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Faced with the reality that viable businesses require revenue, more and more newspapers and magazines are erecting pay walls on their websites.

But paid content isn't a panacea, and it's far easier -- and more comfortable -- to erect a pay fence. Case in point: the New York Times, whose new pay wall features enough holes to fit a truck through.

Soon, publishers may turn to a new tool for 'selling' free content: the like wall.

Recently, The New Yorker, a weekly magazine published by Condé Nast, offered up a 1,200 word article written by Jonathan Franzen gratis, but only if you accepted a bribe to like The New Yorker on Facebook.

Some reports suggest that the like wall technique resulted in more than 10,000 new Facebook fans. Prior to the article, The New Yorker had close to 200,000 fans.. Today, it is nearer to 220,000.

Of course, The New Yorker downplayed the fan count from the very start. "Our goal with this isn’t just to increase our fans," a spokesperson stated. "We want to engage with people who want to engage on a deeper level."

And therein lies the rub: it's hard to determine just where the engagement is here. Acquiring new fans on Facebook is great, but just how valuable are they, particularly when all that's required on their part is to click a 'like' button?

Even with sophisticated, active Facebook Page management, there's plenty of reason to question just how strong the relationships between brands and consumers are on the site.

Which raises an interesting question: if newspapers and magazines are willing to give their content away for free in an effort to "engage on a deeper level", why not use email? After all, not only is email self-owned, the evidence indicates that, from online retail to local, email may not be the sexiest channel, but it is one of the most effective.

The answer to that question: far too many publishers are still leaving the 'strategy' out of their digital content strategies. Instead of looking to create value for themselves by convincing consumers that they offer value, they're far too willing to offer what they have without asking for much in return. The like wall is just the latest example of that.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (18)

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James Armitage

The reason why companies are desperate to be 'liked' is that content can be published to users - it's the Web 2.0 equivalent to signing up to an email newsletter. But what's more - a 'liked' product will also show up in the newsfeeds of the user's friends. Getting your message in front of a potential customer is the holy grail of marketing - and it's only to be expected that we are seeing a shift from older methods which have been overtaken by spam to the social media tools internet users are actually using today.

over 5 years ago

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Roel

Hi, interesting analysis there.
A 'Like' in itself indeed has no meaning unless it consequently leads to an interaction that has some tangible value. For more on how the potential value of connections -as created between readers who 'Like' and the publication- can be unlocked check this article. http://ow.ly/4DmIz

over 5 years ago

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Alec Cochrane

It's an interesting concept. New Scientist, who I used to work for, went for a model where you could view a couple of articles before you were prompted to register (for free) to get your details (of course this could be bypassed by deleting your cookies).

The reason for emails is two fold - firstly by emailing users they can get you to come back more frequently and consume more advertising. Secondly they will sell your email address either as advertising in your newsletters or to others to advertise to you on their behalf. This is particularly important in the B2B market where cpms tend to be higher.

The trouble with email is that people are reluctant to give it up and it requires typing something. It's too easy to just click on the back button. With facebook you just click on the 'like' button and you're probably logged in already.

The trouble is, how do you sell this to Marketers - it's not as easy. You'd be quite offended if the New Yorker started putting adverts in their wall posts that appeared on your wall. You'd immediately unlike them and they'd lose business. With email it is a bit mnore difficult to do unsubscribe.

Maybe it will cause an increase in advertorial articles which appear to be written by the paper but are actually paid for by an advertiser. It should make it easier if you know the demographic you are marketing (Facebook gives you these things!).

Interesting thoughts though.

Cheers,
Alec

PS - My Captcha reads 'Clegg' - is this a part of the 'no' campaign ;)

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Alec,

"The trouble with email is that people are reluctant to give it up and it requires typing something."

That's sort of the point for publishers: if you can't even convince consumers that their email address is fair consideration for your content, or they don't trust you with their email address, how in the world can you ever hope to convince a meaningful subset of them to pay for your content?

Right now, many publishers are stuck in late 90s business model:

1. Do X.
2. Y?
3. Profit!

over 5 years ago

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Davies M M

To the question: "if newspapers and magazines are willing to give their content away for free in an effort to "engage on a deeper level", why not use email?" I would say social networking websites such as Facebook presents the most effective tools in social networking and spreading the news.

As such it is no surprise that newspapers have found there way on Facebook. It is far much quicker than using e-mail listings.

over 5 years ago

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Tom Huxtable, CRO at EngageSciences

Patricio - The latest Comscore report shows that email usage year over year has had significant reduction in the past 12 months for every demographic under the age of 55. The reasons brands and publishers need to be building up followings on Facebook & Twitter is precisely because of the cultural shift away from email. Now it is clear that many brands and publishers are only just getting to grips with strategies to both build and monetize social followings and 'Like Walls' are a part of that strategy.

What is clear though from the latest IBM report 'From social to Social CRM' is that social followers want to be monetized - getting discounts, offers and promotions is the number one reason why people follow companies. That speaks of the opportunity in social, not to mention the viral aspects of a 'Like' that James rightly speaks of above. British companies like http://engagesciences.com/ (full disclosure I am the CEO)have built tools to help companies build and monetize social communities on networks like Facebook and Twitter, and 'Like Walls' are optional capabilities that we make available to our clients.

over 5 years ago

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Dug

Penetration of email-use is far deeper than penetration of Facebook-use. I tend to resent brands that offer things uniquely to Facebook users, not because I barely use it, but because it discriminates against those who make the choice not to be Facebook users.

Yes, using Facebook is a useful way for gaining exposure to your content, but it is also a strong endorsement of an unrelated company and risks alienating a segment of your potential customer base.

I have yet to try Bloom Gin precisely because of this.

over 5 years ago

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Tom Huxtable, CRO at EngageSciences

Dug - I am afraid the stats would tell a different story. Social networks overtook email in terms of minutes used and total number of users in May 2010 as the latest eConsultancy blog post today points out. The cultural shift to social networks as the internet's dominant communication protocol has happened so fast that most companies are trying to adjust - so short term tactics such as Facebook only offers are part of the tactics being used to get the balance right in their communication strategies.

Where you are right is that brands have far larger email databases than social followings to date, but that is because this shift in how people are communicating has happened so quickly that strategies and tools to build a social database have not been implemented at speeds necessary to keep up with the cultural shift.

over 5 years ago

Grant Whiteside

Grant Whiteside, Technical Director at Ambergreen Internet Marketing

It's hardly a surprise that 'Likes' are being devalued, they are absolutely meaningless.

'Likes' are fast becoming the new 'Links' and we are simply playing a numbers game in what could be best described as a very basic algorithm in the social media ecosystem. It's reminds me so much of the search industry a decade ago when it was young, naive and very easily screwed. A link was a link regardless of how irrelevant it was, now it's a 'Like', dont worry, I dont think it will be too long before social media platforms and search engines see how utterly useless 'Likes' are.

With all that said, I think Facebook will still put up with this style of blatant bribery until they have enough mass to take on Google and Bing as the advertising platform of choice for the masses. At this point they will start turning the screws on brands and being on Facebook will be an essential element of most brands marketing strategies. This is when Facebook will start making lots of money.

So, so what if The New Yorker are playing the game right now. They are simply doing what they have to, at this point in time, it wont be a viable strategy in a year but they are simply making hay while they still can.

I 'Like' the boring predictable growth of the social media industry, we've seen so many of these party tricks before as we watched search industry grow up.

over 5 years ago

Marc Munier

Marc Munier, Commercial Director at Pure360

Sorry to be the obvious proponent of email but the Comscore report Richard refers to is quite misleading:

Total unique visitors to web based email(hotmail, gmail, yahoo etc) reduced over the period by 9,000,000 (ish)which is about 6%

However email USERS on smart phones was up by 19,000,000 (ish).

So email lost 9m visits but gained 19m users - hardly a shift away from email use - the way email is consumed absolutely but not a reduction in use.

Very interesting post by the way, thank you

over 5 years ago

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Dug

Richard - The number of minutes spent on an activity are unrelated to the number of users. I spend a lot of time driving, but that doesn't mean targeting drivers for advertising reaches a wider potential audience than targeting people who blink.

My point is that every internet user has an email address (okay, that is a bit of a sweeping statement), but not everyone uses Facebook.

over 5 years ago

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Tom Huxtable, CRO at EngageSciences

Marc - yes there is a move from web based email to mobile email usage because of smartphones, but I think it is misleading to say that email usage is not in decline amongst certain demographics. The 19m new mobile email users is not a statistics that represents 19m new email users, just people being able to access email on a smartphone. When you add minutes used and total number of users of email versus social networks users which Comscore also reports on the trends are hard to argue with. Email has been overtaken as the dominant communication protocol in the internet. In todays world if you are an 18 year old you need an email address to apply for a job, but it does not mean you use email to communicate with your friends....companies and brands have invested in email databases, they are naturally going to have to adapt to be able to communicate with people through social channels as well.

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Richard,

As others have pointed out, comScore's numbers are often inaccurately presented as evidence that email is dying. Please see http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7139-when-will-the-death-of-email-die for further discussion of this.

Numerous studies show that in terms of driving consumers to meaningful action (such as purchasing a product), email is one of the most effective channels -- far more effective than social media in most cases.

For anyone who thinks that email is dead, and companies should effectively transition away from it, I think it's worth looking at the multi-billion dollar market for group buying. Love or hate the business model, email is the primary means by which companies like Groupon communicate with consumers. And their large opt-in email databases are largely why local businesses are willing to give up 50% of deal revenue.

Are companies "going to have to adapt to be able to communicate with people through social channels as well"? Absolutely. But they shouldn't make the assumption that all channels are created equal for every application or goal.

over 5 years ago

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Peter Birganza

Hi,
I read your article deeply and just wanna say that if anything introduces like this, it is good. I also think so that there was need of introduce such an activity. Instead of "pay wall" the "like wall" is much better option. Time should be the consideration in today`s life and it`s really an important thing and nice step to take.

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Afternoon all,

Interesting comment by Grant. Perhaps "likes" are the new links. Getting a "like" means nothing unless you can drive genuine engagement off the back of it. It reminds me of mass email collection using prize draws - most of the data is worthless. Many of us will click on anything to get something for free. It doesn't mean we are interested in the brand. I guess for content owners like newspapers it comes down to how loyal readers are to their brand. For many publications, loyalty is hard to come by, especially online.

I still find the email debate amusing. Stats like those from ComScore give a monochrome picture of email marketing.

There is no detail showing what type of email interaction is diminishing, simply hard numbers. In my experience working with many retailers, email is still one of the best ROI channels in digital marketing. What has happened is that social media has taken many of the 'engagement' elements of communication and people now like to talk to brands using social media.

However, email still represents a core marketing and conversion channel. Marketers finally have to be more intelligent with their email marketing and the mass broadcast strategies that persist, despite technology enabling far better targeting, will no longer be financially sustainable as the audience migrates.

The challenge is learning how social media fits alongside traditional digital marketing techniques to build customer engagement, improve communication, drive loyalty and target relevant sales messages to encourage conversion.

I think Richard is spot on when he says companies have to learn to communicate with people through social media. The communication paradigm is evolving. However, they also have to ensure they don't throw the baby out with the bath water and wrongly assume that everyone wants to talk via social.

thanks
james

ps re needing email address to apply for a job - not necessarily - take a peek at Richard Lee's recent blog on Poke's recruitment style http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7443-find-a-new-rebecca-the-future-of-recruiting

over 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

'Paying' with a Like is very similar to paying with a tweet and there are plenty of people who've done that. Whether it makes any sense depends of course on whether you can value a Like or a Tweet. And, even then, not all Likes or Tweets are created equal and, most likely, any that are 'incentivised' will be much less valuable than the 'average' value.

over 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

p.s. on the 'email is dead/dying' thing... despite our members being very 'social' and internet-savvy, email still drives more traffic, and much more value, than all of 'social' combined.

over 5 years ago

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rtyecript

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

about 5 years ago

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