Budgeting For “Free” Social Media And The Need To Rebalance

Fire your marketing department! Social media is free!

Have you heard the news? It’s been trumpeted recently in no end of misleading, link-baity headlines such as these:

In Internet marketing, “free” is a dirty enough word to be a serious deterrent to email delivery when used in a subject line. Apparently, this doesn’t hold true for headlines, regardless of how false the claim.

Because of these recent layoffs, P&G CEO Robert McDonald is being accused of contributing to unemployment in America, of understanding far too late that advertising on Facebook is “free” (false), and of squandering money, which is at least partially true, given his company is the world’s largest marketer. The company spends some $10 billion annually online, in print and in broadcast channels annually.

P&G has doubtless allocated millions of that budget to one of the runaway hit social media campaigns of the past year, The Old Spice Guy. Free? Sure, the Old Spice Guy YouTube channel is free. The Old Spice Guy Facebook page is free.  But the television spots? Talent? (Isaiah Mustafah, the actor portraying the eponymous hero, certainly isn’t getting any cheaper in terms of his day rate). Location, travel, production — none of those elements are “free.”

Social media isn’t free any more than SEO is free. Clearly, not spending money on media buying is a tremendous cost-saver (just consider this excellent breakdown from Joe Chernov of what you can accomplish with content marketing in lieu of a Super Bowl ad buy). That media cost savings is at the core of content marketing in general, and social media specifically.

New Costs, But They’re Still Costs

But when the equation shifts from paid to earned and owned media, costs don’t evaporate, they shift. At the end of the day they can wind up lower — significantly lower, because media is expensive — but they’re very much there. Organizations that integrate content and social into their marketing strategies find themselves investing in new areas. Staff with new skill sets must be hired, or trained. Time and effort is invested in creating an ongoing content marketing strategy that incorporates audits, governance and technology considerations. Time is invested in creation and production.

Investments in new technology become almost mandatory. It’s necessary to oversee a multitude of accounts in social media channels, as well as to measure them. In a research report published just last week entitled “Content: The New Marketing Equation“, we asked 56 marketers what content channels matter now, and which they feel will rise and/or diminish in importance over the next three to five years.

The results point to anything but “free.” Marketers are clearly looking at content channels that raise the bar in terms of investment in production, planning, their need to bring in outside resources such as vendors, agencies, and specialized in-house talent. Text-based initiatives such as blogging, bylined articles and whitepapers are clearly on the decline. Marketers now want to promote their brands, products and services in channels that require high levels of expertise, design acumen, technology and know-how: video, mobile, location-based marketing and other sources of visual content such as graphics, photos and infographics.

Marketing organizations large and small, from P&G to Mom ‘n’ Pop, are rapidly discovering that content marketing and social media are anything but free. They’re not about zeroing out the marketing budget, even if they can be about dramatically reducing spend.

How To Rebalance

Rather than a shift to “free,” organizations must begin to consider how they will rebalance. How they will create and produce content, align it with strategic goals, and integrate it with legacy initiatives, such as advertising (which is not going away anytime soon).  Content marketing and social media require a shift in company culture, resources, budgets, partners and strategy. Rebalancing is critical to achieve these goals.

Companies now have a choice, something P&G is only too well aware of.  Do they rebalance now, or do they wait until later, when the battle for attention may become even more difficult than it currently is?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Facebook | Facebook: Marketing | Google | Google: Marketing | Search Marketing | Social Media Marketing Column


About The Author: is an analyst at the Altimeter Group where she covers digital advertising and marketing. A consultant, author, and sought-after speaker, Rebecca is the former head of Econsultancy's US operations. She was VP and editor-in-chief of The ClickZ Network for over seven years. For a portion of that time, Rebecca also ran Search Engine Watch.

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  • http://www.aparcher.com Apryl Parcher

    Fantastic article, Rebecca, and right on! Content marketing is a must-have for businesses, but the false hype around social being “free” has left many confused and spinning their wheels. I think much of this confusion is due to the fact that we’re charting new ground in marketing. First responders in social took off like rockets, but many of them had money to throw (or redistribute). The reality is that most are brand-new jockeys with little training, left lagging at the starting gate or careering around the track on out-of-control, bucking horses.

    Your article definitely brings this into focus–thanks for posting!

  • http://twitter.com/LauritaaMontana Laura Montana
  • Anonymous

    Excellent points! But, I must point out even SEO is not free anymore, at least not with Google hell bent on making organic linking difficult with its panda updates.


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