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Social Media Work Isn’t Free, and It Isn’t Social Media Work

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing

Researching markets, finding websites, contacting bloggers, building Facebook pages, etc., all takes time. When a lab does blood work, the lab gets paid. It’s common knowledge in our culture that scientists are specialists that most certainly would be paid for their time and energy spent working in the lab.

Architects and designers also don’t work for free. These are specialists who have also survived years of schooling in order to practice their art. To imagine they would jump at the chance to design an addition to your house in exchange for a few hours of babysitting is ludicrous.

Social media work is research and design work. Research and design work should be paid. So imagine my annoyance at a book store cafe on Friday, when a woman at the table next to me was bullying someone over the phone into doing social media research for her project for free.

This was one of those situations where a person is jabbing away loudly on a cell phone in a quiet place and you can’t help but overhear every word. She was so physically close to me that I almost felt invited into her conversation. I almost did “lose it” on her, when she told the person, “I’ll get you some babysitting” in exchange for social media work. From what I could make of the one-side of the phone meeting, the loud talker next to me had marketing outreach to do to sell sports tickets. She was trying to get the woman on the other side of the phone to “just do an outline of websites I need to see” for her. “I don’t see why I have to pay, it’s just an outline, just some sites I should start with. I feel like there are so many things out there that are free.”

This is the part where I had to laugh. This woman wanted someone to do her research for her, which, in essence, is the bulk of the work, for free. Research isn’t free. I’ve spent a lot of time in school and a lot of work hours learning how to do research correctly, off- and on-line. My skills are advanced professional level and will bring you superb results and new ideas that haven’t occurred to you or your competition. That’s my job. That’s my specialty. Why should I do this for free? Why is it that this woman in the cafe thinks she deserves it for free?

I suspect that the concept of “social media” is doing us researchers, writers and web designers a disservice. Because “social media” is a new term, people assume it’s a new field with no training and in turn, no professionals. Since there isn’t a “social media” school, then (as popular logic follows) there is no specialist to pay. People who can do “social media” are hobbyists that should be willing to help out their friends. The truth is, though, research, writing and design as well as marketing, sociology, psychology, etc., are all tied up in navigating on-line worlds. Constructing “an outline” of websites where this woman can sell her sports tickets product is a job. It takes work and expertise, not a simple Google search. I felt like telling that woman, “You know, you are asking your friend to do your job for you.”

This concept that social media is free has to be challenged. I’ve said on this blog that the term “social media” is defunct in many ways, and this is just one more instance of its useless and at time damaging image. Market research is not free. Design is not free. Written copy is not free. Break down what you do. Do not call yourself a “social media consultant.” Call yourself an online market expert, a web designer, a writer, whatever, but as soon as we get rid of the non-credentialed, meaningless term of “social media” we will all still be listening to these idiots in cafes insisting that a “bit of babysitting” will get them the online presence they need for their business.

Give me some stories of what you were asked to do for free in the comments section.

Photo credit: Basoomz http://www.flickr.com/photos/basoomz/

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ezra Freelove 6 February 2011, 3:41 pm

    Back in the early ’00s when I did web design, people wanted me to do stuff for them for free. I thought at the same time similar to you that because it is a new industry, people were trying to take advantage of its newness. In the time since, I learned my father who does home renovations goes through the same thing. Also, I hear my photographer friends complaining about clients who do not want to pay for the prints. I suspect now the issue is that people want stuff for free whenever they can.

    • PurpleCar 6 February 2011, 3:58 pm


      Yes, I hear people in construction industries barter for services all the time.
      This bartering thing is a bust, too, but that’s another post.

      And perhaps you’re right, that everyone wants everything for free and online
      work is in no way different, but I have a feeling that people who ask for
      construction work, dental work, web design, etc., know that they are taking a
      risk when they are asking for these services for free. They know these jobs are
      paid services. With online work, people feel entitled to free labor. This woman
      in the cafe was almost outraged that she was being asked to pay for services.
      Perhaps because Google searches are “free,” people think that conducting them is
      free, too.

      Knowledge isn’t free, and knowledge is what a person really pays for. For
      example, knowing how to do a proper home renovation is really what your father’s
      clients are paying for. Anyone can knock down a wall. Not everyone can do it in
      a way that doesn’t bring down your whole house.

      Do you still get a lot of people asking for free work? Do they cringe when they
      ask, knowing that they are asking for free labor? Or do they assume that you
      would love to help them?

      -Christine Cavalier

  • Joey Fortman 9 February 2011, 4:10 pm

    UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. This came in my reader at the PERFECT time. I’m soooo over it. I’m so tired of brands and companies wanting me to do things for them FOR FREE. Seriously. Thanks for speaking your word!


    • PurpleCar 9 February 2011, 5:29 pm

      I know, right?

      I’m trading photography for necklaces, but I have a sinking feeling that I’m
      totally undervaluing my work. I’m going to beg my friend to not tell anyone that
      she didn’t “pay” for my services.
      All the pics of the pendants are for my friend and her website. Here’s one:


      But yeah, not free!


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