When is the right time to gatekeep content to generate leads?

by David Spark on April 19, 2010

On a recent project a client suggested we require people to input their email address before we show them any of the videos on our site. The theory being that we would capture the emails and use them for email marketing.

They thought it was a great idea, but in actually, it’s a very bad idea. It’s been tried many times and it’s rarely done in this manner because it usually fails.

Here’s when and why gatekeeping content fails

You need to give something first before you get something in return. The requested technique is known as gatekeeping information and it doesn’t work in this manner because people simply don’t want to give up personal information before they see what they’re going to receive. I know this flies in the face of traditional commerce. You give me money first, and then I give you product. But with Internet content exchanges people have so many other options at the click of the button that they’ll leave your site if you throw up even the slightest roadblock.

An email address is personal property and it has personal value. You can’t just haphazardly require people to enter their email address. They don’t readily give it up. Anytime you want someone to give you their email address you have to make the value exchange really clear. Yes, we’ll be showing them a video, but for most that’s not good enough for giving up private information like an email address.

Anti-spam laws require opt-in and opt-out consent. Even if you ask people for their email address you have to let people opt-in or opt-out of receiving future emails from you. So if you’re creating a form that requires people to enter their email address and check an opt-in box or uncheck an opt-out box, and everyone chooses to opt-out, what have you accomplished?

You won’t get valid email addresses. This is the most important reason why this technique fails. People simply won’t give you their real email address. You’ll get TONS of fake email addresses. People know that if you’re asking for your email address to see some content that means they’re going to get spammed. So they just give you bogus information. In some cases, people get around this by requiring some authorization (e.g. they send you an email and you have to click on a link). That technique is better, but often people will use one of their spam accounts to get around your required authorization.

It’s bad UX and it damages your brand. An extra hoop to jump through to get content. Asking the “give me your email address first” question puts a pall on the relationship with the visitor. When visitors give you a bogus email address, they’re obviously aren’t giving you much respect.

Here’s when and why gatekeeping content succeeds

Create a group that people want to join – People want to join social groups, fan pages, and networking groups on a variety of social media sites. Engage people in dialogue where you have access to them in a conversational space that isn’t through email. Distribute the premium content only through these groups. If people want access to this premium content, they’ll have to become a member.

Build a premium channelGigaOM has a network of content sites all supported through advertising. But they also have a paid premium channel, GigaOM Pro. They constantly entice readers of their free content with samples of their paid content, plus a link to become a paid member. DISCLOSURE: GigaOM is a client of Spark Media Solutions.

Give a portion, make them pay for the rest – The NYTimes is starting to do this now (we’ll see how successful it is), and one of my favorite podcasts, “Never Not Funny” does this as well. “Never Not Funny” gives away the first 20 minutes of the podcast for free and then if you want more you have to not only give them your email address, you have to pay for it. Read my story and listen to my interview with the producer of “Never Not Funny,” Matt Belknap.

Those are just a few of the ways I’ve seen gatekeeping content work. Granted, the techniques are not easy as just saying, “Give me your email address,” but people’s personal information has value and if you want all that value you’re going to have to work hard for it. I’m eager to know if anyone can make any other suggestions on successful techniques for gatekeeping content.

Creative Commons photo credit to justaslice / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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