A few weeks ago I released a mini eBook about link building for SEO titled “Becoming a Clockwork Pirate.” Although I put my heart, soul and everything I know about link building into the 30,000 word digital mini-book, that’s not what made the book most interesting.

What made it unusual was the approach I took in ‘monetising’ it.

One option would have been charging for it, but as many of us know there’s no easy way to charge for online content.

The next option would have been to ask for people’s email addresses but after signing up for one too many email lists over the years I’m always reticent to give over my details, and I imagine most of the prospective readers of the book would be similarly jaded.

Pay with a Tweet

It was while I was wrestling with what the best option might be that I came across the “Pay With A Tweet” tool created by Innovative Thunder.

It seemed the perfect solution: not only did I get something in return for sharing the book (the promotion of the book to the downloaders’ Twitter followers) but I also reckoned the readers would be more comfortable giving away a retweet than any other the other options I had been exploring.

The system is fairly easy to set up, uses oAuth to ensure that someone has to retweet on Twitter or share on Facebook before getting they are able to access your goodies. The system from the New York based creative team is merely a proof of concept rather than an enterprise solution but it did a pretty good job of managing access to only those who have spent little social capital.

Actually, since releasing the book a new service known as Cloud:Flood has been launched. Cloud:Flood works in very much the same way but is a little bit more flexible than the “Pay With a Tweet” System. If you have a development team it wouldn’t take much to work up a solution that worked well with your analytics solution.

The results

At the time of writing this post the book has been retweeted 1,159 times which, assuming even a small proportion of those people’s followers saw the retweets, is quite a good return for a digital product in a saturated market aimed at a few thousand search geeks.

In total, there have been 1,600 downloads of the book as a few people managed to find the file without retweeting (which wasn’t difficult if you have even the most basic SEO knowledge) and a number of people have downloaded the book a few times.

I’m confident the approach would work equally well in other sectors, and there are examples of pubs using it to give away free drinks and bands giving away download singles. I’ve also spoken to a film producer about using a similar approach to release an independent film.

If your aim is reach and brand exposure rather than building an on-going CRM style relationship, I can recommend exchanging social capital rather than email capture. This won’t work for every campaign but I can certainly envision a large number of situations and campaigns where this would work perfectly.

What were the downsides?

Some people didn’t have Facebook or Twitter campaigns. There weren’t many, but then my book was aimed at the digital haves rather than have-nots.

Also for a short period of time, retweeting the book completely took over my peers’ Twitter streams causing a mini-backlash which I could imagine being much more severe were the offer more mainstream and popular.

I also had a classic first mover advantage; people were talking as much about the payment mechanism as they were the book, and that kind of novelty is short lived.

If every marketer started using this type of system its popularity could very quickly burn out. But just because this tactic has a short shelf life doesn’t mean it hasn’t got value while the approach is still relatively fresh.

You can pay for Kelvin's book 'Becoming a Clockwork Pirate' with a tweet here. 

Kelvin Newman

Published 3 March, 2011 by Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is SiteVisibility's Creative Director and is the editor of the UK's most listened to Marketing Podcast. He also spends his time at conferences, tweeting too much and working on top secret research and development projects. He's also on Google+

21 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (4)


Jamie McHale

I was one of those 1159 who 'paid' to download the book with a tweet.

I enjoyed 'Becoming a Clockword Pirate' and think it had interesting points to make but I agree with Kelvin in so much that I was more interested by the 'Pay with a tweet' scheme rather than the material itself.

A retweet is quick and easy and my perceived reward for such little work has high. I think it's an effective method as long as it doesn't become so widespread it turns into spam.

over 7 years ago


Wayne Barker

Hey Kelvin...i downloaded your book as well, which was great by the way. I also added 'pay with a tweet' onto our whiteboard under the 'things we should try category'. I have also looked at Cloud Flood which looks pretty cool as well.

over 7 years ago


Alex Holliman

I thought the book was well worth the tweet - in fact I'd have probably paid for it!

The 'Paid with a tweet' mechanic was very interesting as well and something I plan to trial!

Nice work Kelvin.

over 7 years ago


Ana Hoffman

I've tried the same experiment in the past; however, with nothing nearly as significant as your results, Kevin.

Maybe, my link bait wasn't nearly as good either...

over 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.