This week I received a product in the mail that came with a printed insert. The insert had a hashtag on it and encouraged me to post a photo on social media. After checking the hashtag it showed me that this insert has led to a lot of user engagement with their company on social media and has also given them a decent amount of user-generated content to utilize in future marketing efforts.
This isn’t a new strategy, but for some of their customers, this might be the first time posting content on their personal feeds to promote a brand. Now, I have nothing against this behavior. If I like a product or a service I’m very quick to share my thoughts about it. For instance, I swear by a finance service called Digit and have shared it with a lot of my friends and family.
I did this of my own free will. Digit earned my trust and after I saw the value it provided to me I decided to share that value with people I know. Digit earned my “share.” However, because I’m not new to this, I checked their site before sharing. Digit uses a referral system that rewards me when another user signs up with my custom sharing link. This is what I was looking for. By utilizing Digit’s referral system I’ve made $115.
Let’s be clear, referral systems weren’t created to reward users, they were made to create users. The reward for a referral is simply an incentive to let digital marketing teams hijack people’s feeds. But, as in the case of me and Digit, sometimes people post on their own free will. The referral was a bonus.
That got me thinking about the company I previously mentioned. Do customers understand how companies utilize this content? Should these customers be compensated for the attention hijacking practices of modern marketing? Maybe? Maybe not? I tossed this crude example together to show how a user might be rewarded when he/she isn’t aware of referral systems. Think of it as a way to fairly compensate users for the work we have convinced them to do for us.
In this example, Instagram could recognize branded hashtags and ask a user if he/she is posting a partner’s product on their platform. If the user wants to, they can sign-in to their account on the partner’s website and attach a referral link to their post.
This isn’t really “solving a problem” for the user as much as it’s an ethical question about the way we use people to market our products and compensation for that work. This couldn’t be mandatory or regulated, but it’s nice to think about a digital environment where users are getting paid for the value they are contributing to businesses.
After talking about this with a couple of people it occurred to me that this way of thinking might create a social media culture that is driven by rewards and commodifies personal experiences. My theory is that this version of social media already exists, and this type of thinking gives a small bit of power back to the user.