Should you be paid to participate in social media?

Employees are a key element in social business. Designing roles for employees in social business requires particular thought around ecosystem (i.e. how they connect with others), hivemind (i.e. their level of social calibration), and dynamic signaling (i.e. content creation and distribution).

Most of the people I know who are involved in social media are of the white-collar salaried variety. Many of them participate in order to gain a competitive edge in their work. But what happens when the rest of the company gets involved?  In particular, when the participation happens for corporate benefit and being social becomes part of the job…how should employers reward this value creation?

When an entire business ecosystem becomes socially active – and our corporate labor policies and 9-to-5 mentalities have not yet evolved – should employees be paid for participating in social media?  What happens if the hourly employees participating in Twelpforce and similar initiatives stop for a second and think – “hey, I’m not on the clock…why am I not being paid for this?”

  • Some people might stop participating.
  • Others might still do it for “extra credit.”
  • It’s not inconceivable that in some environments the workforce might sue. In fact, it’s already happening in some closely-related cases.

The propensity of people to contribute value on a volunteer basis is all around us.  Individual editors on Wikipedia, participation in site improvement surveys, or retweeting information for a good cause.  But volunteerism is only going to take us a limited distance, the first step or two on the journey of a thousand miles to social business.

So how is your company going to handle the journey? Are you prepared to potentially pay for it every step of the way?

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  1. Really interesting post. It also relates to the way that businesses use social media and the extent to which its contribution can be measured.

    In the UK certainly, investment in social media seems to be a big priority. Members of the Institute of Directors named it as a top five IT spending priority for this year.

    At the moment though, it’s use seems to be overwhelmingly skewed towards marketing. As and when social media becomes more embedded in the business and a more important part of core functions, from team collaboration through to sales or CRM, then social media in general will come to be seen as a more “legitimate” way to spend time.

  2. The concept is certainly thought-provoking. At a smaller business level, we are looking to create fewer employer/employee distinctions. As business becomes “social”, it is in everyone’s best interest to participate in those things that benefit the business…and by extension, themselves. At a larger company level, since many top execs are paid large salaries while staff are paid more modestly, I can see where that distinction is harder to blur. At the same time, as soon as people are being “paid” to be social, will authenticity suffer? If you job is customer service, and your tool Twitter, you hopefully do your job well. But when your online persona is only a paid avatar, I wonder if the feel is the same.

  3. Peter:

    What’s the difference between participating in social media and volunteering for civic groups and community activities? Companies and employees have been dealing with this question far longer than the Internet has been around. Have people been rewarded for joining Kiwanis International, serving on the local school board, or coaching little league? In the end, individuals doing good deeds in their community will strengthen the reputation of the company they work for/own.

    In terms of compensation, I think the company’s culture will determine how to approach this. If the company has a culture that values volunteerism and community involvement, its employees will have a natural inclination to be active in the community regardless of company compensation. If the company’s culture doesn’t support these types, compensation might help juice the number, but attempts at rewarding these behaviors won’t be sustainable over time unless volunteerism becomes part of the underlying culture.


  4. Here are my thoughts. I have been dealing with this from the blog consultant end of the spectrum. You see lots of ads on craigslist of big companies trying to regain market value out of fear and a need now type mentality. I think it’s fine to hire in house but if your employees know social media then they should be paid more or rev share on ads somthing for their knowldge that is about to bring your company to the next round.

    I also think that companies should use consultants to come in offten to train in house staff. The reason being is that socail media changes so fast these days. The pay should be more because the results of social media done right are priceless, why not engage you employees by doing the right thing.

    Connecting people is importent see newspaper article search Bloggers School Helps people to connect on Goolge hope this ads to conversation

  5. Love your site and your unique position working social media for a company from within. I would love to invite you on our radio show. Great topic right on target of new media life. Added to reader thanks contact me for radio interview.


  6. Great post, as usual Peter. A point you made in your post about business mentalities not quite caught up, is right on point. Some companies haven’t managed to grasp the concept that social business needs to go deep, into all levels within the organization. This doesn’t necessarily mean paying for specific activities, but embracing the social power of your employees is a major step in integrating social media into the “fabric” of how you operate as a business. Great things to ponder in this post, for businesses large and small.

  7. If your employee is saying “hey, I’m not on the clock…why am I not being paid for this?” then you probably have deeper company culture issues to address. In my opinion, your employee either has an ingrained social drive which will cause them to be social 24 / 7 OR you have the one that is ‘doing’ it for work and will shut it down at 5pm.

    The bigger legal issue that I see coming online is this… My boss encouraged me to tweet, on the job… now I got laid off. Who does the account belong to?

    A company invests quite a bit into the social networking aspect of some of their employees. Do they lose those contacts? Are they part of a severance package? How will that affect authenticity?


  8. Cyndee – I think your question can be answered easily by putting a proper policy in place. In the case of corporates, tools like CoTweet can help manage multi-tenanted social participation. The culture issue will be much bigger as organizations attempt to scale social business.

  9. The social media revolution implies that a business values first its employees, then its clients and finally its shareholders to make it successful. To properly value the employees, it needs to be open to their input (intellectual recognition) as well as to pay them a correct salary (material recognition). By doing so – thus not specifically paying for their social contribution but just enhancing the natural conditions for the WOM to take place – the outcome will be optimized.

  10. Very Interesting angle!

    I think that a meritocracy should be instated.

    In Canada, Future Shop (the leading electronic retail stores) established a forum where customers were invited to ask questions and sales person were invited to answer. The idea of community was great and that was something I would do out of my work hours because the better ratings I get (from answering customers), the more I established myself as an expert and thus could help my sales.

    For companies that would have employees do the same in a non-sales oriented community, it could be a little harder. However, I believe establishing an attractive company culture is very important and if you can get your employees to fall in love with the company’s culture them you will have less problems.

    A meritocracy where each contribution by the employees outside of work can be recorded would be my solution to this problem. Have your employees win a trip to Mexico or something. The more they contribute and get a good rating, the more change they get to win that trip.

    The larger the company, the harder it will be to get everybody involved but I believe it is possible.

  11. This post is so timely to conversations we’re having, Pete. πŸ™‚ There is such a fine line between what an employee can and can’t say still on-line… On one side, employers don’t want their people “speaking for the company,” and on the flip side employers want to encourage their people to say things that could positively affect the business.

    I love the juxtaposition of these polar opposites.

    We’ve started exploring the balance between social media monitoring and social media incentives when it comes to the enterprise. My e-mail is monitored when I log in to my employer’s network, but not when I log off and go home. This is very different from my on-line identities, as they are mine before, during, and after work.

    So how can an employee be incentivized to succumb to social media monitoring? Compensation seems to be an early answer, but is it enough to hurdle the need for privacy and the need for separation of work and personal identities?

  12. Great post, Peter!

    It brings up the question of how social media adds value to the company – whether it adds to the bottom line (in which case, pay the people using it), or whether it adds more value as a fun, teambuilding activity that happens to have side effects (like better customer service or marketing).

    Of course I’m deliberately bifurcating a more complex issue, but I think the second aspect – that of teambuilding/making work fun – hasn’t been covered a lot, and I think it may be a way for companies to avoid putting a number of social media contributions too soon.

    Of course, a lot of that depends on the company’s culture to start out with … which may explain the lawsuit. If a company is nickel-and-diming its employees, it can expect exactly the same attitude back. If it’s more open and trusting, they might just find their employees enjoying the responsibility.

  13. I like what Simon said …
    and it leads me to the idea that maybe, like blogging, we shouldn’t think of social media that way at all.

    Blogging isn’t about the number of posts. It’s a hiring decision. We’re not longer debating blogging policy down to the letter of the law as we once were … at least I hope we’re past that.

    If we trust employees at every level to attend conferences and trade shows after hours, and if we include that as 10% travel in a job description, I think we can handle social media in matter similar to that.

    Am I missing something huge here?

  14. It’s interesting that a recurring theme in the comments positions the company as transgressor. In my experience, employees run the value equation ( compensation / labor = value? ) in all types of work environments.

  15. Liz, I do think it is more complex than this. For salaried employees, most of the time spent related to social media is accounted for. For hourly employees, time spent isn’t as easy to manage. Whether travel or on call, if an employee has a set weekly schedule for hours, then they are generally entitled to compensation outside of those times.

    In general I think companies look for people who will “do whatever it takes,” i.e. bend the rules a bit. This approach works especially well in bad economies or hot industries. But watch out for a backlash when the bulls start running again.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney.)

  16. Peter,

    Great question with no right/wrong answer. If it’s part of the individual’s job, they should be paid for it and evaluated on their performance. If they are compensated strictly by the hour, but have incentives that would motivate them to perform certain duties off the clock, they might be more likely to perform those duties without hourly compensation. If they are not incentivized to perform these duties off the clock, they probably won’t perform them.

    That said, in today’s world, I would suspect that “showing that extra initiative” (working for free) might have a positive impact on continued employment and promotions…so depending on the culture and the individual’s goals, they might go ahead and perform the duties with the hope that goodness will prevail. (Sorry, I had to stop typing for a moment while I laughed uncontrollably.)

    Look forward to reading more comments on this topic!

  17. isn’t a lot of social activaty online, offduty, comparable to social activaties offline ?

    I’m working in a smaller company, consisting of around 70 people, and internally you see reputation and respect growing when social activaties are organised, or attended, by those people. Connections grow, people get to know eachother and Events happen that keep in their minds for a long time (remember that friday afternoon drink when the receptionist was dancing on the bar ? right…)

    I usually use such a showcase when explaining social media, creating a bit of context and a domain where people can reference to.

    Now to get back to the question, nobody pays you to organize a party or get drinks with your colleagues (or other stakeholders, to create a bigger picture) but your (offline) reputation will grow, you’ll have more interesting discussions and people will trust you more (if you don’t go too drunk on the party…)

    Catch my drift ? Not everyone loves to party, and seeing social (media) activaties as a party seems to work out pretty well for us πŸ˜‰

  18. Over time in an evolving interconnected and interlinked ecosystem of information flows, most of which is generated by people working with that information, it’s highly likely that we will use new design principle for knowledge work, namely something like a dynamic two-way (or n-way) flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology .. in my opinion.

  19. Jon – I think wirearchy is an interesting idea. It fits into my company’s bigger idea of social business design; what you’re talking about here is mostly ecosystem. To the point of this post, companies will need to separate voluntary vs. involuntary participation and compensated vs. not as we evolve into new ways of working.

  20. Sure, makes a lot of sense. But let’s think about the quintessential company holiday party – which happens offline and “off-duty.” While many people might be excited to attend, some may feel compelled to show up for the good of their careers. It’s not about the people who are leading the charge to socialize – it’s about the ones who report to them that don’t have much of a choice.

  21. Interesting question/topic Peter.

    My gut says that in the business world people should be paid/compensated for their time/work even if it’s participation in social media. If a persons company has interest in them being involved I’d assume that they are not limited to personal use. Their company will likely have some desire for them to do things inline with promoting the company (i.e. customer support, promotion, sales, pr, etc…).

    I could see the non paid volunteer approach working in the nonprofit world though.

  22. Interesting topic and one of which I have had much thought lately. I just left a job at a small company where I struggled with exactly this. This is exactly what drove me to start my own biz. I was so tired of being directed by a CEO who thought he understood social media, how my team should be spending our time, etc. When in reality often time corporate exec mgmt lacks the core knowledge, yet still directs priorities and focus areas. For me this led to literally 24 hour work days that weren’t worth the paper my check was written on. Did I have success w/my ecommerce efforts as a result of social media, SEO and the late nights… absolutely! But was it worth the loss of my ability to “enjoy life”, absolutely NOT!

    Another key area of concern is a symptom of the above. Since many organizations do not want to officially allocate resource to support social media objectives outside of marketing, it creates a bottleneck, overworked marketing teams, and contention between other functional groups as many of them want to participate but due to corporate exec direction are not permitted to.

    I believe there are several core areas where the corporate eco-system needs to catch up:
    1. Exempt employee protection. There are no laws to protect the exempt employee from being forced to work 80-120+ hour work weeks.

    2. Education for those in leadership roles that help them better understand social media including benefits, requirements, risks etc.

    3. Training for the masses in corporate america. Research statistics prove execs believe there are benefits to social media. However, data shows they lack the education to enable them to justify the risk.

    This all creates tremendous opportunity for the experts in social media. We can add tremendous value in both large and small organizations. However, I have seen some of the same risks/issues surface even for external agencies or consultants as it’s still the same execs signing the contract in a down economy. Until they “get it” businesses and agencies are going to spin on this topic.

    TITLE: Being Paid To Participate? What Are your Employees Doing In Social Media?
    BLOG NAME: Bloggers For Hire
    DATE: 08/12/2009 12:54:49 AM
    I wanted to just chime in on a post I was reading by Peter Kim and instead of hijacking his comment section I thought I would just jot down the thought I had when his post entitled Should you be paid to participate in social media? made m…

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