I was at a great conference for entrepreneurs last week and there was a lot of talk from the front of the room about using PR, blogging and social media. Lots of good advice was dished out, but I took exception to the repeated idea that these channels are free.

Certainly, in many cases you can use these channels without paying a fee, unlike, say advertising. But if that doesn't make them free. There are costs associated with generating content, analyzing data and managing relationships -- and that's what effective PR, blogging and social media are all about. The time and resource spend isn't trivial, whether you're handling these functions in-house or farming them out to an agency or contractor.

Many moons ago, I was the director of marketing at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. My team essentially functioned as the creative agency within the school, working with different divisions to develop outreach materials. We didn't "charge" for our services, but we decided to track our hours for each "client" just to see where we were spending most of our time. It was a real eye-opener. And the information enabled us to align our "spend" more appropriately to the dean's goals for the School and its programs.

I'm not saying you have to go that far. But as we head into Q4, it's a good time to think about what you're going to do in 2012 to promote your enterprise. And while you're doing that, don't forget to factor in the cost of staff (or contractor) time and your desired results. This will allow you to understand the true "cost" of these "free" activities so you can better evaluate their value to your organization.