Understanding What FREE Really Means


One of the first things you learn in business school is the TNSTAAFL principle. TNSTAFFL stands for “There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”, and it’s a reminder that anytime someone purports to be giving you something, they’re expecting to realize a benefit from their act. We’ve all heard about the “free” weekend getaway trip that comes with a bonus aggressive sales pitch to buy a timeshare vacation home – maybe you’ve even gotten roped into that fun experience yourself. I’m here to tell you that things aren’t really all that different in digital spaces.

Facebook is Free – and You Get What You Pay For

It’s absolutely true that any business owner can set up a Facebook page for free. There’s no charge to set up your profile and post content. It’s possible with time and hard work to create a sizeable organic following on Facebook – many businesses have. But there’s a real limit to what’s available for free. Facebook’s algorithms currently prioritize posts from a user’s friends and family over that shared by business pages. Even great content can only enjoys so much reach.

To counter this, Facebook is more than happy to take your advertising dollars, either for promoted posts or display advertising. The reason for this is simple: Facebook is a business. Their revenue comes from advertising, particularly mobile advertising. Facebook sells access to users’ timelines, and you’re the user. If you’re not Facebook’s customer, you’re their product.

Ever Want to be a Beta Tester? You’re In Luck!

Without fail, there will be a new app, website or social media platform launching every week. Each one offers amazing features and functions, and most offer users a free account. People who sign up in the earliest days often are the first to share helpful commentary about what the new offering does well and what needs improvement. Smart developers use these insights to enhance and augment their offerings, often incorporating the upgrades into new service tiers users have to pay for.

Bear in mind that a developer can learn a lot about your experience with their product even if you never tell them. Analytic reports detail how much time you spend engaged with the content, what actions you take, and more. If this has you feeling uncomfortably like a lab rat, all we can say is at least you’re not paying for the privilege.

A Note About the Free Versions of Enterprise Level Business Tools

Many cloud-based business tools offer free versions of their service. These can be an ideal way to test out a product and see if it’s right for your company – the digital equivalent of taking a car for a test drive before agreeing to purchase it – but can come with either a time limit, after which you need to upgrade to the paid version before continuing to use the tool, or significantly limited functionality. It is not a good idea to trust any critical aspect of your operation to a free version of a tool: should the company decide to discontinue what is essentially a marketing campaign for their product, you’ll need to scramble for a replacement and you could lose valuable data.

Making Free Work for You

You know why free things appeal to you. Keep that in mind when crafting campaigns to attract customer attention. Free offers are often for informational products, such as a white paper, buyer’s guide, style checklist or similar type of content that the customer finds valuable; you offer that up in the expectation that you’ll get a benefit out of it – generally, permission to add the person to your contact list for future marketing efforts.

Understanding What FREE Really Means
Article Name
Understanding What FREE Really Means
Free apps and social platforms have a lot to offer businesses who use them wisely. But for those who don't, they can come at a cost!

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