Social media isn’t free anymore, not that it ever was

Prompted by this month’s Pepsi and United backlash on social media, I read a rant today about how companies should plan social media defence strategies before they even think about launching a social media campaign. He further quoted some ‘guru’ saying that with social media you never need to pay for advertising. I could write this post by arguing that United wouldn’t be where they are had their staff not be physically violent with their customers. I’d hardly blame social media for United’s problems at this point. But it’s this final point I want to focus on.

Social media isn’t free.

While it’s certainly free to establish social media accounts across the big platforms, social media has always incurred a cost. So what are some of the costs involved in using social media for small business?

1. Time

Firstly, it takes time (thousands of hours) to learn the nuances of each platform. It then takes more time to plan campaigns and to execute them.

This weekend I scheduled two and half weeks worth of Facebook posts (1 – 3 posts per day) for a client and it took me at least four hours. And that was just the time in execution – it took me longer than that to gather resources to post.

As a small business owner you may decide to give the task of posting on social media to one of your staff. If that’s the case, then you need to make sure you’ve given them time to be trained but also time to do the actual posting. It takes time.

2. Expertise

Before you start posting on social media, do you know who your target audience is? How do you know who they are, where they live, what they like and how to talk to them? Most micro-small businesses will use their intuition and their own professional experience to make this judgement call. But if you’re a larger organisation or business, you will definitely need to buy in this expertise. And you’re going to need to pay for that expertise.

If you have not spent resources developing business and marketing plans, and communication strategies, you’re going to struggle to reach your audience.

3. Equipment

Let’s assume you’re going to do all your social media in-house. If you’re a small business owner, you’ll be working with customers, developing products, cleaning the office, getting the books ready, and posting on social media. You’re going to need to write equipment (and the right software) to get your posting done efficiently. You might need to upgrade to a better phone – to take better images with, and to make posts and respond to customers. You may also need to create a small photographic studio set up so you can take your own images of your products. You’re probably also going to need to buy Photoshop to make your images pop.

4. Advertising

You need to set aside an advertising budget. Back in the old days of Facebook (ie. ten years ago), most of us had about 100 friends. We used to be able to see every post they made. And we read every one of them. Then Facebook had to generate revenue, so it allowed brands to have Pages. We, the ordinary consumer, started liking these pages. Eventually the algorithm came in and our Facebook feeds become shaped by our own behaviours.

Most small businesses understand that it’s now pay to play – that is, if you want your page to be seen you need to pay for it to be seen.

In your annual budget, you should set aside an amount for advertising around specific campaigns. If you sell products, you may have a Christmas sale and will boost your posts from about October. If you’ve written a really amazing piece of content, you might want to boost that post so that more people see it – building your expertise and leadership.

Social media isn’t free. It never was. Any one who tells you it is, has failed to understand the costs of doing business, or simply has never run actual campaigns. Do yourself a favour – start documenting how long activities take and how much you’re spending on software and other tools. This will give you a better understanding of the cost of your marketing activities.

Give us a call if you would you like to have a chat about social media for your small business.