You gotta love learning lessons as you go, right? I just found myself with an interesting dilemma as a small business owner and I’m looking for your help and feedback to figure out what to do.
Yesterday, I posted about our new free sticker initiative in Trek Light Gear Around The World. My goal was simple, allow anyone who wants to help promote Trek Light Gear to sign up for some free stickers. There was a small catch, in the signup form I asked everyone to take the ‘Sticker Oath’ which essentially just said that you would promise to put the stickers in cool places and take pictures of them to share on our Facebook page . It would give me a chance to know that the stickers weren’t just ending up in the trash and it would generate some great marketing images to show how passionate and widespread our awesome fans are.
Based on the usual response to my blog posts, facebook, Twitter, etc. I guessed that maybe 40-50 at most would sign up the first day. A few hours after posting there were only about 10 requests which was even a bit lower than I expected but that’s the way this social media stuff goes – it can take a little while and more than a few tries for people to hear what you have to say. I went out and bought a pack of 80 envelopes and some mailing labels and figured I’d give it a day before getting started on the mailing.
I woke up this morning and checked on the results. I began scrolling down…50…100..300…451 requests!!! I was blown away. My first thought was how it meant that social media engagement was way up – it's been proven time and time again, offer something for free and you’ll get people’s attention. Then my thoughts turned to the logistics, there was no way I'd be able to mail these all myself and juggle everything else (my Chief Everything Officer title has been reaching legendary status lately), I was going to need to order more mailing supplies, likely a bulk postage printer (the one I have only prints 4x6 labels for our packages) and even more stickers – most people were asking for 2-3 stickers a piece which put the tally at well over 1000 stickers in less than 24 hours.
While I’m thinking about all this, I decide to click refresh on the list to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. BAM! 530 requests! In less than 3 minutes the count had gone up almost 80 names.
That’s when I knew something was up.
Luckily, I have a way to check the real-time visitors to my site and see where they’re coming from. There were probably 100 people currently on the site and the referral pages read like this: freestufftimes.com, icravefreebies.com, ilovefreethings.com and on and on. I immediately paused the request form so I could think this through.
The people requesting stickers at an alarming rate weren’t really fans, readers of the blog, etc., they were fans of FREE. Which brings me to my dilemma.
Bringing lots of new people to our site is awesome and getting lots of stickers out in the world is a great goal. But Quality matters most of all. My goal isn’t to create waste or to give out stickers to people who don’t know what Trek Light Gear is and still don’t really care even after getting a free sticker. I’m not making this up, I’ve got an email in my Inbox right now that says this:
I see you have free trek stickers....but what is a trek sticker??
If Trek Light Gear was a bigger operation with endless money to spend on stickers and plenty of staff to handle the requests I don’t think the dilemma would be the same. But for a business of our size the cost of stickers, envelopes, stamps, time, etc. adds up fast. Knowing those stickers are all going to passionate supporters makes it easy to justify the cost, we’ll earn that investment back with your support and happiness.
So, how do I offer something like free stickers to our loyal supporters and make sure they don’t just become waste or wind up in the hands of Fans of FREE? I included the ‘Sticker Oath’ on the signup form for a reason, but obviously it’s easy to check a few boxes to get something free, so that isn’t enough.
One idea that initially crossed my mind was to create a new signup form with a trivia question of some sort: find something on our blog, newsletter, etc. But my goal isn’t to make it difficult or time consuming for people to support us and if the answer is too easy to find it really won’t do anything to solve the problem – people who want free things are likely willing to do a few seconds of searching for it.
I see you have free trek stickers....but what is a trek sticker??
Another option is that I can create a new signup page and just email it to our newsletter subscribers. But as long as a signup page exists on the web, someone would be able to share that link on the freebie sites and it would start all over again.
Any help, advice or suggestions are appreciated. I’d love to not have to write this whole idea off as impossible to execute and prevent people who really want the stickers from getting them. But right now I’m not sure the best way to make it happen so please let me know if you’ve got any suggestions!
[UPDATE 1: Some people have been asking why I don't just give in to the viral response and send stickers to as many people as possible and reap the exposure regardless. The answer (as also explained above) is that I simply can't afford the investment or the time and need to focus on getting stickers to the people that truly want to support and help spread the word. And then there's this: My Live Chat has been blowing up all day with people asking why the free sticker form isn't accepting new requests. While there have been a few nice people, almost all of them have been irate and angry when I explain that it's paused (and why). The latest customer just replied to my courteous explanation with "Dammit. F*** all of you!!!".
This is from someone who was supposedly interested in taking the 'Sticker Oath' and supporting my humble business one second earlier. Budgeting aside, the conversations I've had with many of the freebie seekers really confirms to me why I'm making the right decision in choosing not to give stickers to the Fans of FREE.
It's a difficult decision to shutdown something that achieved a nearly viral response, but with your help we'll find a way to make sure that stickers get to those who truly want them and I'll continue to keep my faith in Quality over Quantity when it comes to spreading the word about Trek Light Gear. ]
[Update 2: Looking at the stats, it doesn't look like many of the freebie seekers are taking the time to go past the sticker page and explore the site. But, if you came from one of the referral sites and stuck around to discover a genuine interest in Trek Light Gear: Welcome! This post is definitely not meant to condemn the websites that promote freebies (I'm psyched I discovered some new websites to find free things!) or the people who surf them and take advantage of the offers - except for the irate people who yelled at me today, I condemn them for sure. :)
It's a dilemma that results purely from the fact that Trek Light Gear is a small business trying to do something generous for its fans and if that now includes you, I'm happy to have you on board.