How to think about social 'bonuses'
Should publishers incentivize employees to drive social media? Google's recent announcement that it is tying all employee bonuses to how the company's social networking strategy fares shows just how seriously it is taking the possible Facebook threat in social search.
Google just launched the +1 service, its latest venture in the social space. As it seeks to establish a viable social strategy, it is looking for more ways to encourage innovation. But Computerworld's Mike Elgan faults the fact that the entire company has been incentivized over social services, which involves only a fraction of Google's roughly 25,000-person staff. "Imagine the Google social teams huddled together in the cafeteria trying to ignore icy stares from all directions -- including the kitchen staff," writes Elgan with a not inconsiderable amount of comic flair.
What about publishers that do not have Google's resources? That would include just about everybody else. Various experimental forms of traffic-based compensation have been around for years. This is not a new idea and doesn't have to be confined strictly to the social space. Gawker Media, for example, has been paying bloggers based, in part, on traffic since 2008 (which may account, in part, to their mercenary image).
"Advertising people say that the Internet is special, because the audience's engagement is so much more measurable than that of newspaper readers, or television viewers," wrote Gawker Media's then-managing editor Noah Robischon at the time. "Which makes it so bizarre that most writers, on the internet as in print, are paid for the sheer brute quantity of their output."
What about publishers that do not have Gawker's resources? On a freelance assignment basis, SEO is equally in the interest of the publisher as it is to the journalist. The more widely viewed a story, the better it is for the writer and, obviously, the publisher vis-a-vis page views. Every freelance journalist and blogger is, in their own way, a form of independent publisher. And so everyone from the hyperlocal writer publishing a blog on his sports team to the Hearst Digital Network is concerned with things like page rank, with Twitter followers, and with page views.
In Morning Note, Frederic Filloux calls this new fixation on statistics among publishers when figuring out employee compensation as "productivity obsessed." He wonders about its effects on the type of journalism practiced by people like Bob Woodward.
"In journalism," Folloux explains, "stats are increasingly likely to define trends. See USA Today’s alleged intention to tie reporters' bonuses to page views. This is yet another step in the current fashion now defining online journalism." Filloux concludes his point on the effects of statistics used as metrics for publishers and the state of journalism by reminding us of us of The AOL Way Memo, which, among other things, sets up a minimum amount of page views per story.
Finally, are some publishers of industry-specific content just incapable of having a strong social profile and thus immune to the merits of employee incentivization of social? Tom Albrighton of Econsultancy brings up the interesting point that because of the nature of their product and/or their audience, many B2B brands will quite simply never have tremendous social profile.
"If your brand is associated with embarrassment or despair, the best brand values you can hope for are trust, comfort and authority," Albrighton writes. "Fun and excitement are off the radar; the default light-hearted tone of social media simply isn’t appropriate and won’t engage."
Something to keep in mind.