Set some content free for your audience members, and it’ll lead to high levels of loyalty from customers/fans/followers/donors/etc. David Meerman Scott, author of Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead, is a big advocate of good, free content to establish credibility and trustworthiness. It’s also one way The Grateful Dead built its fan base and reputation: they let audience members openly record performances. In fact, they encouraged it by providing recording areas for these fans to set up camp. The band, as Scott says, “removed barriers to their music by allowing fans to tape it, which in turn brought in new fans and grew sales.” Rather than fighting it, they embraced it, showing the ultimate respect and appreciation for their followers.
And it’ll work for anyone. Lately, a few counter examples got me thinking about this idea. After attending last month’s Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C., I searched for video clips from the event. Unfortunately, I found many to have been removed by Comedy Central’s parent company. And this week, a friend Tweeted a video of Jimmy Fallon’s performance as Neil Young (with Bruce Springsteen) singing Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” on Jimmy Kimmel’s Late Night. After watching that video of the performance, I went back a few days later to watch it again, and the video had been removed for “copyright purposes.” [Here’s a link to the NBC-sanctioned video, for any Neil and Bruce fans.]
Let’s follow in The Grateful Dead’s footsteps and loosen up: less policing, more providing. I recently listened to an interview with Andy Bailey, president of NationLink Wireless, courtesy of a podcast from Atkinson Public Relations in Nashville. Andy has helped NationLink become an authority in its field by giving away information, including tips, tools, and even software.
“In order to be the expert, you have to share that knowledge with other people and give them access to the information,” Andy says. “And selfishly, they would market for us.”
That’s not selfish at all. That’s good brand-awareness strategy. Another great example comes from where I work: our digital recruitment specialist in the admission office has created a white paper called “The Definitive Guide to Social Media (for college-seeking students).” It’s an awesome, free tool for teenagers who want to make sense of all the online options for exploring colleges.
And while it has our brand on it, the content appeals to the audience on a general, non-selling level. It’s a tool for teenagers (and their parents) to use no matter what college they’re looking for. Meanwhile, we’re establishing our expertise and our reputation as a thought leader in student recruitment.* And this can only do good things for cultivating lasting customer relationships for any organization.
*Of course, we can’t forget to measure these efforts, as we would any endeavor. Your free content isn’t automatically going to result in more of what you want (sales, customers, applications, whatever). It has to be the right kind of free content to make it worth the effort.