Digital and social media marketing: Where does ‘free’ stop and ‘paid’ start?

My kids really love a series of books based on a character named Dog Man. However, the book publisher, Scholastic, is making a terrible business decision: giving away free “how-to-draw” guides on its website. Wait … that’s an awesome business decision!

You might disagree. “We can’t give away our proprietary intellectual property for free. Won’t people just use our stuff and never give us money? After all, we spend a lot of time creating this material.”

In the past, you’d be right with those assessments, but the internet changed this entirely.

When you digitize your content and readily give it away for free, you earn more than a one-time payment. You start to earn long-term trust. Digital content, once created, costs zero time and zero money to distribute.

Creating this content helps benefit you as the creator by building your portfolio and building your own knowledge base. Writing blogs, filming YouTube videos, and creating how-to guides are only a few of the ways free content can be created for your followers. Social media has entirely changed the way digitized content is distributed and consumed by internet users.

So, what does Scholastic earn by giving away free tutorials on its website? Trust, and lots of it. This simple approach gives my kids a reason to care about how the comics are made and endears the characters — which the kids now know how to draw — to my children. Giving away free assets that cost little to no money to distribute helps to build the reputation of “We want to help you,” not “We could help, but for a price.”

Here’s a simple approach worth considering — general information is free, but if people want solutions to their problems that you’ll provide through specific solutions, then charge for it. Through the internet, most things can be self-taught. There are so many resources, how-tos, and tutorials that if an individual doesn’t get the information from you, they will get it somewhere else. So why not build a relationship with your consumer and build your company reputation at the same time?

At AmpliPhi Social Media Strategies we practice this same approach. On our LinkedIn and other social channels, we offer a gallery of free assets. Our team takes the time to create free infographics, guides, and more to simply help build a relationship with our followers. Financial gain is not the focus for our company with these initiatives, but rather, we want to share the knowledge we already have.

By providing followers with valuable assets, the creator gains a greater authority status. Administering useful information to viewers for free can increase the likelihood of others labeling your social channels as a reference of expertise. Let others see for themselves the value they can gain by engaging and referencing your content rather than another source.

Want free marketing for your company? Offer free content! There is no better way to gain free publicity than creating an asset people can create buzz over. Every comment, engagement, and share increases the probability of your company being discovered by potential clients. What could be better? Free content = free marketing and free lead generation.

Finally, offering free valuable content will drive loyal followers to your social channels. If enough value is offered to the consumers, they will become loyal to checking your platforms, reading your blogs, and engaging with your posts. They will share the value they gain to their peers and thus the word of mouth train starts. The more buzz around your brand, the more opportunities that will arise without actively searching for them.

Do you agree with my assessment? Where does free stop and paid start?

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