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If Social Media Is Free What Are Social Media Marketing Agencies Selling?

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March 19th, 2012

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Social media is a powerful medium for brands and marketing. No doubt about it. Businesses spend a significant portion of their budgets marketing and it’s not uncommon to have budgets of millions of dollars kept aside for advertising, buying media space, filming commercials, putting up events and other channels. When it comes to budgeting or investing in online marketing (online advertising not withstanding) or social media media marketing a common response is :

But isn’t that free?

Or at least, social media marketing is associated with low cost options for marketing….which it is. The truth is, you can market a brand or business online for virtually nothing. All you need is a laptop, internet and understanding of social media and how they can be leveraged to drive traffic and awareness for you. Most sites that are commonly used will give you free sign ups. You can setup a blog on Blogger or WordPress.com for nothing. Create a Facebook page, a Twitter account, submit pages to directories, work on your search marketing all without having to pull out a credit card or spend money. Social media is free. So what are we social media marketing agencies really charging for?

Time!

Let’s rewind a bit and look at how you would go about starting to create some online presence assuming we just launched a new website. Creating a blog can be done for free if you choose to. Writing a first post will cost you about 2 hours assuming you need to do some research, editing, include some of your keywords and really put together something people would share. That post is not going to get noticed without promoting it so that will cost a couple of hours too. Submitting it to several top bookmarking sites, communities, social networks, groups and so on so that it may get at least a few clicks from there. Doing this once will achieve nothing! It needs to be done daily or consistently. How many hours is that?

Every one of those accounts whether on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, StumbleUpon, Digg, Tumblr etc are edge-less swords until you’ve built a social influence on each one of these networks. Creating a social influence on a single social site takes hours a week and even years of activity and working at it. If you have a new Twitter account and spend a few weeks having built a following of 30 people and share your website, chances are 0-1 person may just click on it. Being in a position where you build a larger following, know people within your network build an influence on Twitter which guarantees a few hundred or thousand people will hear what you say can take take hundreds of hours of dedicated activity on Twitter. Likewise, developing a following and influence on other accounts and communities cost hundreds of hours in time. This doesn’t include the time invested in conversations, networking, replying, commenting and several other activities which are an integral part of creating an online engagement.

Social media as a channel is low cost. It may not need a lot of investment in terms of money but it needs more investment in time than perhaps any (or most) other marketing activity and time is a valuable commodity.  

It could be your time, your employees time, the time put in a by an online marketing manager, a dedicated social media team or that of a social media agency. One way or another, to build a really great online presence and social media engagement you need to invest a lot of time and effort no matter who is putting it in. So is it really low cost or free?

Some say social media and online marketing agencies like us sell expertise but I believe there is little barrier to learning what we know and a wealth of information shared on the subject if you have the time to learn it all. I like to think what we’re really charging for is our time because we spend a lot of it doing what we do. The value proposition to those that engage the support of a social media agency? :- Save your time, buy ours instead because you’ll need all the time you can get to make social media marketing really work for you and when it does, you’ll know it was worth every minute.

 

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