People often think that social media is attractive because it’s free.  But this is a simple misconception.  Social media isn’t free.  Social media simply scales for free, but it won’t scale at all without an upfront investment.

Just look at Rebecca Black, who is famous for performing what many people think is the worst song ever written, and the worst music video ever produced.  Her mother invested $4,000 in making the video, and now it has made more than enough money for her to pay for college.

If you want sensational results with social media, you need to invest whatever is necessary for your particular social media program to begin to scale, because scaling happens for free, which means you can reach far more people than you’d be able to pay to reach through advertising. 

The key question on everyone’s mind at this point should be: how much does it cost for content to scale?  The answer depends entirely on who you want to reach with your content, and the nature of the content itself.  Proctor & Gamble has probably spent millions of dollars by now on its successful Old Spice Guy campaign, and they will probably continue to spend, because even though it may not be as successful as Rebecca Black’s $4,000 video, it is no doubt generating more exposure than they could have paid the same amount of money to get.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people choose to go with a content only marketing approach on social media.  This is similar to Seth Godin’s “drip marketing,” where you create new, valuable content on a daily basis for your audience, eventually building an online portfolio of compelling content that draws your customers into your universe and earns their trust.  CopyBlogger is hands down the best source of information on content marketing, and despite never having spent a dime on advertising, the CopyBlogger Media company is generating seven figures in revenue with well-over 50% margins.  Their upfront investment was in the form of design, hosting, travel, and conference costs.  At this point, however, after six years CopyBlogger is now built on a solid foundation, and they benefit tremendously from free scaling.

For those of you who choose to pay for advertising in addition to having a social media program, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is treating those two programs as completely separate.  I’ve worked with a number of clients who started by separating the two programs completely.  But your goal should always be to bring in only NEW people through paid advertising, and once they know you, you should be able to interact with them freely via your preferred social media channels.  If this isn’t a part of your marketing strategy, then you’re going to pay too much for your advertising over time, and your social media program will probably never scale.

I think that some people have resisted social media marketing all along because they instinctively believe that there is no such thing as free ice cream.  For those of you who feel that way, I’m on your side.  Social media marketing is fantastic, but only if you’re willing to make the investment in time and resources to start to scale.

Will Marlow is a Public Relations and digital marketing specialist. The photograph of the salivating dog above was also featured in this week’s issue of the A-Town Dog Blog.