The Cost Of “Free” Tools

Money down the drain?At the risk of flogging a dead horse here, I want to address something that I keep hearing from people who don’t seem to understand the way social media outreach and engagement works.

Social media isn’t free.

Mitch Joel wrote recently that “there is a cost to free.” He was talking about the costs of “free” content, but the same applies to applying free tools.

Yes, some tools are free. It costs nothing to set up a Google Alert. It costs nothing to establish a Facebook page. It costs nothing to download and install Wordpress.

Nothing, that is, except time.

Never underestimate the amount of time that social media outreach can take.

While you may choose to use free tools to monitor conversations about your brand (we use both free and paid tools at our agency), it takes time to measure and analyze the results of that monitoring.

You may decide to set up a blog, but it takes time (believe me) to consistently put out good content.

You may decide to produce a video podcast, but it takes time to plan, record, edit and post the episodes.

What’s more, to do any of these things well it takes even more time. Yes, I could blast out an email to 100 bloggers for you, but I won’t. Not only because I don’t agree with the practice and because it would be close to career suicide (though they both factor into it), but because it’s far more effective to carefully and thoughtfully pitch a smaller number properly. Better results take more time. More time means more cost.

Fancy that! You don’t get good results on the cheap.

If you work on the corporate or public sector side, it’s easy to forget that time has a cost. Working in those environments the cost may be more of an opportunity cost – of other things you can’t do because you’re working on this – than a hard cost, but it’s still there. On the agency side, the cost of time is clear as day to us, every day.

I’m not saying that social media tools are unique here. Traditional PR tools cost money, too. The difference is that I don’t hear people say “there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t do media outreach; it’s free.” I do hear that said about social media.

Next time someone tells you that social media is free, back away slowly.

(Image credit: thebmag)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.