Social Media’s Free Problem

Thanks to the Internet, free is the new normal. Google has been a prime proponent of the “give our products away for free” philosophy. Social media, in many ways, serves as a vehicle for a business to tantalize its potential and existing audience by promoting and giving away intellectual property in the form of ideas or links to software, articles, music, for free. If you’re not giving it away, some would say, you are doing something wrong. Yet, if you listen closely, the marketplace is actually telling us that free is actually too cheap. For example, Windows XP netbook computers are outselling Linux OS netbooks, even though the Linux operation system is free.

In many ways, free costs too much, when viewed in context of the hassles and limitations of those free products. Look at bottled water, which has a large market in spite of the free tap water competition; cable TV and satellite TV that dominate the free over-the-air option; and the Wall Street Journal that has amassed more than a million subscribers even though the New York Times and other newspapers offer their content online for free. Veronis Suhler Stevenson conducted a recent study that found that consumers spend more time consuming media they’ve paid for than they do consuming free media.

As social media strategists and implementers, we need to acknowledge the advantages of charging a price for the products and services that we ultimately promote in this channel. Revenue streams will help fund customer support channels, like tech help and will lead to better overall product reliability.

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