Winning the Internet

Social media is free as in puppies, not beer

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

puppyA lot of what you read out there implies that you can create an account on various social networks, follow a few best practices and then you’re all set. What you don’t usually read about are the costs involved in doing it right.

There’s a saying from my software days: “free as in puppies, not beer.” If someone hands you a beer, you thank them and then drink it, end of story. If you’re given a free puppy, then it’s true that you didn’t give cash for the puppy, but you’ll be paying in both monetary and non-monetary ways for years to take care of it.

The same can be said of social media. The networks and many of the tools and analytics platforms are, in fact, free. It doesn’t cost anything to setup a Facebook page for your non-profit, but what do you do with it after that? Staff time is usually the biggest expense involved, and it’s usually a hidden cost.

The path to success here is realizing that each platform you’re on is going to have costs associated with it. Just a few of them are:

  • The time you spend either creating original content or repurposing content you’ve created for other channels.
  • The time you spend building community and being responsive to your followers.
  • The time you spend thinking about what measurements are relevant for your goals and tracking them.
  • The cost to purchase premium tools to manage your networks or analytics, should you decide to use these.
  • The cost to purchase advertising on social networks to promote campaigns you’re running or build your following, should you decide to do this.
  • The time you spend converting your social media following to other channels to increase their level of engagement and ultimately meet your goals.
  • And Heidi Cohen has a post here that gives you a number of other costs and activities to consider.

That’s the process you have to think through before you decide to commit to a new social media platform. That also leads you to the right questions to be asking yourself. Is my time better spent on platform X or doing something else, like more traditional development, communications or program-related tasks?

Asking that question should lead you to participate on the networks that will help you meet your goals and have the most adoption among your members or potential members. You’ll then have the framework to confidently rebuff big marketing pushes for the latest tools and networks. As of the writing of this post, both Google+ and LinkedIn are doing huge marketing pushes to promote their solutions in this space. And we’re beginning to hear about new sites like Pinterest. That leads to a lot of articles being written about them on social media sites. But unless you’re trying to reach specific types of people or you’re already doing everything else perfectly and have extra time on your hands, you probably shouldn’t commit to them quite yet. But do keep an eye on them and re-evaluate over time. In the case of Google+ it’s becoming increasingly clear they mean to integrate it with search, which will make it vital. But we’re not quite there yet.

So keep in mind that social media is free like puppies, not beer, and you’ll be well on your way to managing it successfully.


About Raven Brooks

Executive director of Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation.

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