Monday, October 17, 2011

Is Free Advertising Really Free?

Inc Magazine posted an article last week outlining the plans several social media outlets have to offer free advertising to small businesses.

Facebook (who IMHO has peaked as an advertising venue due to its sheer size and other terms of service in advertising that I blogged about a while back) is offering free advertising starting in January.

LinkedIn is offering coupons for limited amounts of free ads, as is Google.  I just got a coupon from Google myself over the weekend.

Each site/company has its own standards and limitations on the offerings.

So, is free advertising from any social media outlet worth it?
It's vital to remember that "free" always means "free of financial charge".   Advertising always requires time and effort.  The venue may be free but there is still an investment of time, planning, updating - or an investment of cash to pay someone else to make the investment.

Social media works in advertising because it's the online equivalent of in-person networking.  All business relationships are based on personal ones to some degree.  But it's more vital for entrepreneurs and small businesses to personally get the word out since their budgets are so tight.

So if you're going to venture into social networking....
1)  Make sure you know where your audience is.  Believe it or not, not everyone looking for your goods or services is on Facebook.  Research your online outlets, talk with your current customers, find out where they are, then put your actions in that direction.
2)  Count the cost in terms of time.  How much time and effort can you put into social media?  If you're not willing to use the service personally, then you want to rethink your ad plan.  Keep your content interesting or all of the free advertising in the world won't be worth a dime.
3)  Remember that social media is about driving traffic.  Driving it where?  To your website of course.  Social media is the draw, your website is the destination.  Make sure it's worth your visitors' time once they get there.

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