Beyond the paid content debate – how to build value from free content

Media owners and commentators are currently obsessed with charging directly for content delivered online, but at the Specialist Media Show conference last month I heard about an alternative way to grow revenues from free online content, with several key insights from Craig Hanna of econsultancy.  Free content can also drive a great targeted database of your audience, and other speakers in the same session – Louise White, Steve Kemish, Jenny Moseley – shared tips on using social media and email to create value from that database.  Here are the top insights:

1. Use quality free content to amass an audience

It’s a slow burn, but creating top-notch targeted content on a consistent basis will build an audience.  Econsultancy’s blog is highly rated and drives their 100,000 registered database of digital marketing professionals.  They only sell content and other services to 5% of these, but that is enough to build an attractive business.

2. Look for multiple revenue streams

Traditional advertising will become a smaller proportion of revenue.  Econsultancy now finds most of its revenue comes from membership, events and training.  Media businesses need to manage multiple revenue streams and identify all the ways they can provide services to their core audience.

3. Cross-promote relentlessly

The free content has to reach a large audience to drive a substantial paid business, but this means you have great opportunities to cross-promote.  Econsultancy’s blog articles carry links to their paid-for reports, and drive substantial revenues.

4. Be agile – test new stuff constantly

Pick up on ideas from your audience – econsultancy uses twitter for npd – test them quickly and you might just identify your next revenue stream.  Louise White from Incisive also recommended using social media to identify opinion-formers in your market and listen to their ideas.

5. Build relationships gradually with email

Email is a powerful tool for gradually building relationships.  Steve Kemish of Cyance offered plenty of helpful tips: segment carefully so your messages are relevant, get to know your recipient before selling too hard, don’t ask for too much data upfront, and test out different subject lines for the same content.

If you have experiences to share from using free content to build a niche audience and then making your revenues from other services, then please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in and swap ideas and tips with 300 other specialist media owners, including some of the speakers in this session.

Take a look at the 78 insights from the conference programme, and read the comments from visitors and exhibitors who attended the show.  Or watch the video highlights.

See also an earlier article on creating an online content business through building trust.

Read other articles based on debates at the Specialist Media Show here:

Secrets of launching events from media brands

Beyond the paid content debate – how to build value from free content

How publishers can make digital media pay

Secrets of successful commercial partnerships in specialist markets

Bright future for specialist media: build audiences, develop many revenue streams

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop revenues from free content please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.