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What is Social Media, and is it really free?

Earlier today I read a blog post by a consultant, who was giving examples of social media success stories for dealers, which we love to see, but then they made a comment at the end that "Social Media is marketing".  I thought, what a confusing concept.  Social Media is not marketing, Social Media is Social Media :-)  Media itself, social, print, digital, or otherwise, cannot be is a means of mass communication, a tool we use to deliver marketing messages, but maybe that confusion is what is causing dealers and other businesses to miss the opportunity, because they misunderstand what Social Media is.  Facebook is a Social Media site, which a ton of people use to communicate through every day, not in any sort of marketing context, but just conversations. What makes this an attractive vehicle to use to distribute a marketing message is the volume of people present, the quantity of conversations being had, and that people use Facebook to discuss recommendations and preferences on purchases.  They don't go to Facebook to shop, but nevertheless it is a place they are present in the purchase cycle, and so a good place for businesses to have a presence. Social Media is a means for businesses to deliver their marketing messages, just one of several important forms of media, but very attractive because of the low cost and growing size.

Which leads to another popular quote among bloggers:  "Social Media is Not Free".  Again, a misleading statement because social media is absolutely free, but that assumes we are clear on what social media is. Let's back up first, and look at a more traditional example: print media, specifically, newspapers.  So you can pay an agency or design firm to design your newspaper ad, and that has a production cost. Then to distribute your message in print media (for example, the Chicago Tribune), you pay that media outlet (The Tribune) to deliver your message to their audience.  Print media has a cost. The same goes with TV.  You pay to have a TV spot produced, then you pay the cable TV station of your choice to distribute your message to their audience...electronic media has a cost. However, when we get to social media the model is different.  You still pay for the production of the message, whether it is creating the posts yourself, or using an agency or social media company to plan, create and schedule your posts, but then when it comes time to deliver your message, you use a site like Facebook to deliver your message to their audience, but unlike newspapers, radio, TV, banner ads on websites, direct mail and other forms of media, delivering your message on social media is completely free.  That's a big deal - and why so many businesses are flocking to social media.  Most media charge for delivering your message based on the number of impressions they can deliver. One million impressions in TV, print, etc has a defined cost, but businesses can get one million impressions on Faceboook, Twitter, YouTube for free. People make the statement that Social Media is not free because they don't want to confuse or mislead businesses that the entire process is free. I think they are confusing the concept even more though, because while there are costs to produce and manage content for social media (and even for things like Facebook Ads to increase your exposure on Facebook), the delivery of your marketing messages, at least today, is still free, which gives Social Media a powerful edge over traditional media.





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