Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 6, 2010 3:10 PM

There Is Nothing Wrong With Making Money

For some reason, no one in Social Media is really allowed to make any money. It's verboten. It's against the community spirit. It's the wrong thing to do.

That's just, plain stupid. Yes, the new digital channels are primed for those who are looking to connect, communicate and engage in conversations, but if there is no benefit in the end, then all is lost. For some, that end benefit will be dollars in the bank, for others it will be social capital (check out Tara Hunt's amazing book, The Whuffie Factor, for more on that), for some it will be the growth of their personal brand (which in turn will help them create ventures in other channels for monetary gain), and others do it simply as a way to stay connected and learn from more people.

It takes all kinds.

One ring does not rule them all in this instance. So, before we go pointing fingers at those who are developing and nurturing their own communities for their own financial gain (and charging access to them), always remember that the most amazing thing about these platforms is that it's not like mass media that is being shoved down all of our collective throats. It's not a stack of flyers that someone is dumping in your mailbox every other day that you can't ignore. The true magic of these channels and platforms is the choice. Personally, I live in a "no spam" world within my online communities because I simply unsubscribe, unfollow and unfriend those who are using the channels in ways in which I am not interested in.

Be honoured to be able to pay for the good stuff.

Sure, there is tons of brilliant and free content online. From following certain individuals on Facebook and Twitter to specific Blogs and Podcasts that no one should be without, but along with that, there is tremendous value in paying for access to certain online communities, buying reports, paying for e-books and online courses, etc... It's not only a great way for the content producer to make a living, it's great (and usually cheap-ish) way for the audience to get a boost of information and knowledge. The amazing thing about all of this is that it's pretty simple and easy (just do a quick search engine reference check) to know who the snake oil salespeople are from the legit businesspeople (if you're still not sure, just look to see what their refund policy is and how quickly they are to respond to any questions you may have about the product or service prior to purchase). Sure, there are many scumbags online (just like in real life), but with a little due diligence, it's fairly obvious where the gold lies.

It's a transition we all knew was coming.

Free is great, but at a certain point that well runs dry (for more on that, read Chris Anderson's book, Free). People are willing to pay for things like access, unique content, premiums, artefacts, etc... Creating platforms that add value to a community is worthwhile (and worth the cost). No one ever said that everything in Social Media has to be free... and even free has a cost associated to it.

What do you think? Is it wrong to use Social Media to make money?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Douglas Karr
    Mitch Joel

    Not only is it not wrong, it's the RIGHT thing to do. Consumers are begging companies to improve communication and respond to requests. the Branding days of old constructed a firewall between the company and the customer that was virtually impossible to break through.

    Social media is a medium that can help improve communication. Companies need to communicate better. Companies make money. If companies wish to continue to make money they need to communicate better. Social Media is one medium they can leverage to do so.

    Reply
  • Posted by Claire Wagner
    Mitch Joel

    I've freelanced on and off for 25+ yrs. It's OK to make money from talent, skill, connections, products, services, advice, consulting, and anything else except exploitation. Having just joined Third Tribe during the first reduced price offering, I'm happy to pay for community membership, too. I am using all the free info learned from bloggers and communities to further my own business. I'm buying their books and will hopefully recommend their services to organizations I work for.

    Reply
  • Posted by geogeller
    Mitch Joel

    i can't afford to make money - its too expensive - we at InsultantForHire.com motto - a consultant gets paid and tells you what you want to hear... an insultant doesn't get paid and tells you what the truth and what you don't want to hear" food for thought

    geo

    Reply
  • Posted by Janette Toral
    Mitch Joel

    There is nothing wrong indeed from making money online using social media. I get a lot of opportunities and members to my community because of it as I share relevant information and announcements from my end once in awhile.

    Although there are those who abuse such platforms too and as you said, those who do so, simply unfollows.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kris Smith
    Mitch Joel

    Well put! I've been podcasting for over 5 years and recently developed a subscription system for our podcast. We launched it a month ago and expected to have about 10 people pay the subscription. To our amazement we've had over 130 people subscribe at varying levels monthly, quarterly, yearly and patron level (cool for life). In all of the years that social media was working itself out to become what it is now I never have felt as close to the audience that enjoys my podcast. We're all ready to pay for better service and entertainment from producers that we trust. Social media is no different. We work hard and should be able to make living from that work or create a sustainable business if the market will have us. And it will. Thanks again for the great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Allan isfan
    Mitch Joel

    It is ridiculous to think that people can't make money from social media. People do it all the time and no one is hammering them. I think confusion comes from lack of transparency and disclosure.

    If you share a link and I click on it, I should know if you're making money from it. Why? My perception of the value
    of that link is going to different ... Not zero ... But different.

    Reply
  • Posted by Carolyn Winter
    Mitch Joel

    Hi there- Of course it is right. Social beings that we are we love to also shop while discoursing. Look at the shopping malls. I noticed recently (I don't often go to malls) that not only youth are congregating at the mall so are a families, moms and tots, seniors etc. They are meeting at the mall to enjoy each other's company and to do some shopping for entertainment, while shopping for the necessities.

    Frequently when I visit a website I find myself asking "What can I buy here" especially once I have found a site I like, trust, has good information, people of integrity etc. I am looking for bite size things to buy just to try and then when needed perhaps the big things. I will certiainly go there first.

    Sometimes I just hate the community thing and have no need to be 'involved' just to go shopping; I just want to know about the products, and where I can buy them. As caring as I am I don't have time to get that involved Conversely, once having acquired an item, I like to know where I can go to ask questions, find out what others did with it etc. Like my new Sony Handi Cam (Know of a good social site for that?)

    Cheers

    Carolyn

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian M Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Can you first define "making money from social media" for us? What's the business plan? Where is the service or product?

    If we're looking at using social spaces as lead generation, fine - I blog to get myself out there, meet people (Hi there!) and expose my name in the space, as well as contribute to the community - in ways that will grow as the platforms grow.

    But that's not making money FROM social media. Sure, it's using the platforms to gain business - but every time I hear anyone talk about making money directly out of social spaces, it feels a bit to me like being told there's a way to make money running infomercials at four in the morning - but without actually selling a product. Just run the program and the money comes flying in. Not possible, not even plausible.

    Using social media to grow a business isn't a business model, it's an advertising model. Or am I making a jump here?

    Reply
  • Posted by Kneale Mann
    Mitch Joel

    The social web seems to have become a "Lord of the Flies" community. There are no rules, no leaders and no boundaries yet we create all three every day.

    Share or don’t share. Pay or don’t pay. Have patience or don’t bother. Understand this space and get professional to help with the growth of your business or keep guessing. That is completely your call.

    But stop asking any of us who spend a considerable amount of time exploring and digging for new ideas in this space for free advice on your bottom line.

    Part of "ROI" is "I" and part of "I" is time and sweat and experimentation. Quick fixes and sleep at night metrics are the legends of fairytales.

    With a quarter of the world online, over 8 billion pieces of content uploaded to Facebook every month, more than 75% of North Americans with Internet access and an ever growing number of people who seem to "live" on their smartphone, advice on how to navigate all this is not and should not be free.

    As soon as the person giving you that free advice wants to eat and pay for things, they may not be too keen to lend a hand.

    My 26 years of experience is not free. I collect music for fun, this is my career. Your time, your business, your offering and your experience should not be free either. And neither of us should be shy about that.

    Reply
  • Posted by cidney caever
    Mitch Joel

    I think that social media is an excellent resource to help leverage companies to make a profit. I do not think that people should be charged to use or view social media but I think that the point of a company writing a blog or sending a tweet is to ultimately sell their product. service or event.

    we read about how people are growing their business from the ground up by using social media, so clearly they are creating some sort of revenue which I am completely in favor of.

    Reply
  • Posted by Elizabeth Trew
    Mitch Joel

    Do you think Social Media would be as big as it is now if it weren't a money-making vehicle? How many people have become multi-millionaires because of their investment in My Space, Twitter and Facebook? Why would Microsoft be interested in Social Media if it weren't to make money?

    Why are companies shifting their marketing dollars from traditional advertising to social media? In many cases, to save money in reaching their publics.

    Let's face it, if Facebook didn't make money, it would still be a vehicle for college kids to share pictures and titillating information about each other.

    Making money is what drives innovation. Making money is what business is all about. It's not to spread the social gospel!


    Reply
  • Posted by Gordana Stok
    Mitch Joel

    I definitely think it's okay to make money via social media channels as long as what is being sold is relevant and adds value.

    I also think the 80/20 rule applies with regards to content. If more than 20% of the content is sales and marketing focused, then it no longer feels like social media. It's just another commercial website.

    Last, I think that if we don't reward great content producers in some way, we run the risk of losing them on the social web. And then what content will be left over?

    There's a book I started reading that addresses the issue of quality content. It's called "The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today's user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture and our values".

    While I don't agree with all arguments presented in this book, the author does make an interesting point when he writes:

    "But while there may infinite typewriters, there is a scarcity of talent, expertise, experience and mastery in any given field. Finding and nurturing true talent in a sea of amateurs may be the real challenge in today's Web 2.0 World."

    Lots of content is out there. A lot of it is (insert your own adjective here)

    Reply
    • Posted by Gordana Stok
      Gordana Stok

      One more thing. The S&M component shouldn't be disruptive as a lot of today's online advertising has become.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mr. Gunn
    Mitch Joel

    I'm glad the "it's wrong to make money via social media" message is circulating in marketing circles, because there's quite a few people who'll pimp their get-rich-quick scheme via social media.

    That said, outside marketing circles, businesses are quite normally and successfully using social media, all without requiring help from a "social media consultant". In fact, one could say that one of the great things about social media is that it gives businesses a route to connect to their customers without having to employ the services of a marketing firm at all. Customers get direct interaction, unfiltered through "marketing speak". Sounds like a win-win to me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Gordon Rae
    Mitch Joel

    What are you talking about? I've never heard anybody say it was wrong to make money in social media. I've heard people say it was difficult, like Rupert Murdoch, like Chris Anderson. Social media are game changing; for a relatively low cost you can communicate with a large number of people, and let them communicate with you. This means that for every Laura Fitton, or Tara Hunt, there are a thousand people showing small businesses how to set up a Twitter account. You're talking about the economics of social media, not the morality. Nobody's tellimg you you're a bad person.

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael Cayley
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with you and I think Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger would agree. Pretty sure Tara Hunt would too.

    I wonder if the Cluetrain had an unintended cultural effect. I think the manifesto set out to declare the kind of communication demanded by social media as opposed to broadcast. It never disavowed markets or profits or capitalism, but it admonished the "public relation" voices corporations had adopted to drive across their message in a broadcast context.

    Has that admonishment become a cultural value of the social media community? Applied to peers and clients?

    As I wrote as part of the CluetrainPlus10 project, "Excessive PR is one thing but let’s recognize that if we want investors (and "C" level managers) to understand the imperatives of the new economic model, we need to make the effort to convert our “conversation� into terms and language that they can act upon."

    That post here:
    http://socialcapitalvalueadd.com/2009/04/28/craig-newmark-hilton-sisters-hot-or-not-cluetrainplus10/

    You have raised a critical issue.

    On one hand, the debate is sort of like questioning if it is okay to make money with the personal computer ... or paper.

    But the issue is the rate of adoption and who the winners and losers will be through this period of radical change.

    Resistance to change can be rooted in some demographic issues, lots of factors. There are a lot more people with a vested interested in slowing adoption than there are with seizing it.

    Corporations, geographies, people who do seize though will be the ones who emerge with the commensurate opportunities.

    - Enterprise 2.0 driven companies,
    - economies lead by innovation, creating the highest value jobs, retaining the best talent,
    - personal networks that are no longer just contact bases but undeniable assets absolutely required to keep pace, zero in of critical learning, have security.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Toronto on Feb. 23 Mitch.


    Reply
  • Posted by Phil Gerbyshak
    Mitch Joel

    Making money using any service is fine. Social media, selling cars, whatever.

    What ISN'T right is tricking people into buying something they don't want or need. Forced continuity is evil, and it's why the FTC and the credit card companies are doing what they can to stop it.

    If there's value you provide, you should charge what the market will bear. If all the market will bear is free, that's your price. If the market will bear $1 million, that's your price. That may mean you get less customers, but so be it.

    Decide what you want...if it's community, then free may be your only answer. If it's to support your family (the best kind of community IMHO), then charge what will get you what you need.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nimit Kashyap
    Mitch Joel

    If you are making large sum of money , you must be doing something wrong...lol.... it is just a stereotype thinking.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sue Anne
    Mitch Joel

    People have been making money off of books and business folks paying huge sums of money to attend their conferences for years. So much is "free" on the Internet, that there is the expectation from some that everything should be free. I'm learning recently that there is value in paid content - on both sides. I'm more likely to be more engaged in communities that I pay to be a part of - to get the value out of them. And, I expect a higher level of value from those that I'm paying for content and expertise.

    Reply
  • Posted by Peter Pallotta
    Mitch Joel

    I would bet the farm that people are making money from social media already, just look at the brands that are taking advantage of this new form of marketing. Look at the speaking gigs you've had. Look at the books you've sold. Everyone who's knows how to leverage their brand is making money. The money comes indirectlty!

    Reply
  • Posted by Andrew Frank
    Mitch Joel

    Participating in online social networks, or any community for that matter, for the sole purpose of reaping financial gain seems somewhat self serving and disingenuous.

    We should be focused on authentically living out the mission, vision, and values that we believe in, regardless of whether or not we are compensated. It is a part of who we naturally are.

    Oddly enough, the majority of individuals who are most secure financially are not chasing money, fame, or even a million followers. They are simply making the choice each day to live life authentically and to consistently pour value into the communities that they are a part of.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with making money, so long as it is not the primary motivator.

    Reply
  • Posted by Phil Simon
    Mitch Joel

    Good post, Mitch.

    It's a shame that so many have a problem with those who try to attempt to make money via social networking. You are absolutely right in that you can simply unplug at any time.

    I perused some of the comments and have a bit of a respectful bone to pick with Andrew, who writes:

    We should be focused on authentically living out the mission, vision, and values that we believe in, regardless of whether or not we are compensated. It is a part of who we naturally are.

    That may be true, but living out our mission doesn't necessarily pay the bills. I can't really quibble with those with making money as their primary motivation for using social media.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lisa Hickey
    Mitch Joel

    Last I checked, we live in an economic society.

    And as quickly as things are changing, it’s doubtful that is going to change in our lifetime. But the fundamental thing that has changed, in my opinion, is that you can now use content and connections as currency to get to the bigger sale.

    I call this “unexpected ROI�. The way I’ve found it to work best is this: Have a continuous revenue stream from the smaller stuff (books, podcasts, art, advice, reports, courses) and then use your “Social Currency� – all the stuff you give away for free – to go after the bigger game.

    I’ve gotten speaking engagements through Twitter, met venture capitalists on Facebook, had journalists write about me because of a blog post or comment.

    I may never purchase a single thing from Mitch (although I hope to buy his book as soon as I finish Brogan’s). But you better believe that if a client with millions of dollars to spend asks me who the best digital strategist I know is, changes are Mitch’s name will be high on the list. And when Mitch gets that call, he can either say “how the heck did that happen� or he can say “aha, that’s how it happens.�

    I simply go by a simple rule of thumb: I am willing to give away my best stuff for free as long as I have a working revenue stream to support me and my family. But that’s MY business plan. It’s not a one size-fits all solution here. The gold nugget your find in them there hills needs to be a part of YOUR plan. Figure out what works. And do the work needed to make it happen.

    A sustainable, thoughtful business model is a must in this day and age. Just because it’s different does not make it wrong.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I agree that money should be made online. I particularly favour the Freemium model. I plan to apply this to my seminars and webinars, as well as online content. Right now what I give for free, which I see as sharing and adding value, is totally separate to the things I charge for. I need to change that.

    I like what Andrew Warner has done with his interviews on Mixergy.com. First all his video interviews were free (and they're about an hour long each). A few days ago I discovered that interviews are now only free to view for a week. Anything older than a week can only be viewed under a paying membership. I like that model. It allows people who don't want to pay 1 week to view all the videos, and it allows serious visitors the opportunity to pay for content to view and browse at leisure.

    Reply
  • Posted by Darlene Webb
    Darlene Webb

    Using social media to make money is no different than "friends" asking me to various parties so they can sell me their stuff. Pyramid marketing schemes where "friends" sell you candles, underwear, jewelry, Tupperware, etc. are based on the same premise as social marketing to make money. Using social media to make money is the 21st century equivalent.

    Reply
  • Posted by mr. tunes
    Mitch Joel

    i think there is a certain level of vagueness in mitch's post that has led to confusion in the comments. is there a difference between selling a book and starting a paid user forum to discuss social media? probably not.

    i posted on chris brogan's blog this weekend about what i think of the third tribe - a new discussion group for people in online marketing. after giving it some thought i believe my critique is a little out-of-line considering how sincere chris is, but one that the people who have started it should be willing to face. http://bit.ly/dlz2OC

    what i am getting at here is - the sale of social media advice implies that there are now people who "own" it, and my theory is that whenever this sort of thing happens a new movement will be ushered in. i believe that social media as we know it is now officially on its decline.

    Reply
    • Posted by mr. tunes
      Mitch Joel

      sorry i should add that saying social media is on its decline is rather harsh but if you look at underground culture you can see this pattern over and over again. coming from the music world i will give you the example of up-and-coming genres.

      the movement builds in the clubs and the kids are listening to/making the music. then the marketing gurus catch on - the labels, the jingle studios - and they adopt the new hot genre. once it is outside the underground it loses its appeal and takes on a new form - some may refer to this new form as "death" and others see it as being liberated from the underground.

      Reply
  • Posted by Kye Grace
    Mitch Joel

    The old cliche 'You get what you pay for' has been somewhat broken by Social Media. At the same time as I can get some great content that has undoubtedly made me better at what I do there are paid subscriptions that I could not thrive without.

    As time goes on and more and more people decide to publish content the cream will need to rise to the top for online content to continue to function well and be valuable. Part of this will be the better content being traded for currency not just good will and comments.

    Part of getting to be able to charge for content will likely involve a period of time of offering it for free while refining writing and publishing skills along with building an audience. Recognizing the time to transition to a pay model will become a skill in itself.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Money acts as the prime motivator for all things economic, as long as the ways to make money are not intrusive, obnoxious etc. like blatant spam, I welcome ads, seeing and clicking on them even in social media as they serve to connect the wanted with the wantor. Its all about connecting the person who needs/wants something to the source and its alternatives. There is nothing wrong with this concept except that it shouldnt be intrusive, blatant and obnoxious. I thoroughly enjoy all the intuitive ways advertisers and marketers come up with to reach consumers like me. But that doesnt mean I support concepts like cold calling, telemarketing, SMS spamming etc unless I opted in to receive them in the first place.

    Reply
  • Totally in agreement with that! Writing for free is a great marketing tool. It shows what is your worth. It demonstrates your thinking habits, and what COULD be done. It is a platform to discuss and experiment and provide you with feedback. BUT the day I will not be able to promote my business by offering a little bit more - and expecting to be paid for it !- is the day I will strike this out of my life. The trick, as I mentioned in another discussion group a few weeks ago, is to give back to the community. The way you do it beautifully week after week in your blog , by the way. It IS a two-way street!
    And as my business partner would say - Passion without Profit will eventually Perish!
    Thank you again for your insight!

    Reply
  • Posted by Ezehan Reza
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks Mitch for posting this article with authority and certitude! I really do feel that we shouldn't lose the plot when it comes online communications. Free shouldn't be taken as such a strict rule that we feel constipated before do anything. In my opinion, the first rule should be value and enhancement, free is secondary. I am surely willing to pay for something I find valuable, and am even grateful that such content is available.

    Reply
  • Posted by karim kanji
    Mitch Joel

    It's okay to make money online. In fact, the internet, and now social media tools, are supposed to even the playing ground. Those without all the financial resources were supposed to use these tools for financial gain.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ric Dragon
    Mitch Joel

    Many people think crowdsourcing is so cool. And it is, in the right context. But another way of looking at it is that it undermines the power of labor.

    Reply
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