It seems that the whole world has come to expect everything digital should be free. To a large extent, and for a large proportion of Internet users, digital is pretty much free. Granted, you pay for your Internet connection through your Comcast, Qwest, AT&T cable/DSL services but even then, many people ‘piggy back’ off someone else’s service, or use that of the library, coffee shop or free Internet zone.
Free sells and makes money because so many people partake. Just look at Facebook; 600 million users and rising as well as 23% of the entire Internet advertising revenue. It’s free and always will be is their tagline and it’s true. You can spend hours every day updating your Wall, browsing NewFeeds, evaluating and discussing products and services with other Facebook members. You can upload your photo albums, snapshots of where you are and quick videos from your phone. It’s all free. (Did you know that Facebook is the World’s largest photo sharing site?).
When you have millions of ‘highly active’ members, you have the ability to make a huge amount of money. Those members talk about their interests, where they are and what they are doing. The software behind those sites track that information and ‘low and behold’, small ads appear that are relevant to what is going on (millions of them). It’s great for the consumer and great for the advertiser. It’s a win/win and that’s why it works so well. What paid service is effectively competing with Facebook?
Offering a free service and ‘almost free’ add-ons works well too. Look at Skype; you can call the whole world for free (so long as everyone is on Skype). But their nearly free service is also fantastic value. You can pay a quarterly fee of less the $30 and pretty much call any landline anytime and anywhere in the world. It works because of the number of subscribers.
The great thing about FREE is that there is no risk. If it doesn’t work what have you lost? You try it but must understand what you’re doing as good content and active participation is vital. The old maxim of garbage in / garbage out still applies.
Those business people who ignore (or are unaware of) promoting their services through interactive online communities will find that what they knew about marketing has lost a large degree of relevance. An advert in yellow pages says a whole lot less than a well written blog post with a series on comments from happy customers.
Writing a blog costs nothing other than the time you spend writing it. You can subscribe to blogging sites like WordPress.com, Blogger.com for free or host your own site with free open-source technologies like WordPress. You can incorporate video from a free video sharing site (YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo etc). You can promote it through Facebook, Twitter, Digg or countless other community sites.
So do those 15 to 60 minutes per day actually turn into business? You bet they do. Who really goes to the yellow pages or buys from TV ads anymore and who will in the future? The Internet is the future and FREE is the key for many businesses. We’re not all going to become FaceBook but the lessons are there for all to see.