Why Social Media is NOT Free

Don't forget that Time (and Effort) IS money (Courtesy of shaphoto)

As the world goes gaga over how social media is transforming the way we run organisations and do business, it is mindful to take note of some fundamental principles. These could help you decide whether how much you should invest in this new arena and the potential returns that it could bring you.

You Need to Be Reasonably Original

For sure, one can always share third party content through networks like Facebook, Twitter's famous Retweet function, or other aggregators like Delicious and Squidoo. RSS readers also allows one to read and share whatever catches one's fancy. However, you will find that it is important to have a position and stand for something.

Being original and unique doesn't of course mean that you have to be like Shakespeare. However, it does mean that your digital real estate will provide something new that isn't already served by the market one way or another. Even compilations can be original if its content has been mashed-up reasonably enough to take on new significance and meaning.

If you do not put in sufficient resources to create your own content or unique positioning, you may end up being yet another nameless and faceless intermediary of information.

Energy, Effort and Brain Power Needed

Updating a blog requires considerable discipline and effort. One needs to research a particular topic, look for appropriate examples or analogies to strengthen a particular case, upload (or download) photographs, embed a video, or search for links to augment one's post. Considerable amounts of brain power is also needed in the art and science of generating user content - like how to structure one's sentences, the tone of voice to use, photographs to select, edits to make to one's videos, and so on.

It doesn't stop here though.

Pushing out one's own content is great, but one should also participate in a broader community and take an interest in other people's content by reading the posts of others, offering a Facebook "like" here and a comment there, sharing what others have created through retweets, and responding to direct or indirect messages. You can't be a shy wallflower if you want to be known.

It Can Be Pretty Time Intensive

If you don't believe me, try keeping a blog with daily updates, a twitter account with at least 10 original tweets a day, a Youtube channel with one new video uploaded fortnightly, and a Facebook page with at least three new daily updates. To build a community and a following in any social media endeavour, one needs to create a regular rhythm, producing fresh content that one's followers can eagerly (hopefully) devour, digest and disseminate. Add to that is the time needed to participate in other people's content - commenting, liking, retweeting, responding, replying and so on.

From my personal experience, putting up a blog post takes me on average an hour to two hours each. Creating photograph intensive posts take up even more time as these have to be scaled down, resized and contextualised. While this gobbles up chunks of my time, it also brings me considerable self gratification in seeing my own work being published online.

The Problem of Ephemerality

One of the hidden truths about social media is that everything becomes very temporary. In the blink of an eye, new tweets, blog posts, Youtube videos and Slideshare presentations are created by the hour, each one offering something bigger, better and more boastful than the last. It is like writing on a whiteboard with invisible ink that disappears minutes after you have scribbled on it - or paddling a canoe upstream against the flow of a river.

What this means is that longevity in this new game isn't just predicated on past successes alone, but on future (and ongoing) efforts, stroke by stroke, post by post.

Finally, Time Equals Money and Effort

This is such a universal truth that you probably feel that I am stating the obvious. Well, I believe that it bears repeating once again. Look at the amount of time that you have in a day and the "returns" that you can enjoy when invested in various activities. This can either be individual or collective (for organisations with few or many staff). Given this amount of working (or waking) hours a day, would social media endeavours work for you vis-a-vis other potential uses of that time? While most social media networks and applications are available for free, manpower costs money.

The next time someone tells you that social media is free or a cheap way to advertise or communicate, think carefully about what its true costs are over the long term. Launching a new blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, Plurk account or Linked-In page is easy, but keeping them alive and healthy is another thing altogether.

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