I love social media, and I absolutely acknowledge the power of tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The problem is that because we can register for and use these tools without spending any money we tend to think they’re free. The fact is, social media aren’t free — there are very real costs associated with social media. Sometimes these costs are blatant, and sometimes they’re hidden.
The blatant costs of social media are apparent every time an athlete gets fined or suspended for an ill-advised tweet. Politicians have been embarrassed, employees have been fired, and one guy even went to jail because of social media. In each of these cases, a free social media tool carried very real costs. But these are the blatant cases, and perhaps we assume we’re too savvy to ever fall victim to something like that. Which brings us to the hidden costs.
Everything you do has an opportunity cost — saying yes to one thing means you’re directly or indirectly saying no to something else. As I mentioned in this post, the reality of opportunity cost contributed to our decision to stop making COLLIDE Magazine. We have a finite amount of time, energy, attention, and resources, and so opportunity cost is an intrinsic part of our existence. That means that the decision to tweet or participate in a social media conversation is a decision to skip or delay something else.
The opportunity cost of a single tweet may seem so small that you’re tempted to disregard it all together. But what about the aggregate cost of all 20,000 of your tweets? What about the millions of status updates, blog posts, and videos that you’ve viewed? If we’re honest with ourselves, the costs begin to mount. The reality is that whatever priority we give to social media means a lower priority for something else, and so social media most certainly aren’t free.
Perhaps you’ve counted the cost of your social media engagement and you’ve decided that it’s worth it. If so, I’d congratulate you and support your findings. Why? Because you counted the cost in the first place. As long as you know social media aren’t free, I’m willing to bet you’re on the right track toward balancing the budget.