Just Because You Offer A Free Service, It Doesn't Mean Your Users Aren't Customers

from the blurring-the-lines dept

The world of Twitter got its collective knickers in a twist earlier this week when the company made a change to the settings of its service. The particular change was pretty small, but seemed to disproportionately effect "power users" and early adopters, so, of course, the uproar over it was pretty intense, and Twitter changed the change. The details of the change aren't all that important, but like with the response to Facebook's recent TOS change, it's dragged out some rather interesting opinions. A personal favorite of mine is the response to the backlash that since users aren't paying anything for these services, they have no right to complain. Apparently users should "pay up" so they have the right "to voice [their] displeasure as a customer rather than as a user" -- and this coming from a guy who writes a blog about open-source software. It's one thing for a business to ignore complaints that don't come from customers or potential customers, but in the case of free services, to imply that users' opinions don't count because they're not ponying up any cash is fairly ridiculous. Most free services rely on their users to create revenue in other ways, such as by providing traffic to monetize; alienation of users that results in a downturn in traffic, and in turn, ad revenue, has exactly the same effect as losing paying customers' repeat business. The distinction between "customer" and "user" is, in many cases, becoming increasingly irrelevant. And never mind that in many instances, such as with Twitter and Facebook, it's impossible for users to become paying customers. It's hard to imagine that either company thinks it's okay to ignore its users simply because they don't pay.

Filed Under: customers, free, service, users
Companies: twitter

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  1. identicon
    Peggy Dolane, 15 May 2009 @ 10:10am

    Hooked users?

    Twitter clearly has demonstrated in my mind how hooked it's users really are to it's free service. While Twitter may not be monitizing itself, it has underwritten hundreds of thousands of dollars of small business profits. Just look at the whole virtual assistant community that has seemingly sprung up from nowhere. Many of those people wouldn't have a way to as effectively market themselves without Twitter -- plus many of their clients are using their services to help them manage their TWITTER usage.

    Twitter may not be able to charge directly for access to all of it's services. But it does have a good foundation to establish premium services and charge for them. I know there would be a long line of people who might complain at first, but then quickly sign up as they realized how much of their current business model depended on Twitter.

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