The Real Cost of Social Media

Social media is free. Social media is inexpensive. You don’t have to outspend your competition. Social media saves time. Social media will save your business thousands, if not millions.

These are all quotes I’ve seen from various voices recently. Each one pretty much agrees with the other – that social media is a great tool for you to implement into your business because it’s so cost-effective and will give you quicker results.

Sadly, it’s not true.

Yes, you’ll save on equivalent costings from a traditional media advertising push. Yes, you can see instant results and measurable returns on your investment. But cheap and quick? Not quite. Particularly if you’re looking at implementing a strategy and social media campaign (and yes, social media purists, you can have a social media campaign).

It Costs Money to Plan

Let’s say you have a new product or service. Let’s also say that you’ve seen competitors enjoy success using social media to launch a similar product or service. You know yours is better, so you know that social media (used properly) would further see you outshine your competitors. So, easy, right? You just set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, maybe a video sharing channel and off you go.

Stop. Back up a little. Have you asked yourself the right questions before you start?

  • Have you thought strategy?
  • Have you carried out a social media audit?
  • Have you set measurements in place?
  • Have you determined where you’ll be and who’ll be there for you?
  • Have you set aside the right budget?
  • Will you be using internal expertise or outsourcing?
  • Do you have to build anything?

These are just some of the immediate questions you need to be asking before even starting. Getting the answers is going to take man hours. Lots of man hours. Multiply that by the payscale of the person/people doing that research and your costs are already starting.

Social Media is Cheap. Uh… No, It’s Not

It doesn’t matter whether you’re coordinating a social media campaign internally or externally, you’re going to have to allocate budget to it. This includes costs for strategy, community management, mobile app and moderation/maintenance. Let’s see how that might pan out (based on a 12-month campaign and with earnings based on survey results).

  • Social media strategist: 10 hours per week @ $100 per hour = $1,000 per week. Total for 52 weeks – $52,000.
  • Community manager: 30 hours per week @ $60 per hour = $1,800 per week. Total for 52 weeks – $93,600.
  • Micro-site build (if not using existing platforms) – $15,000.
  • Mobile application (more than 70% of social web browsing is via mobile phone) – between $20,000 and $150,000 depending on functionality.
  • Ongoing moderation and measurement using third-party specialists – between $30,000 and $80,000 depending on frequency.
  • Total = $390,600.

Now I’ve given you worst-case scenarios, since you probably won’t need a social media strategist for the whole time during the campaign. You might only need a community manager half the time mentioned above. You can also build micro-sites for less; the cost will depend on how interactive you want the site to be.

But even if you halve the total cost used in my example above, you’re still looking at $195,300. Almost $200,000 for a year-long social media campaign.

Compare that to a print ad that may cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 for one run, and yes, it’s clear that social media offers a comparably cost-effective solution. But to say that it’s cheap and quick? That’s setting you up for a flawed approach from the start and will only bite you in the long run.

How about you? How expensive (or inexpensive) have you found social media, both from a financial and time management angle? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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