Giving Up Rights for “Free”

by Jay Deragon on 11/04/2010

Does Free Earn You/Them Rights?In the jurisprudence and the law, a right is the legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something, or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society. Rights serve as rules of interaction between people, and, as such, they place constraints and obligations upon the actions of individuals or groups.

Societal rights are bestowed to its citizenry by society and are a set of obligations that are purported as a social contract. Societal rights are a privilege of membership, or a relationship, and the benefits are limited to its members/parties. The right can therefore be a faculty of doing something, of omitting or refusing to do something or of claiming something.

What “Rights” are Known and Unknown from “Free”

When we join a “network” (almost all are free) we give up the rights to our data. When we blog we give rights to readers. When we connect with people we give them rights to our profile and contact information. When we see ads on networks, blogs, television etc., it is our right to choose and act and their right to try and provoke action. When we receive invitations to networks, to connect with others it is assumed that we give our right to be invited and their right to ask. We are in a constant state of exchanging rights.

With the proliferation of “Free” it is assumed that certain parties which support free gain the right to try and attract us, stimulate us and capture us into a transaction of something, anything and everything. The game of “Free” is based on the right to ask, to be present in “your space” and to try anything and everything to get your attention. However, the social web is changing the traditional methods of marketers from “assuming the rights to earning the rights to a relationships”.

Consumers have always had the right to choose and to select but today’s “social dynamics” are changing the rules of engagement. The rules of engagement start with words and actions that demonstrate a form of commitment to the relationship, one to one to millions. Words and actions are the foundation of all relations. Relationships beget transactions which create and fuel markets. All is inter-connected by the conversations.

What Does “Free” Cost?

Seth Godin writes: “Paying a dollar for a song isn’t expensive to anyone who pays $3 for a cup of coffee. The dollar isn’t about expense, it’s about selection and choice and commitment.

There is no commitment, one way or the other, for free. If applying to college were free, the number of schools people would apply to would approach infinity–yet the cost of the application is trivial compared to the cost of tuition.

When you bring money into the equation, everything changes (ask the governor of New York). Chris Anderson is right when he writes about the power of free in marketing… it dramatically increases sampling and earns you the right to attention, at least for a while. I think Google is the exception that proves the rule: the most powerful brands are the ones that earn the right to a transaction.

Notice the simple but profound statement at the end of Godin’s comment; ” the most powerful brands are the ones that earn the right to a transaction”. In any social environment there are spoken and unspoken rights or rules of engagement which collectively create a path to acceptance, recognition, credibility and rights earned for a potential transaction. The fundamental rights to a transaction starts with the relationship to the individuals, the swarm or the entire market with whom we individually and collectively may “transact with”. Earning the right to a transaction is like earning the right to passage.

In the virtual social environment the “Rights of Passage” can be observed by the behavioral dynamics of the collective community reflected in the conversations, the topics and the related dynamics of interaction. In other words to earn the rights of passage one must first earn and understand the relationships. Once you’ve earned the right of passage your “free” to converse and establish other relations, possible transactions and in the end an entire market, new and existing.

Now lets define “Rights of Passage“. Rights can be define as complying with rules, correctness or reason; perfectly suitable or fit for purpose. Passage can be defined as part of a path or journey. Now consider the technology behind the different social platforms we use. Each has its own built in “rights of passage” based on the very nature of both its technological design and the operators vision of purpose. None of the networks have the same “Rights of Passage“. The same can be applied to the different communities represented on the different networks. Each interactive community has its own set of “rights of passage“, some spoken and some not. The same process applies to all relations.

Learning and Earning Your Rights of Passage:

Understanding our “rights of passage” can be confusing or assumed. “Rights of Passage” is not only the rules of a network or community but it a process of credibility building with people and not assumptions we make because we think we’re right or think we’re someone with influence. Rights of Passage is about the dynamics of relationships and rules we individually and collectively follow, spoke and unspoken, to demonstrate our character and credibility as well as that of our entire community.

For marketers this means the rules have changed from “the tricks of the trade” to the “rules of engagement“, a relationship comes first before the transaction. The influence is shifting to the people rather than the brands. You want a transaction? Build your relationships.


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