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BizReport : Blogs & Content archives : June 15, 2018

Expert: Why free isn't free and how publishers can educate consumers

Facebook is rumored to be considering a paid subscription for the world's largest social network, a move that would allow social network users to avoid all the ads that clutter newsfeeds. While this move may be celebrated by consumers, it won't be appreciated by advertisers, and that is why, according to one expert, marketers need to do a better job of explaining now how free isn't always free in the digital space.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: You've said that the industry, as a whole, hasn't done enough to explain what "Free" means. What do you mean by this?

Paul Thompson, CRO, Blis: Personal data is actually a transactional free for services but the consumers haven't been made aware of this. Using terminology such as free to describe the service isn't truthful. Advertising is a $500 billion industry--brands need to be transparent on what the trade off is and how consumers contribute to it.  Consumers should be told outright if you want this free content, you need to pay for it with your data.  The industry as a whole needs to be more open in explaining what's going on in these transactions. Once we get there, some behaviors might change but we'll still see many people opt-in for convenience, similar to what we're seeing with GDPR.

Kristina: How can publishers/brands better explain just how 'free' content works, in relation to customer data?

Paul: Brands/publishers should be directly communicating to consumers that if they want free content, they will need to pay for it with their data. This seems to be pretty fair exchange and the added benefit I get to see adverts for products I might actually want to buy. This exchange shouldn't be buried in terms and conditions that consumers will not look at but instead be up front and center on the screen when signing up for an account (and in plain American / English). Additionally, it would behoove these brands and publishers to speak about the topic publicly. Explain that consumer data is valuable but there is an option to opt-out if you change your mind.

Kristina: What impact do you think the Facebook paid option will have on social media? What about on publishing, in general?

Paul: I don't believe that people will want to pay to use Facebook to avoid ads. It's too inconvenient. Perhaps they will for a while and then go back to the "free" version. I can't see it thou Sheryl Sandberg has floated the idea. But the exchange with Facebook if properly managed is fair. If we do see a larger number of users moving over to the paid version, it'll dramatically change the value of the platform for brands and publishers. Once this happens, Facebook will stop working for marketers.

Behavioral experts and anthropologists will tell you most social media networks fade and go they are like a virus that grows quickly and then contracts. Therefore, I think we'll find that a few years time, Facebook won't be as relevant. In fact, Facebook might not be there in 20 years. Trends come and go and every generation is looking for something new. But for now Facebook will buy up any rival network that threatens its dominance.

Tags: advertising, Blis, digital content, Facebook trends, free content trends, social media trends

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