with points instead of money :) It’s pretty cool, and it hovers around the whole “Social Capital” idea.