Updated: Paying Users to View Ads? Facebook Doesn’t Get It

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I recently came across this headline on Gather, “Facebook to Pay Users for Viewing Ads?” and my first thought was, “They just don’t get it.” The “it” I am referring to is meaningful user engagement. Yes, Facebook is the biggest social network in the world, with a reported 600 million global users, but sometimes exponential growth is achieved in spite of an organization’s flawed strategy, systems and tactics (remember AOL?).

Let me make this clear, material rewards in exchange for participation on a social network is a long-term losing proposition. Check this cool Dan Pink video on what motivates people, in particular the point that rewarding mechanical functions may work, but once you get beyond “rudimentary cognitive function” it quickly tanks.

Note the mention of the word “engagement”, the current buzzword for why brands and companies should use social media. On social networks, what starts as enthusiastic support for the paying organization by its paid supporters morphs into a feeling of entitlement to that remuneration leading to demands for increased compensation and ending in resentment towards the organization — the exact opposite outcome from what was initially desired.

At that point, you not only have a dissatisfied user, you have one with increased voice and influence who knows how to reach your customers very well.

This is the major flaw behind organizations’ misguided faith in raw social media metrics. The belief that the more Twitter followers you gain or “likes” on your Facebook page the greater the success of your social media campaign (or the talent of the people you have in charge of it). Hire me, and tell me that you will consider me a top performer if I can get you 10K Twitter followers in the next three months and I’ll buy them online. Do they care about the company of its brands and products? Likely not, but I’ll accept your accolades and cash the check regardless.

Want me to run a contest on your Facebook page and judge its success (and my value) by how many “likes” it gets — that can easily be done as well. Two recent examples:

Ex. 1:Chicago‘, one of the longest running musicals on Broadway, gave away free guaranteed tickets to a performance to each user who got 10 friends to “like” its Facebook page. ‘The Book of Mormon” a new musical and currently the hottest ticket on Broadway is considering doing the same thing. Why is that of value, other than the statistical bump? What is the connection between the brand and the (potential) customer? Heck, with my old AOL email account (seven screen names), Yahoo Mail, Excite, and Hotmail accounts I can add 10 likes without even bothering a single soul.

Rule: If a system can be “gamed”, it will be — guaranteed.

Ex. 2: Recently I became aware of a cruise line contest. The task was simple and mechanical: Like our Facebook page and be entered into a drawing for a free 7 day cruise for two. Now, I love cruise vacations, with 13 sailings to date, and I am loyal to a different cruise line. But, free is free, so I clicked “like” and when the winner was announced, and it was not me, I promptly went back to the Facebook page and clicked “Unlike”. To that cruise line it is as if I was never there. And I am no more a fan of them now than I was before. Why? There was no engagement between me (the user) and the brand.

Another Rule: Paying someone to market your brand on social media without demanding they “do the necessary” to engage your users is money, time and opportunity wasted.

But still, companies often buy-in to these bean-counter type stats due to a lack of understanding or better alternative. Facebook appears more than willing to play this numbers game, using tactics that show short-term gains, but lack any real value. Don’t believe the hype.

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Update 06//08/2011: More on Facebook’s predilection for inconsideration of users’ feelings when changing the status quo:

Facebook sorry over face tagging launch

“The social network said that it should have done more to notify members about the global launch.”

“‘Once again Facebook seems to be sharing personal information by default.” – Graham Cluley, senior consultant with security firm Sophos

To be clear, it is not the facial recognition photo feature that is causing members angst, it is that, once more, Facebook failed to notify users about the change coupled with its “default opt-in” philosophy.

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Acknowledgments: Hat tip on the video to writer/educator Greg Ferenstein http://www.gregferenstein.com/

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

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