I'm struggling to get my thoughts in order on this question.
Last week I got an email from a colleague in PR:
"This is a bit of a test email amongst some of the blogger folks that I know to see whether, in principle, you’d get involved in a client related project?
It would be for (I DELETED THE NAME OF THE CLIENT, BUT IT'S A LARGE TRAVEL BRAND) and we are looking at creating a series of themed travel guides co-created with bloggers. The first is a guide to the best coffee shops around the major European cities. On the basis that bloggers spend a LOT of time in coffee shops."
It sounded like an interesting idea and at first I was interested, but the more that I thought about it the more doubts started to creep in.
"In return … you get a free copy of the book once it has been created: so you will know the best 100 coffee shops across the continent and have a handy guide to them"
I am a fully paid up, card-carrying member of the Web 2.0 world. I am a full-time participant in the conversation - I create, I link, I share, I connect. And I don't do any of this for financial gain. I do it because I feel that I am part of the "Gift Economy".
The illustrious Henry Jenkins at MIT writes brilliantly about the Gift Economy. In the Gift Economy "gifts depend on altruistic motivations; they circulate through acts of generosity and reciprocity. Their exchange is governed by social norms rather than contractual relations. The circulation of gifts is socially rather than economically motivated: Unlike the sale of a commodity, the giving of a gift tends to establish a relationship between the parties involved. Furthermore when gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges. The circulation of goods is not simply symbolic of the social relations between participants; it helps to constitute them... (there are) three core obligations which are shared among those who participate in a gift economy: the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate."
Trouble is when brands start to get involved and make money out of the Gift Economy then the balance breaks.
It's really a question about value and worth. How much is my contribution of a coffee shop review worth? Not much you could argue. However get 100 bloggers to create European-wide reviews of cool coffee shops and then collate and publish them as a book for a well-known travel brand, well then you could say that this content was priceless. There's a great PR story for the travel brand involved, it demonstrates how "modern" and in touch they are with Social Media creators and it saves them money as they don't have to pay any staff to find the places, travel and do the reviews themselves.
It's about understanding the motivation behind UGC. Walkers have done an interesting job when they annoucned that they would be sharing 1% of the profits with the winner of the Do Us A Flavour contest (as well as 50,000 GBP), but monetization doesn't always have to be of a financial nature. Bugaboo Day Trips doen't pay people to create content, but then they are not charging anything to download their Day Trip Guides, so they are not making a direct profit out of these creators. With Bugaboo its more to do with community augmentation and recognition.
I'm not sure what the answer is.
But at least I feel that we are starting to ask the right questions and the truth is that we're all finding our way in the new media landscape so there probably aren't any answers anyway...