The True Cost of Social Media – Measuring Opportunity Cost

If you’re a business owner who earns $70,000 a year,
your time on social media may be costing $21,000 annually

Is your business on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?  Do you spend a fair amount of time updating your posts and pages to inform and connect with customers?  Then it may be time to assess how much participating in social media is costing your business and whether it’s a good use of your time.

Social Media is Free, Isn’t It?

If you’ve hired a social media professional  to handle your business’s presence on the most popular sites, you know the hard costs of promoting your products and services, or establishing your brand and expertise, online.

But what if you handle social media yourself?  Most small business owners and entrepreneurs do, but that doesn’t mean social media is free.

Social Media’s Opportunity Cost to Your Business

Remember when your economics professor covered the concept of opportunity cost? Everything we do has a cost, even social media. One way to determine that cost is to access what your potential earnings would be if you used the time you invest in social media to focus on activities that will drive revenue for your business.

Ironing Shirts and Opportunity Cost

The best way I ever heard opportunity cost defined was listening to two business associates argue about whether or not they should iron their own dress shirts or send them out to the laundry.  One guy insisted that ironing his shirts himself was well worth his time, since he liked the way they felt when he wore them much better than the stiffer laundry-ironed variety.

But his peer asked him a few simple questions:  1) How much does the laundry charge to iron one shirt? Answer:  $3.00 per shirt.  2) How much do you earn per hour?  Answer:  $43.00 per hour. 3) How many shirts can you iron in an hour?  Answer:  3.

Doing the math, it was costing the guy who ironed his own shirts $14.33 per shirt based on the fact that he could be spending his time – and valuable time at that – doing other things.  If he’d sent his shirts out to the laundry, three shirts would cost him $9; but doing them himself cost him $43 – almost 500% more.

Evaluating the Cost and Worth of Social Media for Your Business

So what does all this mean for your business?  Using a simple method of assigning value just for argument’s sake, and leaving out the varied nuances and complexities of undefined ROI and brand value social media brings to your company, let’s see how much it costs a small business owner or entrepreneur to handle their own social media.

Assumptions: Business Owner A earns a net income of $40,000; Business Owner B, $70,000; Entrepreneur A, $100,000; Entrepreneur B, $120,000.  If they each work 50 hours per week, their hourly wages roughly come to $15, $27, $39, and $47 respectively.

The following chart estimates the opportunity cost each of them invest if they devote one, two, or three hours a day to social media.

An Hour a Day of Social Media Can Cost $12,267 Every Year

As you can see, investing only one hour a day toward social media can have real costs:

Business Owner A – $4,176
Business Owner B – $7,047
Entrepreneur A – $10,179
Entrepreneur B – $12,267

Three Hours a Day of Social Media Can Cost $36,801 Every Year

Business Owner A – $12,528
Business Owner B – $21,141
Entrepreneur A – $30,537
Entrepreneur B – $36,801

Making Social Media Profitable for your Company

That’s a lot of money.  So what are your options? The reality is that for entrepreneurs and small business owners, it’s hard to equate opportunity cost with checks you mail to vendors.  If you’re determined to handle your social media marketing yourself, there are things you can do to make your time worthwhile:

  • Limit your social media time to one hour or less per day
  • Schedule your tweets in advance using apps such as Tweetdeck, HootSuite, or Twuffer
  • Set specific goals for your social media presence and make sure your updates and tweets match those goals
  • Limit the time you spend looking at non-business related social media material
  • Sign up for an app which automatically sends a direct message to your followers and/or automatically follows back whoever follows you
  • Break your Twitter followers into usable lists, i.e. SEO, website design, social media, human resources, angel investors, etc.  That way you can scroll through a topic-specific list of tweets instead of hundreds that may be of no interest to you.
  • Take advantage of top sites which follow the important events happening in business, social media, tech, and the world instead of trying to keep track yourself.  I recommend Mashable, Alltop, Huffington Post, and your favorite newspapers and magazines.

If these tips don’t redirect your focus from social media to generating revenue, it may be time to hire a social media professional to take care of your online presence for you.  Only you can decide what your time is worth and how best to spend it for your company.


About Harvest Moon Publishing

Author: Ginny Bayes | As managing partner of Harvest Moon Publishing, Bayes has overseen the companies' television convergence sales programs and content provider services for 16 years. The company also provides extensive content developing and marketing services for broadcasters, businesses, and interactive agencies. Previously, Bayes owned Bayes & Associates Advertising, a Denver advertising and public relations agency. She also authored weekly commercial and residential real estate columns for The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News.
This entry was posted in business management, content marketing, Facebook, LinkedIn, marketing, small business, social media, Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The True Cost of Social Media – Measuring Opportunity Cost

  1. Mark C. says:

    Great article! It really helps to see how much a small business owner’s time is worth and how social media can whittle away our greatest asset: time. Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Socially Acceptable » Ok – so I am a Social Media Manager and this article is my new sales pitch. This article does an excellent job of breaking down the costs of implementing social media in your business without utilizing a Social Media Mana

  3. Ian says:

    A really informative and balanced article. It really helped me give this topic some thought. Thanks, Ginny.

  4. Pingback: Ok – so I am a Social Media Manager and this article is my new sales pitch. This article does an excellent job of breaking down the costs of implementing social media in your business without utilizing a Social Media Manager. There are so many busin

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