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What are your tweets and posts worth?

By Steph Guthrie

In my experience, many employers and clients lack  understanding of the work involved in social media. Unfortunately for the people who do this work, the poor understanding usually results in either inadequate compensation, or an expectation to “squeeze in” social media amid a full time job’s worth of other responsibilities.

I’ve noticed a tendency to assume that one can simply “bang out a few tweets” in 15 minutes and then go about the rest of their day. If an organization truly wants to derive any benefit from social media, however, the reality is quite different. Crafting a great tweet or post takes time, not only to settle on decent wording but to research interesting and community-relevant things to post (or craft original content to link to, such as a blog post or photo album).

Building an engaged community that will click the links you post, hit the “like” or “retweet” button, or reply to your post is perhaps even more time-consuming. Otherwise you’re basically just screaming in the middle of an empty room. Sometimes employers or clients seek “shortcuts” such as purchasing followers (which buys volume but not engagement). Other times they overlook this side of the work entirely, yet expect the same results they would if the worker were afforded time to build a community.

So what do these erroneous assumptions translate into in terms of working conditions and compensation? Unsurprisingly, social media is commonly delegated to an unpaid or poorly paid intern, often a recent graduate (because if a person is under 30 they are automatically amazing at social media, just by osmosis! </sarcasm>). When the work is paid, it is often foisted on an employee who already has a full plate of responsibilities and no additional time to devote to social media, let alone the time it takes to learn how to be good at it.

When organizations hire an external consultant to manage social media, they often are not prepared to pay for the actual amount of time required to achieve their desired results. Seasoned veterans have the experiential knowledge and negotiation skills to build that time into their contracts, but less experienced workers may not know the full extent of their value and thus avoid rocking the boat. In these cases, the consultant may run into trouble at billing time if they are honest about the hours they worked (or simply not bill the full amount of time they spent working for the client).

In some ways it’s not all the individual employers’ and clients’ faults. As a person in this line of work, I have had to train myself to carefully track the amount of time I spend on client work. This isn’t because my clients are untrustworthy or lack knowledge (in fact, I’ve been extremely lucky in this regard). It is because I have been using social media for personal communication and recreation for many years, and as such am not accustomed to seeing it as work.

A lot of the work involved in social media is not the posting or blogging itself, but everything that happens in between: following links, reading and viewing content to assess its suitability for one’s audience, researching accounts to follow/friend, etc. If you’re lucky enough to be managing social media for organizations whose work interests you, sometimes this work doesn’t feel like “WORK work” – but it is, and we should be compensated for it.

Have you been asked to incorporate social media into an already-full slate of responsibilities in your work? To what extent do your employers/clients grasp the time and energy required to manage successful social media accounts? Have you ever had to educate an employer on these matters? What strategies have been successful? Tell us in the comments!

Steph Guthrie is the moderator of the MediaTech Commons. She’s an internet animator and a full-time feminist. You can join her at the MediaTech Commons by signing up here. Already a member? Log in here.

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