TechCrunch posed an interesting question over the weekend regarding top users of social media sites: should they be paid?
In my experience, the answer is, it depends.
Epinions vs. Amazon
Amazon pays their users nothing to write product reviews. Epinions pays their users a small amount. Yet, Amazon has many, many more reviewers.
Why? Amazon has a much larger reach. For many writers, nothing is more satisfying than having a large audience. David Walker posits “recognition, respect and goodwill” explain why these writers do what they do.
Book reviewers come to Amazon because it’s where the bulk of intelligent, Internet-using bookbuyers come to shop. Some people would call it a book-buying “community”.
Epinions has a great community of book reviewers as well, but it pales in comparison. Why? People don’t comparison shop for books. They buy them at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or their local book store.
YouTube vs. Revver
A very similar kind of battle is being waged in the video sharing space.
Not content to concede viral video to YouTube, competitor Revver has stars of its own and a revenue sharing program based on still image ads at the end of each video. Ad based revenue sharing is unlikely to be sufficient incentive for the vast majority of any system’s users, but that may not be the case for a site’s biggest stars.
Let’s take a look at traffic to both sites:
Revver is squarely aimed at people who want to make money for their work. Why else would you post your video on Revver? At this point, it is not just to generate an audience, at least not the kind that YouTube can.
Why does Revver offer money to share revenue with it’s users? To get above the noise generated by YouTube and to attract top talent not content with just giving away their creations. When you are #2 in an industry, you have to do something that differentiates yourself from a competitor.
Revver isn’t going to create community for it’s users, that’s what YouTube is for. When you create a following on YouTube, you can choose to graduate to Revver to get paid for your work. The question is will your crowd follow you there?
Why are they there?
If you run a social media site, you have to ask why your users are there. Would all of your users leave if someone else offered to pay them? Could you pay users and stay in business? If you can’t, how can your competitor? Using books as an example, I’m not sure anyone could stay in business paying book reviewers very much given the small margins in the book industry.
When you work out how long it must take a user on Digg or Netscape to be a top user, $1000 doesn’t really work out to a lot of money. These people aren’t doing it for money. They are doing it for recognition. They are doing it because their stoking their passion. They are doing it because they like the site, the activity, the community of folks around them. They are doing it for fun. Maybe money will make it more fun, maybe not.
If you have a community site that is happily plugging along and another site pops up and offers their best users money for their work, what do you do? Is Digg suffering as a result of Netscape’s offer to pay? If it is, it’s not because Netscape is better, it is because Digg has failed to create enough of a reason to stick around.
There is no doubt that in this new social media world that paying users for their work is inevitable. The value that users create for these sites is incredible. But these sites create value for their users as well, it’s just not quantifiable in the form of payment.