File sharing sites can be a great place to promote software and gain users, especially those that use the free to paid model. But what exactly is file sharing, who is using it, and how do you market through file sharing channels?
What is File Sharing?
File sharing is generally referred to as the sending and receiving of files across a network, such as the Internet. File sharing is most popularly offered through two protocols, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and bit torrent. In a Peer-to-Peer model, users download a client application and select specific files on their computer which they want to share with other users (known as “peers”). These peers can download the shared files as long as the host user’s computer is on and connected to the network.
The bit torrent protocol is an optimized version of P2P file sharing. Similar to P2P file sharing, bit torrent users download client applications to manage the sharing of torrent files. The bit torrent client application converts a file into pieces (“bits”), and makes those bits available to other users in what can be best described as real-time file sharing. While any user is downloading bits of a torrent file, they are simultaneously making those bits available to other users.
The benefit of the bit torrent protocol is that when a user downloads a file, they in turn become a source for other users looking to download the file. In short – the more users downloading a file, the more “bits” of that file that are available.
Both P2P and bit torrent protocols benefit from the network effect, which you can capitalize upon to improve your marketing efforts.
Who’s Using File Sharing?
File sharing, whether through the peer-to-peer or bit torrent protocols, used to be exclusive to uber-geeks. Now, thanks in part to easy-to-use file sharing client applications, file sharing has found its way into the main stream of society. Users from all walks of life are sharing electronic media, such as music, video, games, and software. File sharing marketing offers unique access to these users.
How To Market Through File Sharing Channels
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PRODUCT TO PROMOTE
Not all electronic media is well suited to be marketed through file sharing protocols. In general, file sharers are motivated by the opportunity to get electronic media value that cannot be found elsewhere, for example media – that they would normally have to pay for – at no cost. Because of this, file sharing protocols are particularly well suited for the distribution of electronic media built around the free or free-to-paid revenue models. Electronic media that is otherwise available at no cost through other channels doesn’t have the same value.
Some marketers have introduced strictly paid content into the P2P and bit torrent channels, with limited success. Those marketers that have done well have used file sharing for its optimized content distribution benefits, rather than as a new user acquisition channel. For example, gaming companies have implemented file sharing technologies to facilitate the electronic distribution of their games. This does not help them attract new users, but rather works behind the scenes to dramatically reduce the distribution cost for new and existing games to current users. Game marketers have done very well utilizing the bit torrent protocol to distribute early releases of new games, as well as updates.
When designing marketing campaigns that target file sharing users, it is important to recognize that the file sharing user is looking for value that cannot be found elsewhere. The perceived value of an application available for free through file sharing networks is directly tied to its normal “retail” price, and its value to the user. Making the free version of your software available through file sharing channels may help increase new user acquisition. Making a paid version (that still offers opportunities for additional “upsells” directly in the software) available for free through file sharing channels will dramatically improve your new user acquisition efforts.
SUPPLEMENTING YOUR FILE SHARING MARKETING
Even with file sharing marketing, there is no “build it and they will come” guarantee. Most likely, you will need to support your File Sharing Marketing activities with other online marketing campaigns.
One powerful strategy is to enlist your advocates (for example, alpha and beta users) to post, host, and promote your software through file sharing channels. By marshalling your advocate army, you’ll maintain an honest feel around your file sharing marketing campaigns. Companies who try to create “artificial” advocates using internal resources risk alienating new users, as more often than not this artificial advocate marketing is transparent to the target market.
Forum marketing and 3rd party articles are other subtle yet effective ways to promote your file sharing marketing campaigns.
It is important that these supplemental marketing campaigns do not conflict with your file sharing marketing campaigns. Keep in mind the motivations of your target audience, and make sure that your campaigns do not conflict with those motivations.