5 Hidden Costs of “Free” Social Media Marketing
Social media, free as in Puppy, or free as in Lunch?
This is always the question I ask when people claim one of the benefits of social media is that it is “free.” Sure, signing up for most social media accounts doesn’t cost any upfront money, but social media is a bit more like a free puppy rather than getting a free lunch.
Don’t believe me? Here’s five reasons why there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to social media.
1. Time is money
Although I’m not particularly fond of this cliche, the truth is employee salaries are the largest expense for most organizations. As more and more schools hire full-time social media coordinators, the argument that social media is “free” is fundamentally flawed. Even if you only spend an estimated 10 hours a week managing social media accounts, you could estimate that 1/4 of your salary is a social media cost.
If you make $50,000 a year spending a 1/4 of your time on social media that’s $12,500 yearly price tag for your social media efforts.
2. Tools are cool
Once universities get their feet wet in a few networks, typically they want to invest in new tools to measure, monitor or manage all of their presences. Whether it’s a paid version of Hootsuite to monitor and update multiple networks or a Facebook “chat” tab for your admissions office, there’s no shortage of examples of schools adopting paid tools to boost their social media profile.
But before you invest in any tool, be sure to have clear goals and objectives in mind to make sure you are investing in products that are improving institutional and student outcomes.
3. Advertising and Creative
Many schools learned the hard way that the “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t ring true for university social profiles. In order to get the word out to students, schools invest in updating their marketing material, creating new material, and even spiffing up their social profiles with custom build tabs and designs. These things all cost money, too.
We highly recommend having social “calls to action” on print material, in-person events, and any other medium that will help guide your audience towards the action you want them to take.
4. Contests and Prizes
It’s not breaking news that creating giveaways is one of the #1 ways to generate new likes and improve profile engagement. We’ve seen colleges give away sweatshirts, sports tickets, and a variety of other school spirit swag packages to rally prospective, current and past students.
All of these items will be costing a department some money, not to mention creating the rules, shipping and follow through to keep your participants happy. Although I think these contests create shallow engagement, if I was charged with growing a Facebook Fan Base this would be one of the first tactics I’d pull out.
5. Consultants, Cats, and Meetings
We’ve talked to hundreds of universities at conferences and on the phone. There’s something strange about the budgeting process at colleges and universities where it’s hard to pay for a SaaS product, but it’s easy to pay for consulting because it’s a one time rather than a recurring expense. So, schools are opting to use “free” products that have no support or training, and then pay consultants to help train and create buy-in around free tools.
Consultants are usually brought in for one reason: somebody is having trouble herding the cats. People need to get behind an initiative, and no one has the social capital within the organization to make it happen. By the time a consultant comes in, there’s been significant emotional and time drain in an attempt to “herd the cats.”
The meeting time that has been consumed by strategy for using “free” tools, creating reports, and management overhead, must also be counted. Most university staff meet so often they no longer even consider it an expense. For your next meeting about using free social media tools, use Expensive Meeting to see how expensive it was to have that meeting.
Does your university consider social media as a free tool? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.