Fees for giving "ask the expert" advice
September 2, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How much would an online expert expect to be paid?

I'm looking to set up an "Ask the Expert" service for my company web site. Some have told me that many experts do it for free, just for the exposure. I'm lobbying to offer a fee or honorarium for answering questions (perhaps five per month). I would filter them and forward them to the right expert, and they would have to respond within 24 hours.

I'm finding lots of sites (finance, health, exercise) that let you email a question and get expert advice, and there are a lot of them with pretty impressive experts. But how can I find the standard fee given to these folks or get a range of fees for reference? We're not even sure if we can afford such a panel of experts, and we certainly don't want to insult anyone by offering them too little.
posted by cherie72 to Work & Money (6 answers total)
My nonprofit technical organization does it with fully-paid staff. They each handle several hundred inquiries each per month, in addition to serving on various national standards committees for us, working on technical publications, and the like. We don't charge the inquirer. For the most part these are arcane questions that mean nothing to the layperson, which probably plays a role in how we handle this.

There are some cases where they have to punt to outsiders, but those individuals are already serving on various national standards committees or are researchers at universities and therefore answer for free. We keep those to maybe 1-6 inquiries per person per year.

So I suppose you could approach the problem this way:
1) establish the number of questions someone in your field could reasonably answer in a day if they did nothing else.
2) establish an approximate salary for someone able to answer these questions
3) derive the pay-per-question accordingly

For example, if someone could only answer 1 question per day (tough questions!), and magically got paid $36,500 per year, then one question is worth $100.

Obviously it's more complicated than that, but at least this would get you in the ballpark for estimating purposes. One other thing to consider: legal liability for providing a "wrong" answer. No, really, think about that. If people need errors & omissions insurance you'll need to pay more.

Uhh, none of this may apply to more consumer-level questions, so YMMV.
posted by aramaic at 8:24 AM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the reply. We have indeed discussed the legal liability issues around this. My fear is not so much the wrong answer but the inquirer's misinterpretation of the answer. We're definitely looking into how to handle it if they blame us for their failure as a result of "bad" advice.
posted by cherie72 at 8:30 AM on September 2, 2008

From the other side, I would be happy to have my company's experts answer questions for free, but the 24-hour turnaround might be too tight. It would take at least a couple of days to get everything drafted and reviewed. Not to mention the fact that our experts, like most others, are incredibly busy and may not have free time within that timeframe to answer questions. If the experts have to research anything or call on colleagues for input, that adds time as well. On top of that, if you're asking for five of them per month, it's an awfully big commitment. This assumes you are relying on experts with other full-time commitments.

If it were an interview situation, where you set up a time for an hour once a week and then your team writes the answer based on the interview with the expert, it might work.

Personally, I think the payment makes things a little sticky, but I suppose that depends on whether the experts represent a company or are sole proprietors. I would rather do it for free (after all, any time my company appears in the media it is without our receiving compensation) than have to figure out the logistics and parity in something like that (Where does the check go? Bob asks, "How come John gets paid to answer questions and I don't?"). I have seen enough complaints about parity of media exposure without throwing cash into the mix. To answer your question, $100/question seems reasonable, bearing in mind that the amount of time and effort that would go into each would probably have a value of over $100 if billed on an hourly basis and not given as an honorarium. That could get very steep if you had each panel member answering five per month and you had a significant number of people on your panel.

Google Answers did something like this and the range was $2-$200. AskMetafilter does it for free.
posted by ml98tu at 8:39 AM on September 2, 2008

Some universities go as far as to have a directory of experts for journalists to contact; the rationale being the more times you can get the university's name in the media, the better. On the other hand this sort of mechanism isn't intended for asking several questions a day every day.

How much to pay, I don't know. Academics selling commercial consultancy on technical matters can make several hundred dollars an hour. If it's a simple question that only took a few minutes to answer many people would do a few for free. If it requires library research, finding references, or performing experiments, the sky's the limit as far as cost is concerned.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:02 AM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Ours is a site with paid members who would have access to a panel of experts offering wellness information. We are a for-profit organization. I'm wondering if that would change the option of getting answers for free in exchange for exposure.
posted by cherie72 at 9:12 AM on September 2, 2008

I've been asked to do this before and have been paid $150 for answering a question with a 250-word response.

Just one data point, but it's a real example. E-mail me if you want more details.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:58 AM on September 2, 2008

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