Everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon as millions of people signup to join Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. But, the hubbub isn’t necessarily due to the superior marketing power of these online networks. Instead, there’s a more banal reason behind the hype – they’re free. Who doesn’t like free? How can you argue with using new technology at no cost?
The free aspect of social media, though, can act as an insidious motivator. Common sense says that if the economy stinks and something is available for free, you’d be a fool not to embrace it. In fact, some people would question your sanity if you don’t take advantage. The result is that “free” has become like a hypnotic drug to authors, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and businesses.
However, “free” always come with a string attached. There is no free lunch, even in modern marketing. Just because a promotional tool is free doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. For instance, remember the old days when marketers used to stand on street corners wearing a sandwich board advertisement? You can walk outside today and try that approach for free. But, no one is doing it, except furniture stores going out of business.
If you want to employ free marketing tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, you must prevent them from working against you in two ways:
1. Free can create a false sense of productivity.
Some people believe that jumping on their computers and posting something to their social media accounts classifies as active marketing. In their minds, they took steps to get the word out and consider their actions productive. Besides, if social networking is free, how can anyone deny that those efforts were worthwhile?
The problem is that marketing isn’t really marketing if it doesn’t generate actual results. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. Legitimate marketing should yield quantifiable outcomes, such as more customer inquiries, donations, product sales, etc. Therefore, if you do something for free, but it doesn’t create tangible results, then you’re just fooling yourself. Free is great, but only if it leads to actual money in your bank account.
2. Free can lead to lower investments in marketing.
If your marketing budget is squeezed by the economy, many people would say you should focus on free promotional tactics. However, look at the situation from a personal point of view. For example, if you got really sick but don’t have much money, would you demand your doctor to prescribe only the cheapest medication to heal you? If so, you probably won’t feel better anytime soon. In dire situations, the goal is to get better, not to save a buck.
Likewise, when times are tough, you have even less room for error. You must concentrate on activities that generate the best results in the shortest time. So, when your marketing budget dwindles, you’ve got to be even more vigilant to conduct efforts that work the best – even if they cost money.
For example, imagine that you’re down to your last marketing dollar. In that situation, what would be the best decision? Should you continue to cut costs and focus on tactics that are free? That choice only perpetuates a poverty mentality that spirals into an inevitable collapse. Instead, you’re better off investing your last dollar into proven marketing tactics that get results. It may feel risky, but it’s actually your wisest move.
Here’s the bottom line. Social media is luring many people to feel that marketing shouldn’t cost them anything. “Free” is becoming the new promotional budget. The danger is that this mindset can lead to a position of complacency. It’s important for us as humans to feel invested in certain activities in order to see them through to completion or maintain a professional attitude.
For example, one of my friends has a Ph.D in counseling and runs his own private practice. He’s spent literally hundreds of hours helping people work through their most difficult life issues. Yet, he recently told me that all of his experience has shown that people who come to him for counseling on someone else’s dime rarely make progress. That’s right, people who receive free counseling rarely heed the advice of the counselor and experience positive change. That’s because they have no money invested in the process to keep them engaged and accountable. In contrast, counselees who pay the full fee on their own are much more likely to participate in the counseling process and experience positive results, because they are personally invested.
Likewise, it’s hard to get much out of your marketing efforts when you don’t have much personally invested. If you’re tired, distracted, or lazy, then it’s too easy to say, “I’m too busy to blog, Tweet, or FaceBook today. Besides, it doesn’t cost me anything.” Whereas, if you’ve spent time creating a database of targeted leaders and hired a graphic artist to design a nice-looking newsletter, then you more likely to feel invested and follow-through on that activity.
Try this litmus test. If Facebook and Twitter started charging $100 a month to use their service, would you still use them? In addition, are you getting enough return on investment via social media marketing to justify the amount of time you expend? If yes, go forth and prosper. If not, then it’s time to make a change, regardless of what the technology “experts” claim.
Let me be clear, I’m not against social media. I use it…I recommend it to my clients…and I know the best practices to make it useful. But, I am against cheering for social media just because it’s free. You should only be cheering for social media if it’s actually producing results. If it’s not, then change teams and support marketing activities that really work – no matter what the cost.