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Giving It All Away (and an experiment with Hootsuite)

After years away from the popular and powerful social media management platform, I’ve decided to try Hootsuite again for the benefit of a client who would like to share his LinkedIn content with other publication platforms in the most efficient way possible. This post itself is both my first LinkedIn advice column and part of that experiment. I won’t be saying anything new here, but you might not have heard it before—or you might enjoy having me confirm your (obviously correct) prejudices.

My client, Phillip, coaches professionals in goal-oriented communication, from public speaking to letter writing to CV preparation to personal pitches. He’s very good at what he does. What’s more, even before I started working for him he was already impressing his talents upon potential clients in exactly the way I recommend I all of mine—and he still does. What’s the secret?: He gives away his secrets for nothing online.

Why would any fee-charging professional do this?

It answers the question: What can you do for me?

Whatever you are selling, people will only buy it if they are convinced it will benefit them. Phillip is selling his ability to improve your communication skills. Anyone can call themselves a “communications consultant/trainer”. If someone improves your communication skills before you have even met them in person, then that claim already has the backing of evidence—the most powerful kind: your own personal experience.

Even though Phillip is giving a part of his value away gratis, he knows that the real value he can offer comes from his being present in the room. You can read a few of his tips online and improve your presentation skills significantly, but it’s with his face-to-face coaching that you can transform your communication for the better. It’s that face-to-face coaching he wants his clients to pay for. Giving away his written advice will make potential clients more likely to want to pay for this.

It costs him next-to-nothing and benefits him directly

We live in a world where you can publish your content to every living human with a smartphone and/or Internet access for negligible cost. If you are an expert, every time you write about your expertise, you make a record that is not only available to millions of other people, but represents a knowledgebase that you yourself can refer to and build upon in the future.

But there are lots of popular platforms to publish on and only so much time to type your new content into each of those platforms. As his Phillip’s tech adviser, it’s my job to help him find and use the best means to share to them all. (This experiment with Hootsuite is, of course, part of that.)

It interests Google

These days, most people rarely type complete URLs (Web addresses) into their Web browsers; they just enter keywords and hit “Search”. Most of the time, that Search button belongs to Google. For most contemporary Web users, Google is the Internet. If your business doesn’t appear in Google’s indexes of the Web’s content or, even more importantly, in Google’s search results, then, as far as the Internet is concerned, you might as well not exist.

Google’s indexing bots—the programs that read and store content for their search databases—are attracted to content that is:

  • pointed at by other sources they already trust because it is valued for its authoritativeness,
  • easy to access,
  • up-to-date and frequently updated,
  • relevant to Google’s users.

If Phillip creates content like with these attributes, Google will index it—and, if Google indexes it, it will turn up in relevant search results.

By giving a sample of his expert advice away for free, Phillip makes it more likely that people interested in buying more of it will find that he is selling it.

It creates a sense of obligation

If giving good advice away weren’t such an obviously altruistic and public-spirited thing to do, you’d argue this justification was a cynical one. But it’s true. Test after test has shown that, when you give people something for nothing, they not only feel better disposed to you in general, they feel a specific sense of indebtedness—often out of all proportion to the gift.

This manifests itself in everything from people at a supermarket buying packets of crackers that a member of staff used as the base for free canapés handed out on the shop floor, to the bizarre case of office workers giving their work PC passwords to  interviewers with clipboards on commuter rail station platforms in return for free pens.

The bottom line is: Just the act of giving something to someone significantly increases the chances that person will give you something back—including a professional fee.

Summary

So there’s my not-original, but completely free, advice: Give information away and you’ll get business back.

(Now, let’s see if I can use Hootsuite to share it even more widely at no cost—provided I remember to cancel my subscription.)