Locking Down Content: Good or Bad?

Restricting content to registered members is a subject that comes up a lot at element14, and I run hot and cold with the idea every time it’s raised. More cold than hot, to be honest.

The always-inspiring @RichMillington makes an excellent point on this subject over at FeverBee:

“There’s often an assumption that if people register they will be more likely to participate. Thus people incentivise registration in various ways.”

The value of participation and the value of registration are tightly linked, but are not the same thing. What are the likely outcomes of locked-down content?

Pros:

  • Someone registers so they can see it.
  • Someone registers so they can comment on it.

Cons:

  • You harm the public’s trust in your community, and your website, because it looks like you’re after something other than their participation.
  • People can’t be bothered to register, and leave without looking at — or participating in — your content.
  • They look elsewhere next time, because they anticipate not being able to view what you’re offering.
  • It has a negative impact on your overall SEO.

And consider the exchange if you do lock something down.

The more effort someone has to put into viewing your content, the higher their expectations will be. They’ve handed something over (their personal details). In many ways, they’ve paid to see it. Maybe not in cash, but in terms of privacy, and that’s very valuable to people.

So your content then has to deliver value that’s commensurate to their “payment”, and if they don’t perceive that value, the participation you’ve solicited is likely to be a negative comment.

There are times when a lock down is acceptable, but for me, that’s pretty much restricted to a download (an eBook, PDF or other kind of file. Something that’s consumed offline. Go for it. Lock that stuff down, no problem.

If you’re inviting someone into your community — and that’s what your content is there for — trust that people will participate without coercion, because that kind of engagement is worth 10 forced registrations.