Free isn’t necessarily cheap

I was having a brief conversation with @NealShaffer on Twitter yesterday and the gist of our conversation was:

  • Half of small & medium businesses are using social media for marketing (Neal)
  • Yes…but few are doing it well.  They don’t apply marketing smarts (Drew)
  • True, but huge potential to maximize social business (Neal)
  • No doubt.  But when done wrong, potential for damage is equally large (Drew)
  • I agree completely (Neal)

See — that’s the problem with free.  Business owners (or many so called social media experts) look at the price of entry for having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or (fill in the blank for whatever’s hot in SM) and they think….”you can’t beat free!  Even if I suck at it, it didn’t cost me anything.”

Wrong. So wrong.

Would you buy a TV commercial that had misspellings?  Or instruct the announcer to swear or say something off color?  Or better yet…would you buy radio time and then not put anything there…so you basically bought :60 of silence?

Would you promise that your newsletter would be packed with useful information and then blather on about yourself, your sales and your products when you get around to sending it?

I’m sure you’re saying (or at least in my head) “No, Drew of course not.”  So why in the world do you (universal you, not you you) do it on your social media sites?

We see unprofessional behavior on FB pages all the time.  And abandoned blogs, Twitter accounts etc.  And the biggest sin of all — being boring because you can’t stop talking about yourself.

Here’s the thing.  People have gotten a little numb to selfish, self-centered marketing in the traditional marketing space.  It’s not right, but it’s been going on for so long — we accept it as the norm.

But social media is different.  Social media promises real people.  It promises relevance.  It promises a relationship.  It promises timely interaction.

And if you violate any or all of those promises, here’s what happens:

  • The good feelings I had for your brand/company are gone
  • I feel like you lied to me/tricked me
  • I will simply choose to disconnect from you
  • I won’t be interacting with you anymore…which means my feelings for you have no chance at turning more favorable

Keeping those promises takes a lot of time.  And keeping your eye on the big picture. It’s easy to get sucked back into old habits and begin marketing instead of connecting.  If you really want your social media efforts to work, you have to make a big investment.  No, it may not be money (unless you hire some help) but it’s a time crunch.

Maybe this analogy will help.  When you do social media badly — you are basically enticing someone to come close to you with the promise of a gooey, fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie and when they walk in and reach out their hand for the cookie — you smack them with a ruler, over and over until they leave.

The cost is huge.  The damage is real.  And too many businesses are stumbling over themselves as they rush to a “free” marketing opportunity.

So what does a small business do, Drew? you ask. (again, perhaps it all takes place in my head).  You put together a social media strategy that is built on SMART goals and best customer personas.

How do you do that?  Come back on Thursday and download the absolutely free 18 page e-book that walks you through how to build that strategy, step by step.

It’s a tool we use at MMG with clients every day.  And we’re glad to share it with you.  Really.

And….there’s not a sales pitch or MMG promo in sight.  I promise.  Would I offer you a cookie and then smack you with a ruler?

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9 comments on “Free isn’t necessarily cheap

  1. Shreech!!! I went to share this article because it is good stuff, but when I clicked on your twitter share button above, it read:

    Social media may be free but it isn’t cheap: via @AddThis

    when it SHOULD have read
    Social media may be free but it isn’t cheap: via @drewmclellan

    Is this one of the nuances of operating in social media you are talking with us about? AddThis is free, but needs to be configured with your own identity for you to even begin to start a conversation with someone who thought your blog post was cool enough to share. I see this “default” state all the time and mostly just sigh and not RT. Today was different, I guess, and I decided to speak up.

    Hope this helps. Not with the irony… but…

    1. Gerald,

      Thanks for pointing out this error. Our programmers will get it fixed.


  2. Hey Drew,

    Another spot on post that resonates with yours truly.

    Everything you say is dead on and it is amazing how many people, businesses think they NEED to be “in social media” yet have no clue what that really means.

    I would only add one thing and that is to all business owners out there who want to be “in social media” just make sure you have a viable product, service, ware, etc in the first place.

    For if you don’t then you are right to some extent in that in won’t matter if you suck at social media because your product already sucks to begin with.

    1. Steve,

      This may be the first time we disagree. I think you can be active in social media even if your product does suck. After all, I think most business owners have a very skewed view of themselves and might not even know they suck.

      Ideally, the customers would give you that feedback and you could actually make improvements to reduce your suckage. So I say — if you are willing to actually have conversations, talk about what other people care about and are ready to take your lumps if they’re deserved — jump in!


  3. Ruthy says:

    I agree…You can use social media in marketing but if you don’t use it wisely, it won’t do you any good…

  4. Cathy35 says:

    There is only one guarantee with social media and that is change. Just as you learn a new tool or technology, it is bound to change. Accept it and know you’ll be in a constant state of learning and growing. It’s alright as we’re all right there with ya’!

  5. Thanks for the post, Drew! Yes, social media is a great tool for businesses, but if you don’t know (or learn) how to use it effectively, you’re putting too many eggs in a basket. Before attempting to utilize online marketing tools, it’s important to plan out your social media efforts. Choose which social network works best for your company, reach out to your target audience & be interactive, talk about your products/services, and set up promotions. A social network strategy goes a long way!

    1. Anders,

      You are very right — knowing what you’re doing and balancing your efforts with other marketing techniques. Social media is not the end all — it’s a great marketing tactic but it’s not the only one.


  6. Thrixxie says:

    Social media is definitely a big help to every person today not just for communication but also for business…

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