It is a misguided question often asked: “How much does social media cost?”
We hear it all the time. As marketers, a lot of us have even asked it or are asking it now. The question, “How much does social media cost?” is one that has surged in popularity as of late, but anyone who actively operates a social business knows why it is somewhat misguided.
So what makes the question misguided? The nature of asking why it is misguided might lead us to think that we are going to be given some convoluted, pseudo-existential response, but the fact is that it is quite simple. The question, “How much does social media cost?” is misguided because of the simple use of the term, ‘social media’.
What’s wrong with the term ‘social media’?
The buzzword on the tips of everybody’s tongue is ‘social media’. We know that it resonates when we talk to clients, and we bring it up because we know that clients expect to hear about it. While the media type is important, we have to step away from the term and look at the words and what they mean.
Social is self-explanatory. It is something that connects people. But media is plural. So basically, when we take a step back, we are saying, “How much does it cost to connect with people in different ways?” Now we’re getting somewhere.
What should the question be?
Now that we know that using the term ‘social media’ is misleading, we need to ask ourselves what the proper question is. We need to ask ourselves, “What is the cost of running a social business?”
A page on Facebook, boards on Pinterest and a Twitter account might look good, and they might be ‘free’ to create (if you don’t count the time it takes to create them) but what is the overhead of running a social business? This is where you have to think of ‘social media’ as more than a few networks – it is the new way of conducting business.
What is the cost of running a social business?
First of all, we need to stop thinking of social as MySpace, Friendster, Facebook and subsequent networks. Yes, these were new ways of connecting people, but the concept of social selling was nothing new. Blogs and email, even your website, were the original forms of social media; hubs in which people could connect. So what does it cost to apply that approach to your entire business?
First look at what departments are going to go social. If you are going to transition your customer service onto social channels – a more cost-effective, time-efficient and customer preferred way of doing business – how much will it cost per issues handled? Determine how much work will exist, how many people it will take to handle it and how much it will cost to employ those people. (NOTE: You might be the sole proprietor of your business. That’s great! But don’t sell yourself short. Your time is very valuable, and you need to figure out what your opportunity cost is to handling these facets of your business on your own.)
Most people are not looking at bus benches. They are spending hours a day looking at Facebook. They are sifting through billions of pieces of content on Twitter. They are conducting Google searches and clicking on results. They are looking for jobs on LinkedIn. You might hope to drive traffic organically. But these social channels need to make money, too. You are going to need to invest in your social business to see returns.
Advertising on social media is still young enough that it is affordable. Take advantage of that. Create highly customized ads that target your ideal candidates. Drive people to your website with your ads, or grow your brand’s market presence. Determine your budgets, as you have in the past, and test them to see what works.
There is no magic button or single answer. You might hear about a video that goes viral and figure, “I can do that, too!” You can try. But you might be sorely disappointed. Your social business is going to take a serious commitment, an investment and a new way of thinking.
So, how much does social media cost? Social media is your new business. It is not a standalone tool. Do not simply throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Take social seriously and invest appropriately.
Where have you invested most in your social business? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter!