Alright, so one of the weird little misconceptions I’ve been dealing with for a while now is the belief that social media marketing is, well, how do I say this? “Cheap.”

It’s an opinion often held by marketers, communicators, executives, and the like, many of whom have clicked on the pony-tailed chief’s ‘DIY’ blog and the clever, professionally underproduced video on YouTube and the messy, yet oddly functional fan page on Facebook, and because of this, have formed an opinion of what social media marketing is, how it’s done, and ultimately what it must cost.

And really, can you blame them?

These folks are simply making a calculation of value based on the tangible merit of what’s being presented to them — with very little insight, understanding or weight placed on the effort required to really bring these projects to life, let alone what it takes to keep them going and make them truly successful.

Of course, to complicate things, there’s a near endless parade of free online tools and services that are surfacing every month, each in their own way perpetuating the “man-this-stuff-is-cheap” mentality as their own hype cycles crest (cough, FriendFeed) and later crash.

Lastly, and most importantly, I think there’s a tendency in ROI conversations to over indulge in hard numbers sans consideration for all the underlying soft costs of social media projects. And by “soft costs” what I’m really getting at are the *absurdly high* time and attention investments that typically come with these projects and what are the unique shared scars among many a social media practitioner. If you’ve ever administered a blog or a community of sorts, you’ll know what I mean, nuff said.

Sadly, time and attention factors are often overlooked and greatly underestimated in most marketers’ understanding and appreciation of these projects.

Now, does this mean social media work can’t be done on the cheap? Nah, of course not. You go right ahead and create your corporate Blogger account and your executive’s MySpace page and that barely-discernible-but-kinda-indie looking mobile video of your company event;)

Kidding aside, just remember that free is never really free. That time’s an investment too. And that social media marketing requires a lot of it and because of this, “cheap” investments could end up costing you a bundle if you’re not clear about what you’re buying.

[This post has been cross-published to Media Guerrilla]