This week in class we were asked to review the Google, Facebook, etc. models and all their proclaimed free freedoms. The argument is that a person can pretty much load photos, video, manage email, calendar, etc within all these online applications and no one EVER asks for a dime. The class discussion is to provoke thought about how this affects our lives as business people first, how we advise other business people as a credible consultants later.
The concept of free is a bit counter intuitive for me. I’ve been taught it’s a naughty naughty word that commoditizes you and it completely devalues one’s unique selling proposition. It was enough of a pivotal career shift to learn how to apply the “I’m not free or discounted, so don’t even ask” notion to my work in the first place. It took me forever to outgrow those early years’ bad habits where I gave everything away for free in effort to get clients. The wrong kinds of clients!
I believe that building the audience on the premise of “FREE” first, one can then have leverage in other areas; but in my opinion not a sustainable model. Everyone says “Google and Facebook are doing it…so it must be working.” Indeed, for giant players with millions of members it’s fine. Their goal is not to attract the “Buy one get one free” short term customer, but a “Get free, park your butt and stay,” long term member. However for the medium or small businesses that can’t afford to have a customer base that pays…oh, “nothing,” it could be playing with fire.