By Inbal AbarbanelJanuary 13th, 2022

Have you ever had a gut feeling, as you were about to introduce two friends, that they may not get along? One of these friends is someone you hold in high regard. The other — while you hate to admit it — you’re a little ashamed of and worry they may embarrass you in front of the other friend. You may wonder: what is this shame all about, and why do you even care?

It all boils down to your own social status. Imagine this: Tom is asked by his former colleague Lilly for an introduction to his current manager Brian. Lilly isn’t remembered fondly to Tom. She held a junior position at his former workplace. By granting her request, Tom jeopardizes his good name in his manager’s eyes, Brian. Tom puts his social rank on the line. Now, if the roles were reversed, and Lilly was superior to Tom, it is most likely he’d readily go for this introduction, for the sake of his own status.

Our social status rank is dynamic, and every acquaintance has an effect on it

This phenomenon is also reflected in the commercial promotion sector where the ability to use and bring someone’s reputation into play is capitalized. That’s why it’s widely common to see marketing campaigns with famous faces in social network feeds. Brands use celebrities and influencers to establish a foothold in the feeds and bring awareness to their fan base. What stands behind this commerce may be referred to as an economy of reputation, treating reputation use as commerce. A business may ask a celebrity to represent their brand so their reputation casts its competence to their brand position. In doing so, a zero-sum game is held over both sides’ social ranks. 

These deals are sealed based on each party’s reputation. Influencers have a general price tag — The more popular a celebrity figure, the higher the fee. The same is on the companies’ side — in cases where a lesser-known firm asks a well-known figure to be their spokesperson, the power dynamics on each side are uneven. As with Tom and Lilly, when a brand isn’t likely to help that celebrity figure’s reputation, one of two outcomes may happen: an additional incentive is needed, and the price tag goes up, or, because the proposal doesn’t offer any additional benefit to the celebrity from the start, they’ll turn it down.

Our social status rank is dynamic, and each and every acquaintance affects it, whether by improving or degrading it. So much so that we might even refuse a request to avoid a conflict or downgrade in our perceived competence. We seek to solidify our social status by whom we engage with, among other things.