The Zoetica Salon and the Business of Free

Kami Huyse (@kamichat) & Beth Kanter (@kanter)
Zoetica Co-Founders Kami Huyse and Beth Kanter

Zoetica launched its Salon today on Beth Kanter‘s personal fan page on Facebook. The Zoetica Salon meets a nonprofit marketplace need for basic peer-to-peer conversations about social media adoption. The primary differentiators of the Zoetica Salon is Beth Kanter and her significant experience in the space, and that it is completely free of charge, and hosted on a common easily accessible social network — Facebook — that doesn’t require a new log-in identity (see press release here).

This begs the question why market a free service? After assessing the current offerings out there, there was no free service. The best educational offerings range from affordable services like the esteemable Nedra Weinreich‘s Social Marketing University series to TechSoup’s NetSquared community and the Nonprofit Technology Network‘s excellent professional membership services.

At the same time, the partners in the company believe basic advice and simple questions should be available free of charge to an industry dedicated to resolving society’s ills. With no organization formally serving that need, a clear opportunity existed. As more social media consultants enter the space, it’s important to remember that advice from bloggers and consultants do not equate to formal training. The Zoetica offering seeks to channel people who want to do more than spend time in the Salon into the capable hands of folks like Nedra, NetSquared and the NTEN team.

Lest a Robin Hood halo be painted, there is an end goal for the company, which is branding and demonstrative leadership. Simply put, by giving people a taste of the offering, the company builds a reputation for its consulting services, and gains new business opportunities. A vast majority of Zoetica’s business is through referral or direct client requests.

What Free Costs

There’s a real cost to free, which most people don’t take into account when they launch their services or blog. That’s the time it takes to build a quality reputation via free services. By assuming that giving away free time will monetize, Zoetica shoulders great risk. For example, in addition to the Salon announcement today, the company also announced the addition of Julie Pippert to the team (Welcome, Julie!). Deploying Julie’s unbillable time to the page is a significant investment.

It is a risk that all of the partners have successfully shouldered individually, so the leap is taken with faith. Perhaps the poster child of free intellectual property Cory Doctorow said it best:

“For me, the answer is simple: if I give away my ebooks under a Creative Commons liscence that allows non-commercial sharing, I’ll attract readers who buy hard copies. It’s worked for me – I’ve had books on the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) bestseller list for the past two years.”

Other online organizations have sought different methods of monetization, including advertising, sponsor programs, affiliate marketing, membership fees and subscription models. Every entity has to choose the model it thinks will serve its community of interest best, and ultimately serve its long-term business goals. And so with that, let the free experiment known as the Zoetica Salon begin.

A complete discussion on the economics of Free can be found in Chris Anderson’s book Free (which was available online for five weeks free of charge).

8 Replies to “The Zoetica Salon and the Business of Free”

  1. Interesting post, Geoff. The idea of giving it away to eventually reap a bigger return is something I frequently preach when it comes to cause marketing, especially for smaller causes.

    http://selfishgiving.com/cause-marketing-101/cause-marketing-in-the-age-of-free

    But another free website for nonprofits highlights the incredible lack of more sophisticated nonprofit web sites that rely on advertising, a subscription model or some type of e-book, whitepaper model to generate revenue.

    If you visit Philanthropy.com they have a pretty extensive list of cause blogs none of which have the revenue models we’ve seen for other industries (blogging, financial services, etc). Of course, there’s now one exception: 501MissionPlace which is a subscription model.

    While I love free as much as anyone else, it does have its limits in the amount of value it can offer. And I’m not sure that the cause sectors unwillingness to invest in online learning reflects a continued unease with technology or just a silly unwillingness to invest in success. Sadly, the latter is a common trait with a lot of nonprofits.

    I like free. It works. And I wish you well with your new Salon. Causes will no doubt enjoy it along with the free access. But they need to know they pay for [and what they get for free].

  2. Thanks for the mention, Geoff! And congrats on the Zoetica Salon and your new team member, Julie. I have no doubt that many who participate in the free Salon will eventually either become clients or refer someone to you. The nice thing about an open community like that is you can likely count on many of the participants to answer each others’ questions, rather than having all the work placed on your team’s shoulders. And being known as “the place to go” to get your questions answered certainly doesn’t hurt!

  3. I echo my friends Joe and Nedra in their praise for Zoetica and the new Zoetica Salon.
    As a career long ‘nonprofiter’, evolved into an ad man leading NPO’s from the outside, I can say that you are providing the services and value in the space(s) that will work best for most.
    Keep up the great work Geoff (and Joe and Nedra) – we are in this together!

  4. Welcome to the world of free.

    At causemarketingforum.com and runwalkride.com we’ve provided tons of curated free content to cause marketers and thon fundraisers for years as a way of serving those fields and building our reputation as the place to go for practical information and resources.

    The alternative would have been to have a gated website with access to these industry statistics, case studies, articles, etc. available only to paying members.

    Our audience would never have grown to its current size if we had taken that path (nor would I have received nearly as many notes of thanks from users desperately in need of information who discovered us via search)

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