The Audacity of Free: The Products and Services Edition
Last year, Chris Brogan coined the phrase “the audacity of free” to refer to the entitlement his “friends” feel they have about getting free entry into conferences that he and his team spend months to organize. Somehow, individuals forget along the way that costs accrue when considering the venue, food, exhibit hall, and the staff required on hand to run the event smoothly. At the end of the day, contrary to seemingly popular belief, the hosts aren’t the only ones pocketing the money.
Yet with social media, there’s a perception that it’s easy to score freebies. After all, we become easily connected and six degrees of separation is slowly becoming three degrees.
Social media has introduced incentives to the online space, encouraging others to connect with your business. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the way it is. You want something from someone, so you need to compel them to engage or they’d have no reason to. In fact, in a test a colleague of mine ran with sponsored advertisements, the incentive-based campaign was much more successful than the original information-only campaign. But many individuals take this concept too far, expecting a freebie at every turn. And unfortunately, social media is at fault for breeding this mentality and causing it to spread.
Let Me Pick Your Brain for a Bit
Those of us who eat, sleep, breathe, and even bleed social media often get asked out to “free lunches” so that a “friend” can pick our brains and ultimately use this free advice to get some material gain out of it. And Chris is right: while seen as a kind gesture by the giver, it’s exploitative. After all, hourly consulting fees are typically much more costly than a “free lunch” plus the travel time it took to meet up.
It’s shocking, almost appalling, to see the reactions of individuals who are asked respectfully to pay consulting rates for these “free” brainstorming sessions, whether over a meal or on the phone. I’m not sure where we’ve gone wrong here, but something needs to change. Time is money, and inquiries are usually made to those possessing a certain level of expertise that only is available to those who have had years of training, which is also time and money (and even debt for some!). That lunch and the information provided therein will often benefit your bottom line. Making a payment for that should really not be so difficult. However, while haggling is expected in the economy of today, trying to get everything for free is downright unethical, nor is it fair to the person who poured their heart and soul into the advice that you’ll merely milk from them without any reservation.
There’s a Lot of Value Here Already
I won’t deny it: I want Techipedia to be packed with value, to show you what I know and how I can help you. A few high profile folks have even called my readers lucky for getting great content without any up front monetary commitment. (If you want great beginner social media content behind a pay wall, check out Exploring Social Media, a project I am working on with Jason Falls and some other great minds.) This comes despite people asking for more under the assumption that I “must” be making money on this site and therefore owe my readers more. (Do you see any banner ads anywhere?)
I’ve spent seventeen years in the social space. That’s a long time and before most of you probably even owned a computer that was connected to the Internet. I’ve been working in consulting for a little less, but it’s my job. It’s what I do (among other projects). And my fees pay the rent, keep me connected to the Internet so that I can serve my clients, and cover other expenses such as staff and business expenses. All of this doesn’t come for free for me either.
Books Take Time to Write
Last week, a Twitter user asked a really blunt but surprising question about how to download my book (legally) for free. It was nice to request a legal copy, but there isn’t any. My book is less than $20 on Amazon, which makes for a great deal and covers years of practice and training. The investment could benefit your business by a lot more than $20 in financial gain.
Books aren’t a breeze to write and anyone who is an author might tell you that book writing is some of the hardest and busiest work they’ll ever do. It took me nearly 1000 hours that could have been spent on other clients. Did anyone know that authors make perhaps a dollar off the sale of every book? As much as I’ve wanted to be an author since the age of 5, I understood why my mother tried dissuading me at that tender and impressionable age: most authors simply don’t make enough money. Surprisingly, some individuals who have yet to build any type of relationship with an author still expect to get a break. Whether or not it’s my choice — and in book publishing, there are other parties involved beyond just the writer — it’s just the wrong question to ask.
Last week, when the Twitter user asked the question about the free downloadable copy, I gave her a straightforward unemotional-and-without-thought “there is none” answer, which is typical of the types of responses I provide on Twitter (I’m only wordy in blog posts ). Consequently, I got chewed out both on Twitter and following that on her own blog, telling me that I should have responded nicely and recommended the library. Somehow, people think it’s okay to ask an inappropriate question and get a more-than-grateful response.
Life won’t always hand you breaks. Those of us who are successful in our space usually have worked really hard to get here. Social media should not continue to give off the mindset that it’s easier to get things for free. Sadly, it absolutely has.
I’ll Respect My Time. Will You?
Lisa Barone made a really good point last month when she said that her productivity went up as a result of respecting her time. While her specific circumstances were different, the premise is the same. Most of us are busy, and lately, the extent of the “busy”-ness for me is about helping a business’s bottom line. I’d like to help others but feel the need to repeat my stance against giving people who do not know me and who do not even really warm up to me the benefit of a free ride while still charging customers who have been with me for years. And time is too finite to give everyone free advice. I wish the world worked that way, because I love to help businesses. After all, that’s why Techipedia continues to provide really great informational content almost weekly. It’s why I respond to every comment on my posts. It’s why I reply to every email often within minutes. At the end of the day, though, we ALL have families to feed.
Expertise Comes at a Price
I’m sure I’m speaking for all social media consultants (and other Internet Marketing strategists) out there when I say that social media advice has come at the cost of learning through trial and error for us, and the more and more times we’re asked to give out freebies, the more numb we get to the request. I really hope this post drives the point home that freebies, even a $50 lunch, don’t really benefit anyone but the receiver. (Most of us would be eating lunch anyway!)
Not Everything is Free
I always am fascinated myself by looking at people doing dirty jobs — that guy cleaning the bathroom in Madison Square Garden definitely isn’t a happy camper — and realizing that the only thing that governs people toward these tasks is financial benefit. Almost everything everyone does in the business world, be it a regular transaction, tourism, or travel, has some financial element to it. Money makes the world go round. Chris puts it really nicely when he says, “But free is a choice, and it’s not your buyers who decide this, no matter what we like to think in social media kumbaya-ville. Free is beautiful, and costs are part of life.”
There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and there always will be. But setting up the expectation and making demands for freebies puts unnecessary stress on the giver, and that’s just not the correct way to build a real relationship.
Now it’s Your Turn
How have you handled the requests for freebies? Do you have any system that has worked? Failed? Sound off in the comments.
Photos provided by Shutterstock.