How social media is like printer toner

Dell Color Laser Network Printer 1320cn by liewcf on Flickr

On Monday, I was in a meeting with Steve Cebalt, a consultant who specializes in helping nonprofit communicators tell their stories. During our conversation, Steve presented an analogy I think is worth keeping in mind when thinking about the ROI of social media.

“It’s a little of like printer toner,” Steve said*. “No one thinks about the cost all that much, but it’s definitely not free. And when you’re the one paying for it, you definitely pay more attention to the cost.”

I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Organizations need to pay attention to the cost, while also understanding that–in some cases– social media represents a simple cost of doing business, like printer toner, telephones, energy, a water cooler, etc. It absolutely should provide a return, and you should do everything to measure the investment and the return. But even when you can’t measure it precisely, it’s still a necessary expenditure. After all, imagine if you office ran out of paper toner. You might get by for a day or two, but not much longer than that.

*Keep in mind that I’m paraphrasing here. I’ve invited Steve to comment in case I misrepresented what he said.
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2 Responses to How social media is like printer toner

  1. Andy Welfle says:

    How true. And when you break it down into its individual components, it’s WAY more expensive than you think. And when one color runs out, your output is lacking. And when, um, you shake the cartridge, you, uh, get more out of it…?

    I think, like usual, I bear the metaphor into an unrecognizeable mass.

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