Social Media Is Free, Social Media Marketing Is Not

There isn’t a day that passes with some client or some prospect expecting social media marketing strategy, ideas, campaigns, or management – for next to free.

Their reasons for this are basically two-fold:

1. It is actually free to create a profile on most social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, etc.) and get ‘social’.

2. A lot of social media specialist shops (agencies, enthusiasts-with-an-entrepreneurial bug, wannabes) actually offer services that start at rock bottom prices (read: near free when one compares them with the sort of costs marketers pay their primary agencies as well as to create conventional ad campaigns). This accentuates the feeling amongst marketers that social media marketing is near free.

Not sure if this is a regional or global phenomenon, but it certainly is the case in India.

Perhaps it’s a way to get in the door, as social media marketing once started, ideally needs to go on, quarter after quarter unlike conventional campaigns that may have a start-stop time frame.

That said, it’s important to realise there are several elements that upfront add to the cost of going ‘social’. While profile creation is free on most social networking sites, there are certainly associated costs that brands need to incur. These include:

1. Creative design of brand templates to use on these sites, and in some cases the effort to code these templates to integrate into the site.

2. Premium ‘membership’ to the sites in order to get better functionality, control, and reporting analytics.

3. Third-party analytics that present an integrated view across the brand’s social media presence.

4. Development of social media optimised assets such as videos and other content units.

5. Creation of the content itself, as very quickly brand owners realise their brochures or television commercials cannot be repurposed for social media beyond a point.

Another reason marketers perhaps feel social media marketing should be a low cost (if not no cost) activity is that most usually start off by hiring a couple of interns who over the course of a summer project, get the brands they work for to ‘go social’.

This usually consists of creating a profile (for free) on a few social networks (usually Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), putting up a few videos (TVCs), inviting a bunch of the interns’ friends to join/follow/view, and voila! In the course of a summer internship, the brand has gone social…and even may have a few hundred fans/’likes’ and a bunch of tweets/updates/links up there in the social networking space.

After the interns leave, social media management is handed over to one of the junior members of the marketing team.

This approach perhaps stems from the fact that social media marketing is considered a subset of digital marketing which itself is at best a 2 percent to 10 percent part of most marketing budgets. Not surprising then that it gets delegated to the intern or management trainee pool, which being digital natives ‘get social’ (or at least that’s what most brand managers expect).

This is great way to get started…(no longer!)

Marketers need to step back and ask themselves a few simple questions:

1. Would they give a bunch of interns or management trainees the responsibility to create their next TV campaign that may consist of a couple of films, to be made over a year?

2. If no, then why would they do so with responsibility of creating and managing a social media campaign that may have a few hundred communication messages that need to go out?

Especially when new messages need to be created every day, often instantly, around the context of competitive or consumer responses to earlier messages.

3. Shouldn’t the care and thought that goes into these be equal to, if not greater than that which goes into creating and managing TV and print advertising?

Added to this is the increasing importance of creating integrated communication ideas that are media and channel neutral – and one quickly realises that this is not a responsibility a bright marketing upstart should be assigned. Whether they work for the client or in a social media ‘specialist’ shop.

In fact, one may well realise that this is something that needs to be centrally managed by the lead creative/communications agency partner. As the impact of a tweet gone wrong can be far more damning (and far quicker) than the angst against the claims made in a TV commercial.

It takes mature marketing and communications minds to make social media work the hardest for the brand, and these minds certainly do not come at intern prices…

Who was it that famously said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?

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