Free giveaways may boost your follower count, but they don’t create community

The marketing director for a healthcare system argues that giving away free stuff to fans isn’t the best way to build your online community.

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Almost every day, I get email from some company asking me to follow them on Facebook or join its e-newsletter “for a chance to win an iPad 2.” Sounds like a great way to grow your ranks of online followers, right? Wrong.

In my opinion, giving away free stuff doesn’t build a community.

I understand the marketing concept: Giveaways are a powerful incentive to get people to act. Who wouldn’t want a free cup of coffee by simply “liking” your coffee shop’s Facebook page? Who wouldn’t be excited about getting a Dean & Deluca cookie mailed to you, along with a letter asking for a follow on Twitter? I’m intrigued by an actual piece of fruit mailed to me with a note asking me to subscribe to a newsletter. (Note: I am not making any of these examples up.)

What is it that drives companies to use promotional marketing? A quick Google search yields studies that show the “effectiveness” of giveaway marketing (coincidentally published on promotional marketing companies’ websites). For example, “83 percent of consumers surveyed reported that they liked receiving promotional products.

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