Social Media – The Cost of Free

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Okay, this may not exactly be news, but you know what? Social media is great. Social programs are easy to access, profiles are simple to set up, and these digital darlings can be used for social communication, professional networking, marketing, searching, news, popular culture studies…the list goes on and on.  The benefits of using social media are impressive, to say the least.  And hey. Did you know that they’re free? No kidding. For the grand total of zero dollars, every company in America can have its own Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, Xanga, and Flickr accounts. Marketing directors should be jumping in the streets.

Right?

Well, no, not exactly. Despite the low (read: nonexistent) financial cost of entry, social media do come with cost baggage, and as we all know, nothing is ever truly free. Unless you have the best internship program in the world, you’re likely to expend quite a few resources when it comes to social media strategizing, content production and editing, strategy execution, impact analysis, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Social media may be free, but they aren’t publishing themselves.

So yes, there’s a cost. That’s the bad news. But the ray of sunshine breaking through that gray cloud is this; with the right tools, not only can you consolidate your social media marketing workload, thereby saving much of the time and money necessary to utilize the tools, but you can also make a serious case for more resources to help your social media strategies blossom.

First, let’s take a look at the true cost of social media. For now, let’s assume that as a company, you want to produce five unique tweets per day as part of your marketing strategy. And let’s assume you pay your social media manager an annual salary of $30,000. And let’s say that between signing into Twitter, message conception, typing, double-checking for grammatical errors, adding photos, and positing the content, it takes an average 90 seconds to post each tweet. (We’re assuming a lot here, but the formula is the same for your precise numbers, whatever they may be.) At this assumed rate, you’re paying $280.80 per year in man hours. Not bad, right?

Now factor into the equation all the planning and crafting that goes into each marketing strategy, and the number of people who work to plan, create, and implement them. Don’t forget to add time for meetings, team lunches, brainstorming sessions, presentations, and reports. Then account for analytics. You’ll need a reliable program, someone who can adequately interpret the information (hint: your creative writer may not always be the best at crunching the numbers), and someone who can communicate all findings to the management in a way that everyone around the table can understand (hint #2: your number cruncher may not always be the best at translating numbers into English). Plus retweets (reposting other peoples’ tweets), @replies (public messages directed at a single user), and DM’s (direct messages).

And all of that is just for Twitter. What about Facebook? YouTube? Foursquare? LinkedIn? You want to have a wide-reaching social marketing campaign, right? All of a sudden we’ve gone from free to upwards of twenty, thirty, heck, maybe even forty thousand dollars a year. How are you going to reconcile that kind of cost to your CFO? You say, “I need $40,000,” she says, “I need results.” How do you measure the success of your social media system?

So you have two problems. One, you’re spending a lot of money on your social media marketing. Two, you’re not getting the money you need to spend on social media marketing because you’re not sure how to measure the ROI of your strategies.

Let’s take these two problems one at a time. The first one is the money and time being spent. Meetings will be meetings, business lunches will be business lunches, and brainstorming sessions will be brainstorming sessions. There may not be a whole lot to be done about that. But it is possible to consolidate a few other social media strategy aspects. There are tools out there (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that Gremln is one of them) that can help you manage all of your major social media accounts from one dashboard. Post to Facebook, tweet on Twitter, and start a discussion on LinkedIn from the same website. It’ll sure save you time, and as we’ve all been told our whole lives, time is money. Consolidation can cut down your man hours down by 20 percent or more, depending on your particular strategy. This translates into greater efficiency, which leads to lower marketing costs with the same great results. Problem #1: Solved.

On to problem #2. Even if you’ve lowered the amount of money you’re spending on social media, there’s still a cost. Your employees haven’t been replaced completely (and glad they are of that). So how do you measure a successful return on investment and justify your slice of the never-quite-big-enough marketing budget?

It may be difficult to prove that your social media strategies are having a positive impact on the company’s bottom line; even increasing cash inflows are hard to nail down as a strong correlation without suspicion. But good news; it can be done! Analytics programs can not only track revenue generated on e-commerce sites as a direct result of social media posts, but can also provide post density, audience activity, conversational trends, and demographic criteria for click tracking, like language, country of origin, city, region, et cetera. Not only can you prove that, yes, your social media message is reaching audiences and it’s having an impact on your web sales, but you can also take the activity information, lay it over your company’s sales and revenue charts, and map out exactly which successful tweets, posts, photos, videos, and campaigns corresponded with sales peaks, and which might have led to lulls.

Does this require a little legwork? Sure. Might you need a hand from someone a little better versed in data crunching? Possibly. But can you run these analyses in-house and show the Powers-That-Be that your social media strategy is paying off, and is likely to be even more successful with a few more resources funneled your way? You betcha. Besides, any social media engagement suite worth its salt will provide you with easy-to-create and easy-to-read charts and graphs, thereby doing most of the hard work for you. Problem #2: Solved.

So it is possible to lower the cost of social media marketing and provide insightful justification into the impact those cash resources are having on the bottom line. Social media may not exactly be the free programs they’re cracked up to be, but with good planning and properly implemented strategies, upper management will feel like it’s getting the deal of a lifetime.

How do you justify social media expenses at your company? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

 

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