Social media is free…but I’m not


It’s been one of those days… so I’m going to allow myself just a wee bit of time before I snap out of it.  I’m going to vent. It started this morning when I heard back from a prospective client who liked the 5 page social media strategy overview document but…

The “but” was they wanted more specific details on what I was going to do. I told them that I would give them the specifics in time. but that I thought that it was important that they understand the how and the why before we got into the how to and the what for. I did this because we’re talking about a client that knows virtually nothing about social media.

If I would have given them the latter, 2 things would have happened. 1)  It would have been so over their head that they would have not understood and probably bailed and or 2) Believe it or not, they could take the document and either try and implement it themselves, or use it as a blueprint with another company and leverage their new found knowledge. You might not think that happens, but it does, as well as some other things  Why?

The ease of entry into social media is less than zero. I can sign up for a majority of social networks in less than a minute. I can create social profiles in less time. So the assumption with a lot of companies and people is, “What is so hard about being social”? or creating a Facebook page, or a Twitter profile?and you know what? They are right. It’s easy.


The thinking is really as simple as the majority of social interfaces that you see. Just create a profile and now you’re part of the social media revolution. You don’t need a consultant or a company to tell you how to do this. It’s easy. Plus there’s all of these killer blogs and sites with free information on social media, all these free tools, you can just figure all of it out on your own.

Sure. You can figure it out until it falls flat and you have one comment on your blog post. You have 19 registered members in your community, or you have 5,000 followers and you’re  following 5,000 but you have 111 tweets and zero conversations. Or maybe that Facebook page of yours has 56 fans but is doing nothing else. Or the YouTube video you made, has driven approximately 24 views.  When stuff is free, you get what you paid for.

There are some seriously smart people in this space. I value what they do and say and we value what we do and say, and we value what we create. But we also are working for a living. As much as we would like to give it away, we can’t. As it stands, the majority of people in this space, give away a lot. In fact, the amount of time that a lot of the social media marketing people that I know, give away, is extreme.  In terms of amounts of their time and resources-there is not a more giving  bunch. That’s the essence of social media.

But… at the end of the day, bills have to be paid and you’re going to have to take that leap of faith.

I’m done venting.

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30 thoughts on “Social media is free…but I’m not

  1. This is a worthwhile vent, but remember that people wanting strategy for free doesn’t just happen in the social media space. years ago, I had someone who asked for a discount (on what was then a very low hourly rate) because, he said, “We’re a nonprofit.” My response, “I’m not.”

  2. Or even worse, they think all they need to be succcessful on Twitter is a few thousand followers. So they pay some spammer to get them that, then wait and see zero impact on their bottom line.

    Then they decide that social media work and social media consultants are snake-oil salesmen.

    And Marc you were probably right to listen to your instincts on the ‘we’d really like more information on what you will do’, they are probably wanting to get the blueprint then do it themselves.

  3. nice rant. This is so true. I had one “prospect” who I gave a two-hour SocMe primer to and then a very detailed proposal end up doing nothing.

    Then I find out they’re Radian6’s newest customer in NOLA – guess who rec’d that platform – and are out there plodding around in SocMe land.

    I get that this is all new and folks don’t understand it, which causes huge hurdles to buying, but at some level, you just gotta tell them “hey, you either trust I’m going to do a good job for you or you don’t. And if it is the latter, really no need for us to continue talking.”

    Hard line to take in these economic times but honestly, in SocMe and pretty much all mkting, if the client doesn’t implicitly trust you and see value, just never going to work.


  4. Excellent rant! Thank you! Another problem I see is – “It’s FREE. And since Oprah is doing it we should too!”. Just because you can create videos for YouTube, or have a blog, or join Twitter, doesn’t mean you should. If you don’t have a plan and a goal for converting “views” and “followers” to stakeholders and customers AND if you don’t fully understand how to use the communication vehicle, don’t do it!

  5. You have a right to vent. Isn’t that why clients look to hire you/us in the first place? Because they can’t or don’t know how to do it in the first place. We all have our specialties that we excel at. Let’s keep that in mind and put more value to it! As a business owner I find it very frustrating that clients believe they can do it themselves. Then why did you contact me in the first place? My vent!

  6. It’s the same thing as many other “intangibles” in the marketplace. It’s becoming like spec work and as with anything, if you value the intellectual property you’ve cultivated, charge accordingly and don’t waffle. Good clients are everywhere, but so are the sponges.

  7. Thanks for the rant. I’ve had the same one several times. The hardest thing to explain to a social media beginner is that your social media strategy evolves as it grows. You can’t just hand ’em a strategy, clap your hands and *poof* it’s done!

    Even if you could (as you say) it would be so overwhelming they’d quit before they started.

  8. @TomMartin so true! too much free and easy attitudes these days. Great rant on how to cut the discussion off too!

  9. I’m sitting here nodding… the more I read, the more I nod.

    Recently, a client came to me a little flustered. (She is one of those that trusts me and the firm that I represent.) She had come from a meeting with some of her clients. In that meeting, an “interloper” began to rail her efforts. Using terms that she was not familiar with. She tried to keep up. This person… operating in pure survival mode, began to use rhetoric to speak over her head and belittle her SoMed efforts.

    I hate to see anyone in this guy’s position… however, if our client had all of the “the how tos and the what fors” She would have whipped them out in defense. Next, this guy who is so clearly competition, would have our strategies in hand. I have no doubt he would use them to further undercut clients in the local market. Next, if he was successful in stealing a client or two, (with his limited expertise) he would undoubtedly sabotage progress made.

    I rank people like this right up there with buying/trading for followers/fans. “Spammer” is too kind. I will be one of the first to give them a chance… but I will not hesitate to call #Shenanigans.

    I am very thankful for the “seriously smart people” to which you referred. They have been very gracious in helping, encouraging, and in some cases guiding me through this maze. I have learned volumes from you all. Thank you for letting me sit at the table.


  10. You are so right. Especially in this market place where jobs are hard to come by. Everyone can find something they want for free but when they have to actually find a person who they will pay. You can’t get hired. What is up with that?

    I understand I am new to the game and all. I graduated in 08 and have been reading about PR, New Media, and SEO because I think it is all important. But give me a break…. This takes time.

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  12. Extract of a client phone call today:

    Me: …and that will involve many things, such as reaching out to some of the top bloggers in your industry…

    Client: How do you search for top bloggers?

    Me: There are many ways, such as search engines and social networking sites and emailing people and clicking links and…


    Point is, Daria’s on the money in her comment she’s not a nonprofit; and Janet’s on the money a strategy evolves. And you’re on the money, Marc, that too many focus on the what and not the why/how.

  13. I try to get across that social media is NOT free – there is a cost in time or manpower allocated. If a client wants to do it all on their own, what needs to get dropped in order to take on this new responsibility? And while entrance is easy and not too time consuming, building community is a large undertaking.

    IMO, social media should be used as PART of an overall plan – not the only thing you’re counting on. There needs to be strategy as well as clear and measurable objectives. It never fails to amaze me how some people still try to use new media as a push communication method.

    Talking vs. communicating. There is a difference.

  14. @Mack That’s right, they take your suggestions and still do it wrong because they want to get “there” as quick as possible. So they pay a spammer or cut a corner, it blows up in their face and thus they brand social media marketing efforts as useless and a failure..

    @Tom Martin, I would like to think that we all do a good enough job of conveying value but experiences like this make me or cause me, to go back over my proposals and documents and question where I went wrong..when in actuality it might be them…

    @Amy I supply everything but the actual plan, essentially outlining everything, including how and what we are going to measure..

    @Tami Great line-Then why did you contact me in the first place?

  15. I understand your concern and as a consultant ourselves and potential client of folks like you, let me share our thoughts.

    Our firm is 108 yrs old, 4th generation family owned, with approx. 110 associates, operating in both Canada and USA.

    For the last 108 yrs old we have grown primarily by word of mouth, and proving our abilities. Our first sales force cam into being about 20 yrs ago.

    When we talk to our clients about International Trade compliance services and our consulting offerings, we like your experience are asked to go further than just talking about it. We NEVER give away the farm, but we do give away enough that if a client desires they could skip using our services and go back to existing service providers (competition) or be it do it themselves to take action based upon the initial opinion and info we share with them.

    Why would we do that, because we see each client not as a transaction (normal pay for service model of our industry) but rather we are taught that a client has a lifetime value and we need to stay focused on that because we may make short term financial decisions based upon immediate value rather than lifetime value. Lifetime for us is defined at 10-15yrs although we have clients in the 50-60yr range as well but not the norm.

    So for us it is better to:

    A) prove we can provide value beyond the “Talk”

    B) prove to the customer we work on the basis of “Trusted relationships”

    C) ensure that we ALWAYS take the high road and allow the client to feel in control of their decisions.

    Sure we have some that we find take another path than with ourselves, but when they have trouble, and most do, we step right back in with head held high (no saying I told you so) and offer to help them. Rates will always be different than doing it right first time, but we see the life time value as one that we don’t want to close the door on.

    I hope this helps, I am sure there will be disagreement, but this has worked for the last 108 yrs, it continues to work today, and we see our entry into social marketing as a way to create new relationships with clients interested in good solid advise that we are prepared to prove, based the new relationship we are about to begin.

  16. @Deb The problem with social media is that for a lot of potential clients they have no idea of the work that goes into strategy docs and proposals!!

    @Janet I guess again that we all at some point come back and second guess ourselves, when in actuality as Deb says, don’t waffle and you stick to your guns, your beliefs, and the knowledge that you are good at what you do!

    @TakinPitchas It’s a big table and I’m glad you’re at it,yet it should be an even table, which it is not. I wish others were as humble as you are. Humility can go a long way towards success for clients, vendors and people in general in this space.

    @Jamie, you are the new guard. You have a chance to really make a difference, keep plugging away, because you’re right, contrary to what some clients think, this is hard and takes time.

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  18. Social media practitioners are like therapists: Clients need to do a lot of listening, hear the good and bad, only then can they walk away w/a plan, a better outlook and a more promising future. You still pay your therapist even if you knew the issues all along – you just need someone to help you deal with them 🙂

  19. Bravo, bravo. But… sorry, don’t expect it to get better. PR and other client-services firms have been facing this forever. People think ideas and strategy are free. The value of intellectual property has always been tough for people to grasp, especially when they’re paying for it.

    As long as WE all value it, and insist that others do, we’ll be successful.

    On that note, I learned after my first new business proposal at PerkettPR (way back in 1998) to give just that – a proposal – not a PLAN. (If they didn’t like it; they weren’t the right client for me.)

    Good luck and thanks for sharing,

    Christine Perkett

  20. Marc -thanks for your post .. nice to know that what I’ve been experiencing others have also. nice to have the support of our community too.

    my latest was a major bank’s vp who wanted to meet me for coffee to talk about social prior to a training presentation that their new agency of record (a global interactive agency) was giving. after she let that slip she back tracked pretty quickly; acknowledged that there wouldn’t be any projects for me. we agreed not to sip java together at that point. thanks for letting me vent 🙂

  21. Marc,

    I couldn’t say it any better than Christine did. She’s 100% right! After 15 years on the client side, I can tell you, this has been going on forever. Clients always want the how-to for free. And this just doesn’t happen with social media…it also happens with design, advertising, PR, direct mail, etc. Why? So they can do it themselves (like you said) OR, worse, have someone else implement the concept at a lower price.

    Unfortunately, not all the folks you meet with are bad eggs… In my experience, the sad thing is that managers/directors usually get pressure from above to ‘steal’ the how-to’s. The notion that “anyone can do it” largely plays into it and, of course, budget. The key is to differentiate your company so much that NO competition or internal employee can do what you do.

    The other issue is that because we give away SO much free advice on our blogs that potential clients assume consultants will do so on a phone call too. Trust me, even though I don’t think myself naive, I have fallen into that trap more than once. It’s just a conversation, right? Next thing you know an hour or more later they walk away with $$ worth of free consulting.

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

  22. Marc,
    You definitely hit a nerve! There is a lot of pressure as Beth mentions for managers to look for ways to internalize projects and programs for which they’ve depended on consultants and specialized providers in the past. It does not have to be explicit; “Cut X%” can be incentive enough. As much as I find it frustrating when longtime clients decide they can go it alone, I’m convinced that providing the plan is a far cry from delivering on it successfully or more cost-efficiently without us. MarketingProfs article,”Caution: This is not a DIY project” referencing Richard King’s experience and his post on the EmailDirect Blog offers a perfect case in point.
    To Nigel’s points, a friend once told me: “sometimes you have to let them go so they can find out for themselves.” Even clients who trust our unique capabilities and quality of service feel the need to test the added-value of the relationship, “Trust but verify”. I always find the process painful – not just because of lost revenue, but because I sincerely care about their success,and I hate to see them come up short even when they’ve left for a competitor or to do it themselves. Consistently, Nigel’s experience reflects my own: some may continue to go it alone, but most “usually do come back” and we’re all better for it when they come seeking help and simultaneously feeling more in control of their choices, and confident their trust is well-placed in us.

  23. @Diane What starting to strike another nerve here is that we all have very similar experiences. Which tells me that we either are doing something wrong collectively as a group or our clients are collectively wrong and we need to change that mindset. Can we all afford to wait for our clients or prospects to come back given the current economic climate? I want my clients and prospects to succeed, but with me at the helm..

  24. @Beth, I think we all still want to do right by social media and we definitely all are of the same mindset that, lets give them some, and they will most certainly want and or will pay for the rest. Heh, guess not…

  25. @Christine I know it’s not going to get better, but as I said in my reply to Diane. Something has to give, or maybe what I meant to say was, “someone has to give” other than the social media consultant…:)

    @Toby Maybe we should write a book about social media client horror stories?

  26. I have learned this lesson the hard way. Have seen my detailed proposals produce no firm business, only to see the marketing manager that said no, implement most of the ideas very poorly a month or two later.

    I don’t do detailed proposals anymore either. But I have learned the art of throwing out a couple big ideas, always saving the biggest/most detailed ideas for later. For paid consulting.

    I also feel like I am much better these days about knowing what kind of client they will be from an intro conversation. Some people just don’t want to pay for good ideas. If I get that sense, I cut them no breaks on price, even hoping sometimes that they move on because of the price. To me, it is a learning process, and less about learning not to give away everything first and more about learning how to spot good clients.

    Great convo, thanks.

  27. This strikes a cord Marc. I’ve had several conversations like the one you have described. One very smart developer/founder of a startup even said to me, I don’t understand what is so hard about social media, I mean I’ve set up my twitter account.

    The best is when I ask do you have a social media strategy and get a yes. Once I look at their account you see lots of blog posts fed into twitter via twitter feed and absolutely no conversation. No wonder business doesn’t grow.

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