There are a multitude of online platforms that provide the ability for an organisation to share multimedia assets free. Youtube, Flickr, Vimeo, even Facebook all provide a facility to make images or video files available for the media or consumers to access for free. But what does free really cost?


“Free” means instability

When you are paying for the services involved, you have a contract with certain guarantees of uptime. However, when you are building your online presence on someone else’s platform, you run the risk of their associated traffic outages. This was demonstrated quite dramatically in early 2011 when, a social media platform used by some businesses to generate their own corporate news and information feed, went offline for about a day-and-a-half.

If you’re trying to enhance a service or a campaign, you might be able to survive on free providers. But you are at their mercy with no-one to call when something goes wrong.

“Free” means no support

Facebook, Google and Twitter support more than a billion accounts among them. How many people are in their Support departments? Are you ready to spend all of your time going through self-help and FAQs and user forums to find answers to your questions? Be prepared to find a small community of people who would be willing to help, if only they knew anything themselves.

Now, there are aspects of that connectivity that you can’t replicate anywhere else. If you’re going to be on Twitter and Facebook, then you’re on their platform because they own all the connections. Just don’t be surprised if you don’t get great response times for your issues.

“Free” means you’re volunteering your labor

Sure, there’s no set-up fee and no hosting fee and no ongoing maintenance fee… but these social networks don’t populate themselves. More importantly, they don’t spend the time to research and discover the content you ought to be connecting to your customers. Most importantly, they don’t know a thing about your strategy, your needs, or your goals.

You obviously do know what all of those things are, and it makes sense that you would be involved in representing your organisation online. But unless you’re willing to write off all your activity as pro bono, then there is a cost involved.

“Free” means vanilla

Vanilla is a fine flavour, and it goes with almost everything. Unfortunately, it also goes with everything else.

Prepare to spend a lot of time in figuring out how to make your social media destination look like everything else you own online – or be prepared to pay someone to do that for you. If you cut corners, you dilute your branding, and that isn’t getting you anywhere.

“Free” means starting from scratch

It makes no sense to be in social media for your business or organisation if you’re unwilling to put some advertising support behind it.

Every Facebook page starts with zero fans – every Twitter account starts with zero Followers (and the ones you can buy are worthless to you) – and every blog starts with zero subscribers and no organic traffic.

If you don’t tell anyone you are out there, they will not find you quickly enough to matter.

The biggest mistake in “doing social” and the number one reason social media underwhelms is that there’s no support for it. If you’re going to be on Twitter and Facebook, let’s see the logos on your site, and on your ads, and on your billboards, and on your email signature, and on your letterhead…

“Free” means sending users away to get what they want

This may be the most important. The media require multimedia assets to support their articles so it makes sense to have all of your images, audio and video in one place.

Having one free platform for your media realises, another for your images and yet another for video means they cannot be linked together in any kind of cohesive fashion. Even worse, because the layout of each free platform is different, actually finding the related multimedia assets can be an arduous task.

The likelihood of frustrating (and therefore losing the interest of) the media increases dramatically when they are told 'follow this link for our image gallery' only to find that they have to search the gallery to find what they are looking for.

Calculating the cost of “Free”

Now we’re actually in a better position, because once you’ve eliminated all those false zeroes out of the equation, we can calculate just how much return on investment you will see from free platforms.

The best way to think about this is compared to the cost of your current website:

  1. How much did you pay for pre-design research?
  2. How much did you pay for design?
  3. How much did you pay for usability studies?
  4. How much do you pay for hosting?
  5. How much do you pay for analytics/measurement/site-tracking?
  6. How much do you pay for integration with marketing resources and mail lists?
  7. How much do you pay for search engine optimisation?
  8. How much do you pay to generate new content and update your site?

Now, look at those costs, and think about your social media outlets as microsites with much smaller costs. The platforms already exist, and they do many of those things on the list for you (specifically #s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). Yes, there is design and additional content to deal with, but you’re not starting from scratch.

However in gaining all of these benefits you lose 'the power of the package', you risk the perception of professionalism with your communications and you are likely to miss out on media opportunities simply because the level of availability journalists want and those you are providing are vastly different.

If you are making it complicated for the journalists to retrieve your media material, they will turn to someone else who makes it easy.

The Hidden Cost of “Free”

That’s the real secret of free with social media platforms: it’s not free and it’s never been. What it does is give you additional tools to use to achieve your outcome.

When it comes to an Online Newsroom, it's vital to perform due diligence by researching and analysing all of your choices. Decide whether your Online Newsroom will be hosted and maintained internally, or if you will use an external vendor.

Learn the actual costs of maintaining hardware required to host an online newsroom, as well as the cost of software development. Review the current salary ranges for technical professionals, and how many will be necessary to monitor the system 24 hours a day.

Be aware of the hidden costs involved in using free software for your online newsroom. Investigate at what point charges begin to accrue.

Remember, the communicator’s job is to focus on content, not code. If you decide that building an online newsroom on your own is not for your internal team, start the vendor comparison process.

See which one works best for your needs. Is the supplier established? Does the supplier have adequate resources? Does the supplier offer the necessary features and functionality? Does the supplier include hosting and training in the cost? Does the supplier understand the media and their requirements?

Wieck is expert at building, populating and maintaining media-friendly Online Newsrooms that give editors fast access to print, online and broadcast-ready digital assets.

Wieck Australasia is operated by media professionals with vast experience in the news and public relations industries.

Wieck leverages this solid news background to efficiently deliver media-friendly text, photo, audio and video files.

Wieck complements your IT staff by taking on the time-consuming chores that Online Newsrooms bring, such as ongoing site maintenance, digital asset management, and proactive handling of bandwidth and security issues.

No matter how many hours you work or how many late-night phone calls you field from reporters and editors, it isn’t always humanly possible for one person or department to keep up with a constant stream of queries from journalists in the era of a 24 hour news cycle.

Wieck can provide you with both the solution and the support that keeps you connected 24/7.