Something for nothing: How effective is giving away free content?

Everybody knows that the best way to grow your business is to have people talking about it. But how will anyone have heard of you if everything is shut behind a paywall? Anybody can say they are a 'marketing guru', or a 'LinkedIn expert'; but giving away a little will prove it.

It might seem counter-intuitive but sometimes, it pays to give for free.

Think of it like a food taster. Youíll pay for more of something if you try it and it tastes good. A nibble of digital content will, if itís good, build an appetite for more; and thatís your subscription.

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Not only is sharing content the fastest way of marketing your business, but it also allows you to build trust and credibility with your audience when they discover the value and benefit of what youíre offering. Thereís no need for the customer to buy blindly or rely upon reviews, plus youíve increased your likeability. Giving something away to customers also taps into the psychological phenomenon of reciprocity. Introduced in Dr Robert Cialdiniís book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the concept is simple - if someone does something for you, you naturally will want to do something for them. No, this isnít bribing. If you can act in a sincere and giving way, the recipient will naturally want to help you too. On top of all this, as an extra reward for your generosity, youíll have more to share on social media, and if your content is referenced on other websites, youíll have more backlinks to your website and more search hits; itís the new SEO, and itís all free. Who doesnít like freebies?

Give it ALL away?

Some SubHub customers donít have paywalls at all; their entire bank of content is completely free. Jeff Evans from Inside Beer makes an income from advertisers, whilst still allowing his content to be shared. He says: ĎMy initial thoughts were to run the site on a subscription basis, but I soon decided to make the site free and open. This allows me to target selected advertisers and build up a bigger awareness of the work I do.'

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Itís not all sunshine and flowers (crafted out of crisp cash and notes) though. Advertising isn't that easy to come by, particularly if you're just starting out. Also, if information is your business, why should you work hard (and make it your living) to provide useful and valuable information, just to pass it out willy-nilly? You could gather truck-loads of traffic to your site, but if the people crowding your site arenít interested in buying, then youíre just wasting money in giving it to them. According to marketing ace, D Bnonn Tennant, 'Giving stuff away attracts hobos looking for handouts.' People might just take what they can from you and skip away laughing. Many marketers (such as this one) say that giving away your best content for free will send sales skyrocketing...But Tennant has a point: 'If you give away what is truly your best, most valuable content for nothing, then what possible reason could anyone have to pay for the stuff left over?'

Balancing act

stone-tower240The solution is to strike a balance. The Times give away the start of every story they write online but the conceal the rest behind a paywall. Theyíre doing well, (at least, according to figures) since theyíve now amassed a total of 140,000 paying digital subscribers. SubHub customer Eric Tyson is the best-selling author of personal finance guides Letís Get Real About Money and Personal Finance For Dummies (the first non-computer title in the ĎFor Dummiesí series.) He chose to use a subscription model for his website, however it allows a Ďfree-lookí period for folks to make sure that the service is right for them. This means that the customer gets a snippet of his advice and (hopefully) they want more, without giving it all away to freeloaders. On top of that, he promotes the benefits of subscription. For instance, his members get priority when it comes to answering questions, so the subscriber receives a much more intimate and loyal experience, attracting more people to subscribe. Ultimately itís your decision, but if your business involves written content you should consider giving away one article every two to four weeks. Where video is concerned we suggest a two minute instructional teaser, followed by a link to a sign-up page. Donít give it all away, but certainly give something that makes an impression, immediately supplemented by a simple subscription sign-up. Your website may reach 3,000 people, but wouldnít you rather it reached 30,000 people? Test the power of giving something for nothing.   Photo Credit: Free Hugs - by Jesslee Cuizon via Flickr under CC license 2.0