Free things suck

Almost every day, I get email from some company asking me to follow them on Facebook or join their eNewsletter “for a chance to win an iPad2.” Sounds like a great way to grow your ranks of online followers, right? Wrong.

In my opinion, giving away free crap doesn’t build a community

I understand the marketing concept – giveaways are a powerful incentive to get people to act. Who wouldn’t want a free cup of coffee by simply “ liking” your coffee shop’s Facebook page? Who wouldn’t be excited about getting a Dean & Deluca cookie mailed to you, along with a letter asking for a follow on Twitter?  I’m intrigued by an actual piece of fruit mailed to me with a note asking me to subscribe to a newsletter. [Note: I am not making any of these examples up]

Free things suck

What is it that drives companies to use promotional marketing? A quick Google search yield studies that show the “effectiveness” of giveaway marketing (coincidentally published on promotional marketing companies’ websites). For example:

83 percent of consumers surveyed reported that they liked receiving promotional products

I understand how “FREE” things to capture consumer attention. The NeuroMarketing blog’s has a great post about The Power of Free. But does promotional marketing really work when building true relationships with consumers? When trying to build an online community, is giving away free stuff the right way to build that community?


Free only captures the attention for a limited time (enough time to eat your cookie and then onto the next incentive – a free glass of milk).

Meaningful online communities are built on trust – trust in you, your product or your service; trust that you will continue to represent your company openly and honestly.

Good communities are not built overnight. Be patient. Building a community is about reaching the people that count (not counting the number of people you reach).  Be credible and relevant. Social media tools allow you to communicate and engage effectively and in real time.

Patrick Singson once said that the natural by-product of social media is “No more crappy products.” He’s right – to a point. Crappy products do have a role in marketing these days: as free stuff.

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Categories Blog, Communities of interest, free things suck, Online Marketing, Promotional marketing, Social media | Tags:

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