Social Media Marketing Isn’t Free but it is Terribly Efficient

Given my position at Federated Media I get to see a lot of client and agency professionals.  Many of these people share a common frustration.  Their clients (internal or external) think social media marketing is free.

It isn’t.

They also expect it to produce amazing results so they are saddled with expectations that are unrealistic in addition to no real budget.

Social Media marketing isn’t free.  But it is terribly efficient.

Social Media Marketing is like entertaining in the physical world.  If you want to share an experience with a group of people (either personally or professionally) you need to go to where the people are and get their attention or entice them to come to you.  In either case, you have to invest something to get a return.

Extending the simile, there are ways to reduce the cost entertaining. Let’s look at some potential executions and the cost associated with them.

$$$$$ You could rent a space, spare no cost and have the finest chefs and entertainers pulling out all the stops to make your party a success.  Let’s say we get performers from Cirque du Soleil, Paul McCartney/Radiohead/Jay Z/Foo Fighters/ or similar with Wolfgang Puck doing the cooking… want to come?

$$$$ Instead of renting a hall/room you can have the party catered at your house/office.

$$$ Instead of hiring a caterer you could make the food yourself. Of course, you must know how to cook.

$$ Instead of making food you could have your guests bring the food.

$ You could meet in the park/beach/coffee shop and just hang out.

As the cost goes down, the investment in the relationship goes up with those that attend.  I’m quite confident I could fill a hall with people if I had the best band, chef, location, etc.  The number of people who would meet me in a park to hang out is much lower but the people who would come mean much more to me.

That is the trick with Social Media.  It isn’t free but the low cost of the tools make it feel free from a distance.

If you go to where the people are (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, the “blogosphere,” etc) you must invest time, money, and energy to stimulate a conversation.  Marketers can and do create fan pages, groups, and even applications for very little money.  But creating them and getting people to use them are two very different things. The people who become a fan of you your brand within Facebook or subscribe to your brand blog’s RSS feed are the people your brand has already converted.   To grow beyond that base you must invest money, time, and energy.  If you are the social media equivalent of a fantastic chef the out of pocket costs are still relatively low.  For most brands, they will need to invest in a private room at a restaurant or a caterer.

Does that make Conversational Marketing less attractive? No!

The benefit of Social Media isn’t the initial cost it is the return.  If you invest time, money, and energy into a conversation with your potential customers you build equity with prospects at a scale that becomes extremely meaningful.  As you build these relationships, you gain the ability to get more out of that relationship.  They will share their feelings with new prospects, they will defend your brand in place you can’t, and they will amplify your message.

Marketers, I share your frustration of many with the expectation that social marketing equates to (virtually) free marketing and the unrealistic expectations that come along with this.  This commonly held perception does open the door to a very compelling discussion around efficiency and value and that is one we all must engage in.  Let’s have that discussion.

12 Responses to “Social Media Marketing Isn’t Free but it is Terribly Efficient”

  1. 1 JBall December 29, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Great analogy. I really enjoyed this piece.

  2. 2 jonas December 29, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    The old saying “there is no free lunch” also holds true on the internet and with social media. The need to develop metrics around social media that marketers understand is the only way to show them the value and steer them away from thinking that social media marketing is “free”.

  3. 3 Jeff Marmins December 29, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    True metrics may be a moving target considering the intertwined relationships between a growing number of social marketing resources. We may need to become more comfortable with “its working and it will morph into something different (again, soon).

    Faith Popcorn was wrong! We are bot cocooning. We are growing social networks that make live interaction more effective.

  4. 4 Douglas Karr December 30, 2008 at 2:17 am

    You’re missing the most important social media medium that will get you visitors out there… the search engine! People use social networks about 4% of their time in online activities, but 90% of the time they use a search engine. If you’re going to work on Social Media Marketing, part of your strategy should be how that marketing will impact you from a search engine perspective.

  5. 5 Barry Hurd December 30, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    While the tools may be free, the expertise is not. Having a hammer and knowing when and how to use it is the essential part of the equation.

    You could likely just say
    “but doctor, that knife only costs $10, so brain surgery should only cost me $15!”

    There are many disconnects happening in the social media space- I just wrote an article yesterday about how many marketers are trying to create individual silos for targets across social media.

    When you tie in the amount of energy and labor involved in figuring out what works and how to repeat it on any level, that training and education cost is enormous. It is also something you can’t just develop in a day.

  6. 6 Now with RSS! January 4, 2009 at 2:19 am


    Great post about social media and the costs involved. Yeah, it is not free and yes, it is efficient.

    Douglas makes a good point regarding search as well. I’ve enjoyed reading his stuff and i know he has commented on my blog at Thunk Different as well. He’s right in that “search” really is the 800 pounder at this point, but given the snowballing web media will have in 2009 and beyond, it is becoming less so – it’s not validated. Social media is. Or it least if it aims to be effective.

    Give a high five to delaney for me.

  7. 7 Alex George January 5, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Hi there,
    I would like to link some of your artciles to our company’s facebook page. We are a marketing firm based in Bethesda, MD right outside of Washington, DC.

    Can you tell me how to go about doing that?


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  1. 1 Social Media Marketing Isn’t Free but it is Terribly Efficient … | organicsocialmedia Trackback on December 29, 2008 at 11:16 pm
  2. 2 To Get Return On Social Media Marketing, You Must Invest Trackback on December 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm
  3. 3 Many-to-Many: The Spring Creek Group Blog » Blog Archive » Social Media Marketing Isn’t Free but it is Terribly Efficient Trackback on December 31, 2008 at 10:30 pm

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