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July 24, 2019 11:42 pm GMT

Good Companies Dont Ask You to Share. They Make You Want To

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

I imagine that your company says stuff like this to you all the time. So frequently, in fact, that you're probably sorta numb to it.

  • Hey, we're hiring!
  • Our company was just nominated for Who's Who in American High School Students Companies!
  • We've got a new product release coming up!
  • Steve is talking at a networking event!
"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

It's an Innocuous Request... And It's Also Okay If This Rubs You Wrong

I can remember the first time I heard this. Before, I'd spent the first part of my career working in companies that manufactured products, with software as only part of the equation. Because of the developers' relative anonymity and the relative newness of social networks, I never encountered any request like this. It simply wouldn't have come up.

But this particular year found me working at a shop selling app dev (and calling this "consulting"). With the people as their product (or at least the people's labor), the individual contributor software developers had more of a prominent role. And so the request came.

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

I don't remember what it was that we were supposed to share or tweet or whatever the verb for that on LinkedIn is. The company may have been asking for help with recruiting, marketing, sales, or something else. It doesn't matter.

For our purposes here, what matters to me is that this rubbed me the wrong way.

I didn't really know why at the time, and it's taken me years to start to understand why. I wasn't embarrassed to work there or anything. It was... a place that gave me money in exchange for labor. And that's a thing that most people do. The request wasn't onerous and it didn't compromise my morals and ethics in any way. Even the fact that it was a request to do something of value for free occurred to me, but didn't bother me.

Still, though. I didn't like the request and didn't do it.

Years later, this request is probably much more common. For the rest of the post, I'm going to expand on why this might rub you wrong, why that's okay, and what should happen instead.

The Company is Asking You for Something of Value for Free, So How They Ask Matters

So as not to leave a loop un-closed, let me address the point I touched on about freebies. I vaguely understood this at the time, but Igrokit now, years later, having run businesses and owning a marketing agency.

Eyeballs are dollars (or, at least, cents). With our content business, Hit Subscribe, we nominally sell blog posts and content. But what we really sell isinfluencein the form of attention from software developers. This means that things like people reading a blog post, retweeting a link, or sharing a picture have actual monetary value.

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

Look at this request now, and see it for what it is. "Please, help us save money on marketing by doing it for us, using your personal relationships."

Now, there's nothing wrong with the company asking you to do this. Buthowthey ask matters. A lot.

If they were to state it the way that I stated it, as asking a favor, then they're being honest with you. If they act like it's nothing or, worse, that you're somehow obligated to or that you should want to, that's mildly bad faith. And if they just add a caveat to the beginning like, "hey, no obligation, but if you feel like it, we'd love you to share," then it makes the whole problem go away.

Now unless you're tweeting at 100K people or something, the monetary concern is primarily superficial. It shouldn't bother you that the company isn't paying you $4/tweet or something.

It should bother you that the company is making a presumption about your relationship.

Asymmetrical Benefit Masquerades as "We're All in this Together"

Let's switch gears briefly to help you understand this. Consider an (admittedly oversimplified) hypothetical situation. Your B2B company is looking for leads and sales.

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

And, dutifully, you do. Someone in your network sees your tweet and clicks on the call to action in it, taking them to your company's landing page. They read the page, find themselves intrigued, and give your company a call. Eventually, this leads to a sale. Let's take a look at who benefits from this, probably in order.

  • The salesperson, who gets a commission from the sale.
  • The head of sales and the CEO, who get closer to bonus territory for meeting their quarterly and annual numbers.
  • Company shareholders, whose stock becomes worth a bit more.
  • Everyone else, including you because... well, okay, this is hard to trace, but bear with me. The company starts to do better, which means that there is generally more money to go around. Hopefully someone decides this money should go, in part, to your organization. Then, if it does, there will be more money in the department staff budget, which means that, assuming you get performance reviews of at least Meets-Expectations-Plus, you might get a slightly larger cost of living adjustment in a year or two.

The company's marketing efforts are not a simple case of "rising tide lifts all boats." For 99% of you reading this, your boat will barely rise, even in the best case scenario. So the request to use your personal networks for marketing is really a request to use your personal networks for others' benefit.

Good Companies are Ones Whose Messages You Rationally Want to Share

It isn't always this way, of course. For instance, if youarea company shareholder, then you have more skin in the game. But it's the case way too often. And, worst of all, it doesn't need to be this way.

In a popular post I wrote once, I talked about beggar CEOsas people who demand unpaid overtime from workers under the guise of "culture." But this can just as easily apply to CEOs who demand free marketing under the guise of culture.

In both cases, this is a smell.

Specifically, it's the smell of improperly aligned incentives. You should want to share things with your networks.

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

This is a message that the company wouldn't need to compose, if they had policies like this.

  • We'll give you a referral bonus if you help us make a hire.
  • Anyone who brings in new leads gets a commission.
  • Your annual compensation is tied to profit figures.

You probably get the idea. If companies want you to participate in their recruitment, sales, and marketing, and they offer rational incentives for doing so, you're going to be out there a-tweeting all on your own. You might be interested in marketing's official tweet copy only because it promises to be more effective than whatever tweet you compose.

There's a Learning Opportunity for Organizations, As Well

Financial incentives are important, but they're only part of the equation. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people might not blast out a hiring announcement on social media for other reasons. Maybe it's hard for them to think the tweet has any chance of eventually landing a recruitment bonus in their pocket.

Or, maybe it's that they're embarrassed about the company or the messaging in some capacity. Maybe they feel that their brand has legibly superior credibility to that of the company. And, maybe it's something else entirely.

Whatever the case may be, that can bereallyvaluable feedback for the company, if they were to listen.

And, sadly, companies get this entirely backward. There's a prevailing sense in corporate culture that working for a company is congruent with belief and pride in that company. This is why the default position in a company is that of the idealist. So of course everyone is dying to blast corporate messaging out on their personal accounts. And, if they aren't, there's something wrong with them.

Wrong, company. If people don't want to blast your messages, there's something wrong with you.

It might be reputation. It might be misaligned incentives. Or it might be something else entirely. But it'ssomething.

It's Okay Not to Want to Help with Marketing

So companies can learn something, if they open their eyes to it. But what about you, the individual reader? What should you take away?

"So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks."

Simply this. When your company makes this request of you, take stock of your own feelings. If you're happy to do so, for reasons beyond "I'm part of the family," then that's a very good sign. If you can articulate how this is in your best interests, then you're at a good organization.

But if you can't articulate why it's good for you to do this, beyond a sense of obligation, that's not good. If the request makes you feel icky or dirty, that's not good. If your reaction to this request is anything other than "of course, why wouldn't I do that," that's a smell.

You don't owe companies free marketing, no matter what they tell you. But more importantly, there are companies out there that you'll want to help. If your current company doesn't fall into that category, then it might be time to size up your career and options.

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