This is a post about a meandering thought on which my brain snagged over weekend, the hypothetical question ofย  “what would your organisation do if one of the free social media platforms they’ve invested in suddenly required you to pay to use?”

I was particualarly thinking about Twitter as an example of this. Many councils and public sector agencies have invested time and resource in using the platform – some still using it as a broadcast channel but many are moving toward it being a customer service and engagement channel. From the tales I hear from my peers lots are really beginining to see the value in this to the organisation, citizens are expecting this service and when they get it (and it works well) they’re positive about council’s engaging in this way.

But, my mind idly wondered, would councils be so keen to pursue the channel if they had to pay? Indeed, would they be able to pursue it, regardless of desire, in these cash-strapped times? Although we’re all thinking of digital by default (aren’t we?), would a fairly new online channel such as this win out against a traditional channel if there’s only so much money to go around.

I had some conversation’s along these lines when Hootsuite moved to a paid-for model. This is (was) quite a popular tool with the local gov sector for managing not only their Twitter presence but other social media profiles as well.

When it moved to a paid-for model lots of councils were forced to question whether they could justify continuing to use it and would sticking with the free version make it useless to them as features they relied on disappeared behind the paywall.

But what if not only the tool but the platform started to demand your cash? What would you do if Twitter suddenly announced a pay structure was coming into place? (And how Twitter is / will become profitable is one of those cyclical questions online).

Would you be back to the beginning on trying to explain it’s use and value to the organisation? Are you currently gathering any quantitative or qualitative data which might help you if you ever needed to make this case? Is how and when you use this channel part of any of your organisation’s strategies and do they consider what would happen if it suddenly wasn’t something you could rely on for free (thinking not just of your content / web / digital strategy here but also how it fits with your emergency / crisis comms strategy)?

That’s quite a lot of questions for something which may never happen. I guess a parallel question would be: have you got an exit strategy? Are you monitoring how much of your population actively use Twitter or how it is a starting point for information which then gets diseminated more widely through other channels? At what point would you scale back your effort in the channel or leave completely?

Because social media is still relatively new, and many are still fighting the battle to use it in the first place, I’m not sure how many people are thinking about what would happen if they had to leave due to cost to them or a diminishing audience unwilling to pay for their social media.

*If you’d like to hear me speak about Magic Numbers: Measuring the Quality and Quantity of Social Media check out the Epic Social Media for the Public Sector South West event happening in Exeter on 7 February 2012.

*I’ll stick this in as my contribution to #weeklyblogclub. Second week of the year and second post – my resolution remains intact so far!