One of the more common misconceptions about social media is that a company or brand can achieve and maintain meaningful results at little or no cost. Sure, setting up brand pages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and just about any other social channel can be done in almost no time without spending a dime. But that's like ordering tap water at a restaurant and hoping it will be the whole meal.
The truth is, achieving ongoing success on social media is anything but free. Based on the social media audits Renegade has performed over the last three years, we have identified five buckets of "hidden costs" that just about every practitioner will face soon enough.
1. Staffing: The days of the "twinterns" are long past. Serious social marketers are investing not just in internal staff but also outside experts who can help them gain competitive advantage. And lest you think these are up-front costs, the truth is that the more successful you are at elevating customer engagement, the more support you will need to keep up with these retention-generating conversations.
2. Monitoring: Sure, there are numerous free ways to monitor your social channels, including just looking at all of your individual pages and setting up Google alerts for web mentions. This approach, however, gets old fast, especially if you need global coverage and/or need to create sophisticated reports that aggregate both the volume of your mentions and the positive/neutral/negative sentiment associated with these conversations. In these cases, paid monitoring tools are a must.
3. Conversation management: Here again, there are numerous free tools like SocialOomph, TweetDeck and HootSuite to help you manage your social conversations. Unfortunately, the free versions of these tools become insufficient if you start to get a high volume of customer service interactions. In that case, paid tools with ticketing systems are necessary to help you to respond and track interactions across multiple touch points.
4. Content development: Interesting content, even just text with links, takes time to research and craft. More to the point, posts with images are far more likely to be shared, and typically these images-whether photos, memes, illustrations or infographics-cost money to create. Add to this the development costs for barely-optional Facebook applications and YouTube videos, and you'll never associate social with "free" again!
5. Paid media: Perhaps the biggest hidden cost of social is that at some point you'll probably want to spend media dollars on Facebook. "Wait, what?" says the brand that built up a sizable fan base without spending a dime. Kudos to you, but the dirty little secret here is that your everyday posts will reach, at best, 16% of your fan base. If you want to reach the rest of your fans, you'll need to pay Facebook for that privilege. (Note: there are lots of good reasons to buy media on social channels which is why spending is up but we'll leave that for another post.)
With all these hidden costs, the next logical question would be, "Is social media still a good investment or just a new cost of doing business?" The answer from this totally biased, long-time social advocate is an unequivocal "Yes!"
Yes, handled properly, social media can still be a highly cost-effective component of your marketing, customer service and recruitment efforts. And, yes, it is a new cost of doing business, which if ignored will leave your company at a competitive disadvantage. So, while that "free" glass of tap water may whet your appetite, a satisfying diet of social media will inevitably have you reaching for your wallet.
If you have identified other hidden costs, please let me know.