The cost of social media marketing

So let’s put aside the more advanced options when it comes to web 2.0 marketing: widgets, sites, podcasts, vlogs, custom apps, etc.  Let’s, for now, just concentrate on the basics: blogging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.

“But aren’t all those things free?” you ask. And you are right. As far as out-of-pocket costs go, these options can be free or very low cost. But there is a hidden cost that, if not taken into account, can derail your efforts and all your hopes and dreams for social media nirvana. That cost comes in the form of time commitment. Not many people are prepared for the amount of time that will need to be invested in order to consistently market themselves or their businesses through social media.

We are guilty of it here. We set out with the best intentions. “We’re going to blog once a week Tweet twice a week and set up a Facebook page with the goal of 100 fans.” So here we are blogging about the lack of blogging, I forgot to log onto Twitter last week and Facebook is really coming along well (I now know my horoscope for the week, won a few fights in Mafia Wars and started my own farm).

Now I know all you marketing managers out there are all up in arms! “So what’s the ROI for this ‘cost’ you speak of?” I know this answer is going to be scary for you, so if you need to, sit down: Measuring ROI for social networking can be difficult because, in many cases,  the returns you get are not immediate and do not directly impact the bottom line. Tweeting or FaceBooking does not always give instantaneous results, but you are networking. And Networking is a valid slice of the business development pie.

So the lesson here: when you are setting out on the social networking highway, make sure to allocate time to the process. Know that it takes time to cultivate those relationships. This isn’t a one night stand sort of deal. There needs to be some courting and some wooing. Also have a solid idea of what you want to achieve from the effort – and be realistic! You’re sales aren’t going to increase by 500%, but you may get someone interested in subscribing to your newsletter or RSS feed or just make someone aware of your company that didn’t know you before. Realize it’s okay to be vague when measuring the ROI of your efforts. And most of all, be authentic. Don’t come off as frigid, indifferent or formal.

And just like a diet, it’s okay to fail at first. If you fall off the Web 2.0 horse, get back on. The effort will usually pay off in the end.