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How much does it cost to engage in social media?

Starting a social media campaign for peanuts in tough times

I really liked this column from B.L. Ochman on BusinessWeek.com last week. In the first of six social media myths debunked in the column, it suggests that you can start a two- to three-month social media marketing campaign for around $50,000. Compared to a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, that sure does sound like small potatoes. But at a time of great economic uncertainty, I wondered, does a multi-faceted plan to influence consumers or potential clients through social media cost even that much?

I would argue that an enthusiastic person can make a great impact for your brand through social media in 10 to 15 hours per week. That’s enough time to:

  • Write several blog posts on a blog (clearly identified as being affiliated with your company) discussing issues facing your customers in which your products and services are mentioned where truly relevant.
  • Build relationships on Twitter and tweet a mix of news about your products/services along with comments and links to other content that would be of interest to your target community.
  • Create a simple YouTube video interviewing a happy customer or providing a quick product demonstration. (check out the Mayo Clinic’s awesome YouTube channel with more than 200 videos for a great case study.)
  • Reaching out to like-minded folks on Digg, Delicious, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Newsvine, Mixx and other social bookmarking and news sharing sites, and posting interesting blog posts, news articles, white papers, photos and videos. You can include content produced as part of your regular marketing efforts along with items that are relevant to your target community but not promotional or exclusively about your company (see a trend here?).
  • Administer a Facebook or Ning group for people interested in a common passion, problem or other topic (and again, it is not recommended that the topic be your company or its products exclusively).
  • Use a survey widget to start a conversation across many of these platforms about a pressing issue of interest to your community. My next post will discuss survey widgets in more detail.
  • Monitor chatter about your brand on blogs and social networks using tools like Google Blogsearch, Technorati, TwitterSearch or a customized service like ours.

Using these simple steps, you can make impressions on thousands of people per month for next to nothing. In times like these, if nothing else, can you afford not to at least follow the last step mentioned above? When you do, be sure to track your results so you can prove the return on your time investment. Do you have other suggestions for how to create a social media campaign on the cheap? Please feel free to share them here.

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