Free Things & Stupid People Help Us Win The Internet

I read a lot. If you ever happen to see me riding the train to work, or waiting for something, you can be sure that I will have my head down, staring at my phone and scrolling through my reader to get the latest information and changes in the digital world. This is usually where ideas come to me.

You mean to tell me, the baby in the Mirror is me?!I often read posts from others giving tips on social media success and ways to better connect with our audience.

Usually, these great tips include giving something away for free, or some kind of promotion. And for good reason, because when done properly, it really works.

In my recent interview with Duane Forrester, I noted that Share of Voice is an important signal that Bing (and likely Google) are both paying close attention to.

But how do we attain that Share of Voice? I suggested (as I have been for a while) getting active on Social Media. And that still stands.

And sometimes, we get a lucky break. Sometimes, the stupid things that happen to us open up all sorts of opportunities, and if we are smart about it, and leverage these things appropriately, we can take advantage of these events and reach the right channels, to improve our share of voice.

Real Brand Examples

So let’s talk about a few real examples where brands have taken advantage of this or have not taken advantage but should have.

Case 1: The Oatmeal vs. Charles Carreon

I have always had a deep respect for Matthew Inman. His comics are terrific, and I think he is brilliant. He understands people and knows how to reach them. So he has those merits alone which have made The Oatmeal extremely successful.

But when Charles Carreon sued Inman after stealing Inman’s work, Inman did what any normal person would do. He doodled on the lawsuit and launches a campaign which raises thousands of dollars for charity.

To quote one commenter on The Oatmeal after Inman posted this picture:

“You have beaten the internet… that was the last level…”


Matthew Inman and lots of money


If you were not familiar with The Oatmeal before this whole episode, that may have changed considering that it had been covered by all major mainstream media, thousands upon thousands of bloggers, tweets, etc. Not to mention, general interest in Inman has sky rocketed.


Inman could have stopped there, but what he does next is pretty awesome. He goes and makes personal drawings for fans who donated to the cause. (Sadly, mine never showed up ;)

Tip # 1:

Take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. And when someone does something completely idiotic, think about how you can leverage it for your own success.

Case 2: Free $250 Shopping Spree at Target

Giveaways actually do work… when they are real.

My friends, have you shared this post on Facebook?

Then the following message is for you:

If you share this post with 50 of your friends, you will get a special private email from Matt Cutts sharing the real Google Algorithm.

Come on! REALLY?!?!?

This scam has been making its rounds for some time now, and truly is ridiculous.

But with every scam comes opportunity.

Here is a great idea for Target. Acknowledge the scam. Counter it with a campaign to actually win a $250 store credit and at the same time, boost your social media presence. I think it could have a profound impact and really help build buzz.

(Turns out, while I was writing this article, Target coincidentally “stole” my suggestion and partnered with Ebony Magazine and launched a real $250 giveaway for the new city stores they are opening up in the Chicago, LA and Seattle. A Target spokesperson got back to me and was very clear to let me know that this CitySmart contest, which takes place on Twitter and is aimed at helping the company engage locally and connect with guests in a unique way,  was in no way a response to any Facebook scams.)

Tip # 2:

Props to Target for being so proactive and coming up with great ideas. However, from an overall “capturing share of voice”, I see this as a tremendous opportunity for Target. Respond on a national level and leverage a potentially bad situation. Growing your national Facebook fan base is worth $250 in my opinion.

Case 3: Free Uber Rides

While this one doesn’t involve a “bone head” move that someone tried to pull, it is a noteworthy move that as marketers we could all learn from.

I ask you, how would you like to do something to really improve your brands Share of Voice?

I first learned about UBER while at SMX Advanced from Casie Gillette, and it was truly love at first site. And now, I use UBER all the time. When you factor in that the tip is included, even the black car service often comes out to not all that much more than a standard taxi, with a significantly better experience. It might be my favorite startup.

And then, I get an email telling me that all rides are free for the week. WOOT!

 Free Uber Taxi Rides

You better believe I created buzz around that. And I know others did too, because my Twitter stream was full of people sharing this promotion.

Look at this:

 Free Uber Taxi Rides mentions graph

What I would assume to be a pretty significant investment of money and resources, earned UBER a significant amount of new customers.

I reached out to UBER for a comment and learned the following:

  • Their Twitter Following grew 10% since the campaign
  • They had more taxi rides in the 3 days of the promotion than in the prior 8 weeks
  • They created the largest number of new user sign ups in the 3 days in UBER History

Tip # 3:

Spend a little money to create the buzz. But do it the right way. UBER is giving away things that are fun and that people want. During those 3 days, I am sure people took taxis just because they could. Heck, I did. They got me.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what that gigantic spike around Jul 12th was? Well, UBER was delivering Ice Cream all around Chicago. (I snapped this picture at about 2pm, but I know it got much bigger)

Be Yourself, But Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

Brands have to stay true to what they are. The exact tactics each of the above brands took might not work as well for a more conservative brand. But there is something that everyone can walk away from because I think the tips are universal.

So to sum up the tips:

  1. Seize the moment. Take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
  2. Negative situations can be fixed. Turn a negative situation into one that benefits your brand
  3. Invest a little money. If its something people want, then they will respond in turn

It sounds kind of cliché but do the best you can and try to be as original as you can. Hopefully those merits alone will help you create some buzz and capture share of voice.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Director of SEO for Kahena, a Digital Marketing agency focused on sustainable SEO, vertical search optimization, and online advertising. At KDM, he leads strategy for all accounts and is experienced in SEO ranging from local, digital marketing, to national and global search marketing. Aaron also specializes in social media strategy development and its convergence with SEO, content creation, image and video optimization. Follow him on Twitter @AaronFriedman.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • fjpoblam

    Among the “free things” do you count Search Engines and email service?

  • Chenzo

    Friedman , that target thing blew my mind when I saw that going around!

    Enjoyed the post, I am following you on twitter.

    Do you write else where more frequently?

    Your pal

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Most negatives, certainly not all but probably more than most people realize, can be turned into something positive. It all depends on how you handle the situation. And it’s important to pick your battles. Somethings are worth going to bat over and others aren’t. Knowing the difference is key. 

  • Aaron Friedman

    That is a really good point you make and I couldn’t agree more about picking your battles. Often times, brands make matters much worse by saying anything. I wrote about a great example of this by Fedex where they handled a crisis really well:
    Thanks for reading!

  • Aaron Friedman

    That Target spam is a thorn in my side and annoys me to no end that people keep sharing it :)
    I don’t really write anywhere more regularly right now. A bit on my personal blog (which is linked to in my bio) but I have been pretty bad about keeping it up :)

    I like Twitter and often chat there. Feel free to connect there.

    Cheers Chenzo!

  • Aaron Friedman

    No. When I say free things, I am talking about giving away a product or service that people want or need. Something that helps connect them to the brand.

  • Simon Légaré

    Excellent Article!


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