Entrepreneur Interview: Lessons in Free and Digital Community

April 29, 2010Sparxoo

Chris Anderson points out in his latest book, Free: The Future of Radical Price, we are in an age where internet users can find information for free that was formerly sold for top dollar (think about the newspaper industry). If information is free, how can marketers monetize internet users? What can marketers do to sell information when it can be found elsewhere for no charge?

We spoke with Tara Jacobsen, the founder of Marketing Artfully to learn more about monetizing content. Tara and her team at Marketing Artfully have sold over 125 social networking videos, 10 blogs and worked with countless emerging entrepreneurs through its membership site. How have they done it? When we spoke with Tara, she discussed lessons from her Seth Godin experiment and why she scraps the community model in favor of one-on-one interactions.

What are the lessons you have learned from Seth Godin’s Tribe experiment?

For marketers, there has been a lot of buzz about community sites. At Marketing Artfully, we do not promote forums for our members to engage with each other. We have a strictly one-on-one relationship with our members. In fact, only people our team has met in-person are invited. Why? Seth Godin taught me a very valuable lesson.

Before Seth Godin launched his book, Tribes, he created an experimental community of approximately 3,000 well-known marketers and business professionals. The community thrived at first. After a while, however, it became stale. Community members eventually lost interest after speaking with everyone they wished to. Soon thereafter, Godin opened the exclusive community to many more people and the site completely lost its luster.

We can learn two lessons from Godin’s experimental “tribe” project: 1) unfettered engagement can stagnate the community and 2) opening the community to more than 3,000 members can alienate the “exclusive members.” If you’re going to launch a community it needs to be exclusive or not — the transition from one to the other can alienate users.

How can you monetize your products when users could potentially find them elsewhere for free?

It starts with developing a personal connection with your members, then you must listen to them to identify a market gap. Our team strives to create meaningful relationships with our clients and users, and consequently, about 76 percent of our business is from referrals. There is an element of accountability and personal connection with your community if you have met members in-person. Moreover, members are more willing to pay for your product if they have that connection with you and your brand.

Secondly, you need to listen to your members to identify a market gap, then solve it. If you do this, you’ll have a unique product that can be monetized. For instance, a real estate broker didn’t know how to make a brochure, so Marketing Artfully created a brochure template. Or, an entrepreneurs didn’t understand how to use WordPress, so my team created a WordPress video how-to guide. And every month I host an “ask me anything” conference, where members, clients and I work through challenges in real-time. You cannot find that elsewhere for free.

Image by Alan Luckow from Stock.Xchng