The Real Cost of Social Media


Posted on October 17, 2011

Posted in Facebook, Official Schipul Blog, Public Speaking, Social Media | Comments Off

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When I got out of school and landed my first job in marketing, my very first client came to me with a reasonable request: “Tell people about my product,” he said. “I want everyone to know how amazing this thing is.”

Fair enough. I was in marketing and that was absolutely my job, but there were a couple of catches:

1. This was a product launch. There was no existing brand awareness, and we were launching in a market I knew nothing about, across the country.

“That’s cool,” I thought. “I love challenges. This will be great experience.”

2.) Beyond the monthly retainer we were on, there was NO marketing budget. Nothing.

‘Sarcastic Me’ to ‘Realistic Me’: “Ooooh, this is AMAAAAZING! Remember? You just LOVE challenges. I bet you’re soooo happy.”

‘Realistic Me’ to ‘Sarcastic Me’: “Shut up! If you weren’t so witty and gorgeous, I would hate you right now. How am I gonna pull this off?!”

After I made up with myself, I sat down at my desk and created a Facebook page for the product, took to Twitter, started reaching out to the blogging community, the whole nine.

“I can do this,” I thought. “Social media’s free, right?” Wrong. I pretty quickly discovered that:

  1. This was taking WAY more time than was covered by the retainer we were getting paid.
  2. I still needed a marketing budget.
While my career has taken a few turns since then, social media has never not been a part of it, and I still constantly come across folks who think it’s free or almost free to effectively market on social media.
This is not true. There are very real costs associated with SMM. Let’s take a quick look some of the costs involved and why it’s totally worth it. Then we’ll hit up some tips on looking at ROI.


What Costs So Much?

1. Time: The number one cost associated with social media marketing is time. Unless you know of a magical place where you can get time for free, or your time for some reason costs nothing, the reality remains that keeping up with the constant flow of communication online takes a lot of time. Whether you do it yourself, you hire a social media manager, or you outsource your social media marketing, time is costly. And because I really don’t feel like people get this one, let me repeat, TIME IS COSTLY. Just the time it’s taking me to write this blog post is costing somebody something somewhere. Y’all, there’s even an infographic about this, so it must be true.
2. Development: Can you design, code and securely host your own Facebook iframes? Cool, this still takes time, see #1. If not, you’ll need to: a.) Find someone who can and pay them to do it, plus find a place to host your files and get your SSL, because that’s now required by Facebook. or b.) Find a cool third party software that allows you to build tabs through a simple interface. These types of programs are plentiful,  but they do come at a cost. Check out North Social, Wildfire and ShortStack.

3. Promotions:It’s hard to run a promotion if you’re not, like, promoting something, so you’ll need to budget in discounts, giveaway product and the like.

4. Listening: There are a lot free tools to help you listen about your brand, organization or industry online like, Google Reader, Google Alerts, etc. (To use these, see #1). If you wanna really pay attention, like Big Brother style, you can, but you’ll need to pull your wallets out for that. Check out Radian 6 as an example. And to be fair, software programs like this are costly, but they do a lot more than just listen. Read through the features, they’re pretty awesome.

5. Evaluating: You’ll want to see how well your strategy is working for you as you go. Radian 6 has some pretty awesome analytics, as does Vocus and some other guys. Sprout Social and HootSuite also offer some pretty nice numbers at a relatively low cost, in addition to helping you manage your outgoing and incoming social media messages, among other things.

I could go on and on, but 5 things feels like a good number, and I think the point’s been made. So, moving on.


Is It Really Worth It?

While running an effective SMM campaign does come at a cost, there is VERY real value in social media marketing.

1. Communicating with versus at your audience: With social media, you get to communicate with your audience. Fans opt in for content, they are already engaged. Those who don’t opt in can still see your message when they have a friend who engaged with you online –  the messages have built in third-party endorsements. It’s awesome. With traditional media you just get to communicate at your audience, with a limited amount of very costly time, and hope the impression lands.
2. Message Shelf Life: The average commercial is 30 seconds. Links posted on Facebook and Twitter have a shelf-life of 2.8 to 3.2 hours according to one report, and AllFacebook recently reported that a Facebook post actually lives for 22 hours and 51 minutes (I totally don’t like the photo they chose for this article, sorry).
3. It Works!: 43% of US companies are successfully finding new business with SMM. Enough said.
4. It’s Relatively Cheap: Average CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) on radio for adults 18+ is anywhere from $6 to $11 (depending on which report you’re looking at). And that’s just on the media buy, y’all, that number does not include production. I recently did some math on a Facebook post on the Cheetos Facebook page. I worked on the assumption that a this Facebook post was created by someone working at $100 per hour, who needed half an hour to draft and publish the post, and one hour on and off to monitor activity. I factored in impressions that were created when fans engaged with the post, subsequently exposing their friends to the message. CPM was $.0002.


Measuring ROI

First things first, guys. Getting an accurate measure of the return you get on your social media investment is impossible. I would argue that the formulas we live and die by in traditional marketing aren’t much more accurate than the social media numbers we get. Tell me you have a ready-to-use formula that accounts for all economic, market and political factors with your sales versus ad spend numbers, and I’ll take it back, but I’m betting you don’t. There are, however, a few formulas that can help you see you it stacks up against your traditional efforts, etc. Here are a few to chew on:

  1. MEV (Media Equivalent Value) = Social Media Impressions X Equivalent Targeted CPM
  2. Data Value (Acquisition Cost) = Proportional Channel Value X Acquired Customer Numbers
  3. Average Fan Value (this one’s a doozy by Dan Zarrella)
  • Unlikes-per-month/Total Likes = Churn %
  • 1/Churn = Fan Lifetime Length (FLL)
  • FLL X Posts-per-day = Opps per fan (OPF)
  • OPF X CTR = Clicks per fan (CPF)
  • CPF X Conversion % = Sales per fan (SPF)
  • SPF X Avg. $ per Sale = Avg. Fan Value
Learn more about the real costs of social media with the slide deck below, and stay tuned for my SchipulCon video presentation on this topic.
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