There’s a long-lasting saying that you’ve probably heard.
“Nothing in life is free.”
But is it true?
Maybe not always.
There are giveaways, product samples, and kind and generous souls who donate to GoFundMe.
But, for the most part, I think the saying holds up.
How many spam emails do you get promising you riches beyond your wildest imagination? But first… you must send them something.
Even scammers know that we’re often distrustful of something that sounds free.
But then there are “free” services. They’re usually online, and often give you a lot of value for that little price of $0.
Yep, I’m talking about social media.
Most successful social media companies are free for users.
There are always benefits to paying, like Medium’s partner program and Facebook or Twitter ads.
But the key is, it’s not a requirement.
Anybody (over 13 or so anyway) can sign up to these websites for the colossal payment of nothing.
Nothing! It’s free!
If we’re so distrustful of free benefits, why have people accepted that these services are free for so many years?
We all get a lot from them, whether it’s for personal or professional reasons.
You can stay in touch with family and friends via text, video, or even phone calls on Facebook. Why pay to use your phone when you call people in another country for free?
You can build a massive community for your brand through Facebook Groups, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can even get job leads and speak directly to recruiters for free on LinkedIn.
Pinterest? You can practically plan your entire wedding. Or house renovation. Or your nail designs for the next 50 years.
Social media has changed our lives for better and for worse.
Kids can stay in contact with their teacher and classmates through a global pandemic using the internet.
I couldn’t imagine that being possible when I was in high school, and that wasn’t even that long ago.
But it’s also made bullying easier, getting fired easier, and falling into addiction even easier.
So how can something with SO many benefits and a few downsides be free?
I’m always surprised, and a little disappointed, every few years when something comes around about “your privacy and Facebook”.
Can you BELIEVE that Facebook knows that’s you in the back of some shady bar with wine spilled down your shirt?
Actually, yeah. I can.
And NO! I don’t want my friend to be able to tag me.
Even with the big Facebook data leak that happened last year, and Zuckerberg repeatedly apologising to users (even in the senate), people still say to me, “isn’t this crazy?” as they brandish their phone in my direction.
We were talking about elf costumes for dogs, and now I’m getting an ad!
How does it know?!
Even more surprising is when people don’t believe me when I tell them, yes, actually, your phone IS listening to you.
Or at least watching you (not through your camera, but maybe…). More like keeping track of what you’re typing.
A few months ago I even had a conversation about Everybody Loves Raymond with a few people. That night I started getting 10-year-old Youtube videos of “funny moments from Raymond”.
It was a little concerning, but mostly kind of funny. Because when I told the people I was speaking with, they didn’t believe me — “how would your phone know?”
It’s because Facebook wasn’t free after all.
We don’t pay with real money to use these services. They really ARE monetarily free.
We pay for something that, depending on your personal beliefs, might be worth more than money.
Our personal data.
And it’s not just the random things you can easily lie on your profile about, like your age, where you went to school, and if you’re in a relationship.
It’s more important stuff.
Like whether every time KFC sends you an ad, you’ve got to click on it.
Or that you messaged your friend asking for advice on the best place to buy makeup.
But, most importantly, it’s the fact that all that data can be put together to build a very clear picture of who you are at any moment in time.
Who are you?
Facebook might throw me into a few categories.
A woman, 25–30, who loves pictures of dogs with weird faces, is self-employed, a writer, and spends $2,000 a year on business apps and software.
Who also lives within 5km of (your business) and is looking to buy a Microsoft Surface.
For someone creating an ad that wants to sell Microsoft Surfaces locally with an ad targeted to writers or dog lovers — probably.
Google and other websites have this same information about you.
Google follows you around from website to website, and Facebook knows that you visited a website they sent you an ad for three weeks earlier.
For these sites, your personal data is worth a lot more than a service fee.
Even small business and solo freelance marketers know this.
You don’t have to put your email in for a free printable so that they can send it to you. If the marketer wanted you to be able to, you could download it straight from their page.
Your email is just permission for them to start marketing.
Don’t take me the wrong way.
I don’t think this form of payment is all bad.
Actually, I like it.
It means that, instead of getting intrusive, inappropriate adverts, I see things that I genuinely am interested in.
Google and Facebook know that it’s good for you, and it’s good for brands when you get information designed for you.
Part of the reason television ads suck so much is that they’re geared towards almost everybody (which, inevitably, means virtually nobody).
A ton of thought and research (and money) goes into digital marketing.
Most businesses don’t want to waste their money marketing to someone who doesn’t care about what they’re selling. Well, the responsible and reputable ones anyway.