Implementing a real social media strategy is not…free. Recently, I met with a nonprofit organization that is struggling to create a strong social media presence but hampered by the lack of designated funds for social media. It reminds me of the dilemma of technology: in order to be an efficient company, organizations must to invest in regular hardware and software upgrades. But how many nonprofits have the budget to do this, or the funders willing to contribute towards technology upgrades? Unfortunately, this is the reality that must be acknowledged:
We are still under the illusion that social media costs nothing.
And that’s wrong.
One sure cost will be expenses associated with making your website more “social.” Some of these might include:
- website upgrade (more than once)
- embedding social media into the site itself
- creating conversational, social areas on the website itself (blog, membership forum, community reviews, etc.)
Social media requires time and personal investment. Be sure to budget time for staff, volunteers, or paid consultants to work on your social media strategy. For reference, see a previous blog post discussing much time social media takes. When I asked my Twitter followers to tell me the “hidden costs of social media,” the overwhelming response was “staff time!” The important thing is to remember to allow staff (many people, one person) dedicated time to monitor, respond, create and engage online using social media platforms. I know how hard this is to do, as a former nonprofit executive, but it’s impossible for someone to work effectively juggling their regular responsibilities and all the social media.
Your organization can certainly create a blog using any of the free blogging tools available. However, if you choose to add premium features or host the blog yourself, there are associated expenses. These include:
- upgrading to premium status (usually costs around $10 a year)
- self-hosting a blog (called website hosting fees) can be much higher
- create a custom template for the blog to compliment the website
If you want to include video in your social media strategy (YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv), then you must own a video camera. Depending on your organization, you might need a very good camera. If you are university, or a hospital, then you want the quality of your videos to be outstanding. If you are a grassroots organization, you don’t need a $3000 camera! If you will be livestreaming, or uploading large videos, then investigate the cost of increased upstream internet bandwidth, which you can buy from a cable service provider or your internet service provider relatively cheaply.
- video camera and microphone
- increased bandwidth
Photo sharing costs:
If you will be uploading photos to a photo sharing site such as Flickr, Picasa, or Photobucket then your organization will need a high-quality camera that produces good images. I recommend budgeting money for a new camera every other year.
- digital Camera
- premium fee for unlimited digital storage on a photo sharing website (around $30/year).
You’re thinking, “hey, Twitter is free!” Yes it is free to tweet, but it is not if you have to pay for the associated hardware to do it. If you are planning events where your organization will want to “live tweet,” don’t forget the portable devices that allows you to do that. You may also need a portable wifi network for a space (such as an event space, or outdoor space where you might hold a press conference) that is connected to the outside world. It’s a “movable wifi domain” that provides internet access for all your twittering fans and live streaming needs. Here is an example of what one looks like and does. Associated Twitter or live streaming expenses:
- smartphone or a laptop that can search for wireless connections
- mobile wireless access hub, called a 3.5G cellular modem with a built-in wifi access point
Facebook Pages are free and easy to create. When you need to create a custom Facebook Page, or a Facebook Application as part of your social media strategy, you will need a programmer that is fluent in the Facebook program code, called FBML.
- Facebook programmer to develop custom Application, Facebook Page, or other custom code
Social Media Campaigns:
Your organization will probably create and implement a social media campaign. Campaigns ask your stakeholders to take action on your organization’s behalf. The expenses involved with campaigns are hard to budget ahead of time. Depending on organizational and campaign goals, you might develop a game in Second Life, a custom Facebook Application, a campaign micro-site, a voting platform…the possibilities are endless. I highly recommend setting aside some of the technology or campaign budget for social media campaign-related expenses.
Don’t let this list deter you from engaging in social media!
Social media has become a critical part of true stakeholder engagement and meeting your mission. When you do engage, be aware that there ARE “hidden” costs of this “free” social media.
What are the other costs associated with social media?
Do you have a social media budget?
How do you budget for it effectively?
Thanks to Eric Guth of Efrat Networks for hardware consultation.