Rewarding your evangelists in an era of paywalls

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with trying to devise ways in which to encourage, facilitate and reward existent constituents when they spread the word (evangelize), and, in so doing, encourage their friends to try a product/service/etc.

To this end, a bit ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Buy One, Give One Free: What Artists can learn from Social Entrepreneurship,” that, much to my delight, was actually put into motion by Ty White.

However, with the NYT and others propelling us (I believe) inexorably towards a pay-wall economy (and with variants on this theme – freemium, subscription, etc. – becoming the norm), it seems, now more than ever, that we need to get darn serious about the facilitation of conversion so that power users (i.e. those who pay for access) can be more effective in bringing in new blood (i.e. their friends).

No firm can cross the chasm from early adopter to early majority unless the burden of acquiring new customers shifts from the firm itself to the firm’s existent constituents.

While some will, for the LOVE of the firm/individual/artist/etc., share their passion (because we as humans are predisposed to share), critical mass will only occur once this innate passion/will-to-share is matched with the appropriate incentive(s) and systems.

I believe that the emergent models, with respect to monetization of content online (i.e. paywalls), actually may be well-positioned to offer just such rewards.

The idea hit me as I viewed the NYT’s “most emailed” widget on their page. In colse proximity to the “most emailed” widget is their array of social media icons. See below:

Illustration 1: The NYT’s commitment to Social Sharing

Clearly the NYT is all over social sharing. They’re also, for obvious reasons, pretty blatant in their highlighting of the new digital subscription/paywall model (they stick it under their masthead):

Illustration 2: The NYT’s commitment to the Paywall

So, given these two things, my brain does what it does and starts looking for connections.

The NYT sees value in both sharing (illustration 1) and their paywall model (illustration 2). Leveraging the two would seem an obvious move; not just for the NYT, but for any firm that is hoping to attract and retain paying customers (i.e. any firm).

To do this, the NYT could, for example, reward those who share frequently with a lower price for access to material behind their paywall.

Personally, I (as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows) share quite a bit. I also read the NYT with some frequency, and thus share articles from the NYT. Just yesterday, I tweeted out a NYT article about the upcoming Norm McDonald sports show:

I didn’t do this because I want a reward; I did it for the same reason I imagine most people share links (etc.) on Twitter: because we’re hard-wired to share, and because we believe that those who follow us on Twitter will find the things that we tweet about of some marginal interest (or else they wouldn’t follow us).

That said, I sure would have been delighted if — by tweeting out NYT’s content, and thus (in theory) sending some traffic, and potentially some new subscribers the NYT’s way — I had been rewarded for my behavior; e.g., been provided with some discount/reward with respect to the NYT’s paywall.

They could, for instance, give those who share content a free month, or extend the current subscription, based on the number of articles shared, etc.

Would some people game the system and share indiscriminately just to reap the rewards? Sure. But people attempt to game every system.

In my opinion, the benefits associated with encouraging existent users to share their interests in order to compel non-users to convert to paying customers by rewarding current users, far outweighs the potential downside associated with some outlier gaming the system.

This isn’t a completely novel idea. (and others), for instance, make it relatively easy for anyone who wants to tweet out links to products that, when purchased by someone who follows the tweeted link, results in the person who tweeted the link getting some affiliate commission.

Still, I’m not seeing enough people/firms making the obvious link between utilizing their now-omnipresent social tools and increasing customer acquisition/retention by rewarding those who share; e.g., paywall/membership discounts/benefits.

Certainly, there will need to be some tech wrangling done to make this all trackable/reward-able, but that’s where geniuses like Ty come in.

All I know is that from the content creator side, and as someone who is consistently working on getting more people to engage/subscribe, I love it when people utilize the social tools to drive people to the sites I work on, and I want to reward them for doing so.

Remember, until you are able to shift the burden of customer acquisition from yourself to your fans/constituents, you simply will not grow in any material way.

  1. LMarkow’s avatar

    In a way…this is a new version of the old “bird dog” philosophy. Like the cash rewards sent to customers who send new customers to car dealers….hmmmmm…


    1. George Howard’s avatar

      I suppose. I’d like to think there’s a subtle difference in that it’s a morernnatural/innate act to share information than it is to act based on monetaryrnincentive.rnrnThat said, I’ve presented a monetary incentive for sharing here (i.e. lowerrncost with respect to a paywall).rnrnMy hope is that unlike the car scenario that with this there’s something arnbit less mercenary about it. In other words, yes, it’s like the car “birdrndog,” but instead of having to “send” the customer back to the dealership,rnyou’re rewarded for being more authentic and doing what one does withoutrnincentive: talk about the great car that they have some emotional attachmentrnto.rnrnObviously, hard to translate that gesture into a reward without sending arnperson to a dealership, but easier to do online where people freely sharerninformation, and can more easily connect people back to the source.rnrnIt’s a subtle difference, and I’m not articulating it well.rnrnThanks, as always, for the comment.rnrnGeorge


    2. LMarkow’s avatar

      Of course you’re articulating it well! You always do! I was just pointing out that the “bird dog” concept exists in monetary form. But, what REALLY drives the recommendation process is the HUMAN feature of wanting to be the “go to” person for a great referral…we all like to be the “discovery agent” AND we like helping people/businesses that we believe in and love. Think of it as the “raving maven” syndrome. We’ve talked for so long about taste filtering…but the same can be said for information and feature filtering as well.


      1. George Howard’s avatar

        Couldn’t love the phrase “raving maven” more.rnrnThanks for the conversation.rnrnGeorge



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