Are Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Really Free?

Some Tweeters have taken issue with a slide I typically include in most of my presentations. It says:

Total cost for Mayo Clinic YouTube, Facebook and Twitter:

$0.00

They protest that it’s inaccurate, maybe even misleading to say “total cost” and that it should instead say “Barrier to Entry” or “Cost to Start.” “What about the staff needed to run these sites?” they ask.

I will grant that these platforms don’t automatically maintain themselves, but I’m not changing the wording or conceding the point. I believe that in the way most people would have understood the phrase for at least the last century, these tools are FREE.

And this little video explains why:

  • YouTube is a FREE television station that lets you broadcast to the world.
  • A Facebook “fan” page is (at least) a FREE multimedia “white pages” listing for your business.
  • Twitter is a FREE incoming/outgoing communication channel, like the toll-free phone service discussed above.

But unlike the fictional AT&T and Pitney Bowes examples I described in the video, these are 100 percent real, bona fide offers. They are better ways for your existing staff to communicate, with each other or with your customers or other key constituents.

So ask not how you’re going to afford to hire staff to use these tools. Ask how these powerful tools can make your staff more productive!

For answers, look in the advanced courses in the Facebook, Twitter and Blogging curriculum listings.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

9 thoughts on “Are Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Really Free?”

  1. For every new technology implemented, wether it’s in communications or any other department, you’ll need to get to know, train and adapt to i’ts use in daily activity. The problem is not how much it costs but how much time are we willing to invest in get the CHANGE going, successfully.

  2. You are absolutely right and I your video explaining it to those who expressed concern over the “free” statement illustrates your point perfectly.

    I think including some kind of dollar amount taking into account your time and your staffs’ time spent on SM would be irrelevant anyway. You have said in most of your presentations that Mayo’s involvement in SM has evolved over time. I feel like trying to monetize each step you took would be quite a headache!

  3. Well, I beg to differ, especially as it relates to the business use of these “free” platforms. While there is “no cost” to join and upload your content to these sites, they are cutting a deal with you; free hosting and delivery in return for loss of control, limited understanding of your audience, one-size fits all implementations and shared-to-no ability to monetize. The cost of this approach to your business or brand down the line can be significant.

  4. Peter – I can see that you would differ, as the vendor of a media player. Not exactly objective though, are you? You could have been a little more direct in disclosing the conflict.

    I’m not saying a customized, branded video player such as your company offers is a bad idea…as an addition to YouTube.

    But I guess that in the glass half-empty/half-full view, I’m the one who’s amazed that there is a glass with a whole bunch of water and that I didn’t have to pay for it.

  5. Lee, while I appreciate the plug, my reply was truly based on my marketing experience. And I totally agree with you, and have spoken often about the benefits of leveraging the “free” video sharing sites…as long as they are fully integrated into the overall content distribution and monetization strategy of your business. For many brands, the potential of having their content surrounded, overlayed, pre-rolled or post-rolled with ads being served by someone else, or having their audience exposed to other content, including that of their competitors, is not a sustainable way to build their business. At some point, even YouTube is probably going to have to make some money. So the question is, will your business fit into their equation or will they fit into yours?

  6. If you’re monetizing the content it’s one thing. If producing interesting content is instead a way to build awareness for you core business, monetizing is less of a concern.

    Always good to keep a watchful eye on trends…but for right now I think it would be a mistake to not take advantage of YouTube and other free platforms.

  7. Lee, what you say is technically true about taking advantage of being able to shift costs onto systems and processes paid for by others, but only if you have a purposely limited view about what “cost” means. Facebook and other sites are littered with moribund pages and accounts started by well-intentioned organizations lured by the “free” mantra who later realized, “Hey, there’s a lot involved in consistently being responsive and creating good content. Can we keep this up without moving people from other activities or hiring new people?” I address this topic in more detail here: “There’s Nothing Wrong with the Social Networking Industry that Some Honest (Cost) Information Won’t Fix” http://www.ddmcd.com/fix.html ).

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