How much of a company’s value is freely contributed?

Last week the New York Times had an interested editorial by David Carr on the sale of The Huffington Post to AOL that addressed (and he was by no means the only one to do so) the elephant in the room, namely the fact that much of HuffPo’s value was built by unpaid contributors who were unlikely to see a red cent of the purchase price.

While his comparison of the HuffPo situation to other sites like Tumblr that have received valuations that are reflective of their popularity isn’t 100% accurate – those sites allow you to create your own material under your own banner while Tumblr (or WordPress.com or whatever) merely serves as the platform – it brought to mind the fact that these days almost *all* companies see some form of value boost from the unpaid and often unsolicited contributions of their customers.

The illustration of how user-generated material can dominate a company’s search results it usually used in connection with a warning. But if what people are saying about you is positive then the effect on not just that company’s reputation but also their bottom line is likely positive as well.

So then, and this is where we round back to Carr’s column, what does the company that’s receiving that benefit owe to those who are creating the content that’s helping it out?

A simple thank you.

Again, let’s go back to Carr’s points. Tumblr certainly benefits from all those people who use it, whether it’s for Selleck Sandwich Waterfall or something more personal. But these people aren’t doing their creation under the Tumblr brand or with the intent of furthering Tumblr’s growth. Similarly those people who are writing their “Zappos customer service rocks!!” posts are expressing their enthusiasm for a brand they like.

Now for certain their are ways to reward loyal supporters, users and enthusiasts. And those sorts of efforts occasionally need to be engaged in because it’s good for business and because without these sorts of people their businesses wouldn’t be worth as much as their are thanks to their support.

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