How Giving It Away for Free Can Generate Big Profits

One of the most important reasons people make use of social media, blogs included, is to find out what other people have to say about companies.  A study conducted by the ODM Group indicates that only 14% of consumers trust advertising.  By contrast, they also report that 78% of people trust peer recommendations, like those that they find available on social media. 

In another study conducted about the dental profession, the most relevant factor that influences product selection was a recommendation by a colleague, up from 30% to 39%, in just the past two years.  During that same time, the impact of a sales rep or lecturers (who are often paid by the manufacturers) both declined.  This is similar to what Chelsea Hickey recently reported in her article, Influencers Versus Advocates – Who Really Matters? on the Social Media Club’s page.  In her article, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates: real people that actually use the products that they endorse.

Clearly, people take a cautious approach to what companies have to say these days, especially in the traditional selling environment.  It is a good thing that social media is not the traditional selling environment.  It seems as though every company out there creates a blog to try and influence a purchasing decision.  How much one gets back from a blog depends on how much one puts into it.  Many people may have heard about the acronym GIGO, right?  It stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If one doesn’t provide good things into a project, then one can’t expect good things to come out of it.

When one provides valuable free content to people, one does several things.  First, one helps establish a personal or business’ name.  An 18th century British writer, Samuel Johnson, is quoted as saying, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”  Clearly, he would disagree with the idea of posting valuable content to people for free, especially in an ongoing manner.

Blogs are a great way for companies to share valuable information with people.  By providing this information for free to whoever wants to view it, one is creating tremendous good will.  Dave Kerpen, the founder of Likeable Media, frequently gives away valuable content to people and it pays off in a big way.  In his book, Likeable Social Media, he tells how he was considering stopping the practice when a man he met told him that he used much of Dave’s free content to help him start his own social media consulting company.  Worried that he was doing nothing but helping his competition, Dave considered stopping the practice.  However, within only three days of meeting that man, a woman called Dave, introduced herself and said that she appreciated his free content and knew that his company was the one that she wanted to have help her.  She had a budget of $200,000 and wanted to know when they could get started.

Charlie King became the director of instruction at the Reynolds Golf Academy in Georgia.  With no real marketing budget to speak of, he helped turn a brand new golf course into a success by providing free content with his blog, which included a free e-book, videos on how to improve one’s golf game and plenty of written tips, as well.   One video was posted on Golf Magazine’s website and has been viewed more than 1.8 million times.  As a result of his free content, Charlie reports that despite a poor economy in 2009, the Reynolds Golf Academy, “had a bigger spring [that year] than we’d ever had.”

Giving away free content is very popular in the social media field.  TopRank, the company run by Lee Odden, frequently provides free content to people.  They provide newsletters, blogs and more to people on a regular basis.  In 2012, they provided a free e-book with over 30 tips to help B2B companies do better with their marketing efforts.  I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the contributors to the book.  The book is still available for free by visiting their website.  All of this is designed to help TopRank attract more paying customers.

In what may be one of the most unexpected ways one would expect social media to be effective, the U.S. Army created a site for people to share stories about being in the Army.  The target audience was perfect, young men and women between the ages of 17-24.  In this case, the content was created not by the Army itself, but by bloggers, largely active duty soldiers.  The Army realized that it needed to maintain its credibility by acknowledging, not avoiding, more than 10 years at war.  The results have been far more than might have been expected.  In addition to winning a prestigious Gold Quill Award in 2010 and the 2010 Bronze SABRE Award for Best Blog, they have helped change people’s perceptions about what the Army is like, making it more attractive to their target audience.

To maximize the results, be sure to provide valuable content.  Simply spewing out information that nobody wants will have the reverse effect, a lack of interest and a negative impact on one’s reputation. Good content should lead to sales and it will do so if the content leaves the customer with a favorable impression of the company that provided it.


Handley, A., & Chapman, C. (2012). Content Rules. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Kerpen, D. (2011). likeable social media. New York: McGraw Hill.

Levy, J. R. (2010). Facebook Marketing. Indianpolis, IN: Que.

ODMGroup. (2011 йил 26-May). Social Media, How it Impacts Your Business Now. Philadelphia: ODM Group.

Stevenson, R. (2013). Writing for Free. Writers’ Forum , pp. 20-21.

TopRank. (2012 йил September). Retrieved 2013 йил 27-March