“Paid” is not a four-letter word

Recorded on 2014-01-06

Okay, so there are four letters in “paid”, but you know what I mean.

More people are recognizing that there is a lot of value in social media and content marketing, but often they don’t fully understand these tools as marketing vehicles. Many of the people I talk to seem to think social media and content marketing are so great because they are toll-free highways to exposure, search engine dominance, celebrity, and riches. At the same time, they think that paying for any sort of exposure is a waste of time or some form of cheating. They’re convinced that getting the social/blog/content formula right means they should never need to spend any money on online marketing.

But “paid” doesn’t need to be a dirty word, because “free” doesn’t mean free and “paid” isn’t cheating.

“Free” doesn’t mean free

Just because you don’t have to spend any money to create a Facebook page, Twitter profile, blog post, or Google+ profile, doesn’t mean results come for free. It takes tons of effort, creativity, time, expertise, and insight to create and execute a proper social media and content marketing plan.

Before you even type one character into a tweet, there is a lot of planning that needs to go into finding your audience and understanding what their needs are to be sure you aren’t wasting time. You don’t want to waste your time, but more importantly, you never want to waste the time of your audience. First, you need to invest some time observing your audience. Where do they spend time online? What do they like doing offline, besides the obvious things that are closely related to the product or service you offer to them? What stage of life are they in? How much money do they make in a year?

With the answers to those questions you then need to start thinking about how you can use that information to help them. If you’re a bank and you want to attract young families, you can create a monthly email newsletter that provides them with quick tips and services to save them time and spend more of it with their children, for example. If you’re a realtor you could create an official definitive checklist of all of the things your audience will need to accomplish on moving day, such as calling the utility company, the cable company, ordering pizza for their “free” labour (see what I did there), etc.

Finally, you need to create a schedule and stay in front of them. You need a carefully considered content calendar, established tone of voice, and a suite of tools to make it as easy as possible for you to deliver. You need to brainstorm content ideas, things to write and tweet and Facebook about. You need enough to satisfy the schedule in the content calendar you’ve created.

All of this takes time, energy, and creativity. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that time, energy, and creativity don’t grow on trees. And if something doesn’t grow on trees, it isn’t free. That’s what my parents taught me, anyway.

“Paid” isn’t cheating

After all of that hard work, hopefully you now realize that there is no dishonour in paying to put the value you’ve crafted in front of the people you created it for. It isn’t cheating to place ads on a site where your audience likes to get their entertainment news, browse for vintage dolls, or share their hatred over the way Apple changed the icons on their beloved phones. Actually, it’s pretty smart, and it shows you know your audience well enough to offer them the things they wanted in places they never thought to look for them. And they probably didn’t even realize they wanted those things until you showed them.

If you’ve taken the time to understand your audience enough and you’ve put the things you’ve crafted for them in the places they will find it, then your content will do well. You should be absolutely confident by this point that what you are doing is actually serving them, so why should you feel dirty for using your marketing dollars to give it to them? You should really be feeling like the most generous person in the world.

Here’s the thing: you are not buying “Likes”, clicks or +1s, you are buying the opportunity to earn these things at a faster pace than you would have if you worked to earn them organically, one by one, without any monetary intervention. There is nothing wrong with that.

Now that you know deep down you are spending that money to serve the right people, at the right place and time, you can eliminate all guilt you may have been feeling. All that research you did, the time you took to understand who you were trying to serve, that’s going to show in what you’ve produced for them. So get it out there any way you can. You want to build your audience by exposing them to your genius philanthropy, and if you have to—especially at the beginning of a campaign—pay for that exposure. They’re gonna love you for it.