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The Ethics of Social Rewards

In recent years, we’ve heard of the term “gamification” thrown around in both the mobile and social media space. Gamification refers to the creation of game-like settings where users of social networks or mobile applications are able to benefit from their activities. 

In social media, this has come to be known as “social rewards”. The biggest social rewards site out there is Klout, which gives its users “perks” based upon their online social media influence. Users of social media whom have topical influence are able to activate rewards in every category from tickets to accessories to experiences.

In any economic system, incentivizing the crowd is an oft-advocated stance. For example, many low population economies give their citizens the opportunity to produce children by offering tax breaks. Social media in many ways, has become this type of economy, where having enough influence or activating certain aspects of a social network open users up to rewards.

In the same ballpark however, is also the debate that social rewards should be avoided altogether. Social media after all, is a center of organic and viral discussion and sharing. To incentivize users to use social media for the ability to win merchandise can appear like a desperate plea for activity. Do social rewards create conversation, or do they create a degree of superficiality that makes social media seem “social”?

Either way you look at it, the future of social media will involve the integration of social rewards. The key to its future success however, is ensuring that there is a healthy level of engagement and that engagement is not inflated, but organic and value-adding to the discussion.

What do you think about social rewards in social media? Is it ethical or does it ask for a degree of conversation that may not be as rich as expected? Or is there a third way that I have not addressed? Discuss in the comments below or send me a tweet.

About Albert Qian

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