How close do you think Twitter and Facebook users are to being willing to pay to keep you away from them? Whether it’s social or traditional media, the money has always had to come from users via subscriptions or marketers via advertising.
Traditional media has rather brilliantly managed to get money from both. Viewers pay for cable or dish access and the opportunity to have their shows interrupted often for sizable commercial breaks and get hit with heavy-handed product placement inside the shows themselves. Newspaper and magazine readers pay for the privilege of seeing the multitudes of ads within. Broadcast radio, bless its heart, is still free, as are over-the-air local TV channels.
Along comes new media. Again, consumers were willing to pay for Internet access, only to get rewarded by being bombarded with some of the most obnoxious, intrusive banner and pop-up ads imaginable.
Social started the great awakening, in which users were no longer so willing to be “used.” The platforms were free, so there was a valid reason to tolerate ad messages. On mobile, many of the apps were free, so there was a valid reason to accept the accompanying marketing. To the consumer, that seemed fair. And increasingly, paying good money just so you could be sold to an advertiser didn’t seem fair at all. As a result, consumers are starting to re-examine their relationships with cable and dish providers, and with print.
With the free model that generated millions of users at a time when marketing interruptions were minimal having successfully built scalable audiences, the social networks are now left with their own business model problem. Now that the masses have been awakened, how willing are these social networks to let advertising and marketing threaten the user experience?
A recent GigaOM article posed that question where Twitter is concerned. Will users pay to use Twitter so ad messages would be absent or minimal? Or does Twitter have to remain free so user growth can continue unabated? The article makes marketing whiz Seth Godin’s views known. He thinks in the case of TV, the real customers are the marketers, not the viewers. And that’s reflected in the viewer experience. Watching HBO is a very different experience than watching NBC. Were Twitter to go down the road of principally serving marketers, the existing Twitter experience could be threatened. Would users pay to preserve the experience they currently get for free?
About now, you as marketers might be feeling like you’re walking through a medieval village carrying the black plague. Your choices seem to be: being a necessary “evil,” or having the public paying for protection from you. Where’s all that brand love we keep hearing about?
The good news is, the public does have a workable sense of fairness. Those who get free services will expect to see your messages. But even those who pay to be shielded from paid promoted tweets and posts can still have a valuable genuine, interactive experience and relationship with you as a brand through your organic posts and engagement.
For this reason, at least as much focus should be on your relevant content creation and relationship-building as in your paid social strategy. You might just find that the authentic content you’re using to build relationships with users who are madly resistant to advertising will bring you higher returns than imposing paid ads on users who expect them, but who have trained their eyes to avoid them.