If I had a dollar for every business owner or marketing professional who, in the last year, has asked me what it costs to get involved in social media, I’d be rich. Okay, maybe not rich, but I could honestly take those dollars and make a car payment.

[flickr style="float: right"]photo:2549050343[/flickr]When I tell them the cost to get involved is literally nothing other than some time, they don’t believe me. Sure, I can build you a blog, develop a social network for your customers, create widgets and gadgets and fidgets and all sorts of other words that will impress your CEO, drive buzz, create viral content and bill you plenty of dollars to do so. But to participate, as an individual or a business, is absolutely free.

To read and comment on blogs, participate in relevant message boards and forums, even as an official representative of your company or brand only takes your time and attention. (Start off with some attention to ensuring you do it appropriately, though.)

And here’s a kicker – You don’t even need a computer.

[flickr style="float: right"]photo:2549050389[/flickr]One of the many bulletin boards lining the hall of my local YMCA is used as a feedback board. Members can fill out a comment card, offering compliments, complaints, asking questions and making suggestions. The staff then types up responses and posts both for all the members to see.

This is listening. This is being genuine and transparent with your customers. This is fostering a community of consumers engaged with a brand.

This is social media.

Are you a B2B organization? Don’t have customers on site? Put the YMCA feedback board up in your employee lounge and use social media to enhance internal communications.

It costs literally nothing. And that you can believe.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.thewayoftheweb.net Dan Thornton

    Erm.

    That isn’t really true though. I totally agree that you don’t need a computer, or to invest in widgets etc.

    But if you’re a business, and your employees are engaging in social media, then there is the cost of the time that they are spending.

    It’s minimal, but it’s a mistake to discount it entirely, as it’s the first thing a good manager/CEO will spot when you claim that anything is ‘free’.

    The solution is to be ready with examples and forecasts for how the time invested will produce a greater return, whether directly financial, or in knowledge/insight/brand loyalty.

  • http://www.unjournalism.com Mike Keliher

    Dan, a good manager or CEO will often have no concept of what “social media” means or how much “doing it” might cost. But when someone like Jason explains that it’s only a matter of time and genuine interest in the work, and then elaborates a bit on what he means when he says “time,” a good manager of CEO can begin to understand how that translates to costs.

    Thanks, Jason.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Dan and Mike — Both of you are right and have valid points. There is the cost of time invested and if your employees aren’t particularly tech-savvy, that time can be larger than a company is willing to invest.

    But it is true that many managers look at anything above operational costs as investment. Time has to be paid for as part of the day-to-day, so the pocketbook doesn’t hurt as bad when time is essentially the only investment necessary.

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