Media Perspective: It's going to cost you if you want the 'free' publicity Apple gets

Elsewhere in these pages, I've written 1,000 words on the new iPad. I won't say it was easy - that might incline the ever-vigilant editorial staff to reduce my fee - but I can't complain that there was a shortage of opinion out there I could use for inspiration.

If aliens had landed last week, they would have interrogated our data streams and concluded that President iPad was doing the State of the Union and John Terry had signed on as vice-president.

The iPad was everywhere. And, of course, after every significant Apple launch, we sit in meetings and stare at briefs that demand some of that "free publicity". At which point, in a deeply irritating manner, I'm likely to point people to a marvellous article called "You can't innovate like Apple" (Google it, you'll find it), which points out just what a unique operation Steve Jobs has built. It's expensive, slow and inefficient, and it's geared to one thing - making incredibly distinctive and revolutionary products. A by-product of that is tons of publicity, but, let's remember - none of it is free, it's expensive. You only get it if you have a business like Apple.

That might be the most significant lesson to learn as the professional marketing world grapples with the social web - Social Media is Not Free. Certainly, you might save money from your media budget, but if you're going to take social media seriously, it's going to cost you money.

I went through Heathrow a few weeks back, just as the snow was melting, and was concerned about my journey - I found the airport Twitter account both useful and informative. And they don't have to pay anything to reach me, or anything to establish the account - but they have to pay someone to do it. Someone they trust to talk on their behalf, to the whole world, in real time, with no legal or managerial filter.

Those people don't come cheap - as evidenced by the fact that it closes down at the weekend. And even if you use someone who's already employed, it still takes time, it still costs money.

These are issues that brand businesses are starting to face - they can save cash but they have to add headcount. Or, if they decide to outsource this social media stuff to agencies, they're accepting that their most connected customers and many of their most valuable relationships are no longer in their hands. If that's not a core activity of the business, I'm not sure what is, but many are prepared to offload it. Weird.

Ironically, of course, Apple isn't particularly brilliant at social media. It isn't very conversational, doesn't blog and Twitter and poke. But then Apple doesn't have to: it makes extraordinary products. The rest of us aren't so lucky.