The wrong way to repay social media influencers

Signs of the recession - a psychic ATM?

One of my favorite stories to tell about social behavior is from Malcolm Gladwell, who shares a tale of an Israeli daycare center. In the story, the daycare center was facing issues with parents picking up their children late. Using a perfectly rational strategy, they decided to impose a 10 shekel fee on parents who were late picking up their kids as a way to reduce delinquencies.

What happened was unexpected: delinquencies actually went up significantly. Why? Because parents suddenly had a social obligation, a social contract, transformed into a transactional exchange of value. Their time now had a currency attached to it, and they were perfectly happy to accept the fee in exchange for more time.

The daycare center realized their error and ended the fee. What happened next defied logic at first: the delinquencies remained high. They were unable to reverse the shift in their customers’ heads from a transactional relationship back to a social obligation, a social relationship.

This is a vitally important lesson for everyone in social media when it comes to managing influencers. The moment you break out rewards that are financial or transactional in nature, you are breaking a social relationship and transforming it into a transacational exchange of value, and there’s no going back.

If you want to reward influencers for sharing their social currency with you, repay it in social currency. Highlight people and grant them status and reputation in the eyes of your community. Deepen the personal relationship, give them inside access, behind the scenes looks, early notice, a better account manager, etc. – but repay social currency with social currency.

Once you cross the line from social to transactional, there’s no going back. If you want to do transactional exchanges, set up an affiliate program that’s totally separate and distinct from your social media work so that people who want to do dollar for dollar exchanges of value can do so, but keep the social and transactional houses separate.


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  • http://twitter.com/aschottmuller Angie Schottmuller

    Love this post, Chris! Very interesting. This is a great case study to back up a social brand advocate program I’m working on. Thanks for sharing!