I am obsessed with the Real-Time feature that Google Analytics added a few months ago, and am constantly checking it throughout the day. It shows you how many visitors are active on your site at any moment, as well as what page they are viewing, and how they arrived at your blog.
At almost any time during the day when I check who is currently on this blog, the odds are at least one person is here because they were sent here from Google after searching for something related to the cost of social media. These three posts I wrote on How Much Social Media Costs Companies in 2010, 2011 and 2012 are by far the 3 most popular posts on this blog.
What’s been interesting to me is that I’ve received two main forms of feedback on these posts, and the prices quoted:
1 – Small business owners and those that are self-employed think the prices are way too high.
2 – People that work for large companies think the prices are way too low.
So this feedback, coupled with the fact that many people are searching for information on pricing, tells me that many companies and business owners are in the dark as to how much basic social media marketing services will cost them. And as much as we would like to believe that most companies in 2012 ‘get’ the importance of Social Media, from what I’m seeing, there’s no shortage of companies that are just now starting to investigate if social media marketing is for them.
So if your company is trying to decide how much it will cost to begin using social media, here’s what to consider:
1 – Think about WHAT you want to accomplish with social media. Here’s a post I wrote on Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Creating a Social Media Strategy (But Were Afraid to Ask!). No, you don’t have to create an elaborate 50-page document on how your family-owned seafood restaurant should be using social media, but the point here is to have you put some thought into why you want to use social media. The quickest way to waste money on social media is to invest in using tools that won’t help you accomplish your goals. Otherwise, most companies could simply launch a blog, and start accounts on Twitter and Facebook and be done with it.
2 – Start small, grow as you better understand the tools. Let’s be honest, doing social media effectively takes a serious time commitment. The companies that we today laud as wonderful social media case studies are frequently large companies that have had a dedicated social media team in place for years. So if your company’s social media team is comprised of YOU, and you are new to social media, suddenly diving in and trying to launch 5 different social media accounts for your business is probably the fastest way to go no where.
Instead, as you begin to flesh out why you want to start using social media, think about the goals you have, and then prioritize the tools that will help you reach those goals. For example, if your tech company wants to build awareness and you believe that a blog, presence on Google Plus and Twitter will best help you, the prioritize those tools in order of importance. So instead of launching all three presences at once, maybe it makes more sense to first start on creating and growing your blog. Then after a few weeks, you can begin to spend more time with Google Plus, using it first as a tool to get better research, then as a way to promote your new posts. You may start interacting with some customers there, and you can follow them to Twitter and do the same there. Just remember this, it is far easier to build and audience and move it to a new location than it is to try to build two new audiences at the same time.
3 – Avoid the shiny, follow the value. Invariably, the social media space creates a new ‘darling’ tool every 6-12 months. This time last year, everyone was in love with Quora. Earlier this year, everyone was on the Pinterest bandwagon, and even now that’s starting to die down. For whatever reason, this space loves to overhype newish tools, and you’ll suddenly see all manner of posts and articles devoted to why every business MUST now be on Quora/Plus/Pinterest.
Don’t believe the hype. You shouldn’t ignore these new tools, but you should research them to make a thoughtful decision on whether or not your business should adopt its usage. Let value created determine if you jump on the Flavor of the Month, not hype.
4 – Don’t start using Social Media due to fear of being left behind. This ties in with the above point, but you need to adopt social media based on sound business value, not on fear that ‘everyone’s doing it and we’ll be left behind if we don’t start’. I had a company contact me once and say that they were ready to start using social media ‘the sooner, the better!’. I started asking some questions, and it turns out that they hadn’t even considered using social media until an industry newsletter they were subscribed to came out with its latest issue proclaiming that every business owner in that space had to start using social media right now!
I’ll say again, from my experience and in my opinion, most businesses are NOT using social media, and most of the ones that are, aren’t doing so very effectively. So the idea that all your competitors are using social media and doing exceptionally well with it, is most likely a myth. Granted, you shouldn’t ignore social media, but you have plenty of time to do some research and decide if social media is right for you. Again, let your decision to adopt social media be dictated by the value it can create for you, not the fear of being left behind.
Now, I raised these points because time is the most common currency companies will spend when it comes to social media. These points were mentioned to help keep you from spending more time on your social media efforts than is necessary.
But let’s talk more specifically about costs. Let’s start with an example of a mid-sized company that has one person in charge of social media, and one person that helps her on a part-time basis. Both of these people are eager to learn, but have limited knowledge of social media. This company has decided to launch a blog. There’s three ways they can go about this:
1 – Do it themselves. The advantage to this approach is that obviously, they won’t have to directly pay for the blog. But since the two employees will be literally learning as they go, there will be a big time commitment involved, and when you consider their salaries, that’s a real expense.
2 – Hire an agency to ghost-write the blog for them. This will be the most expensive option, but it also frees up the two employees to not worry about the content creation process. Still, if the employees aren’t actively monitoring the blog and responding to issues raised by customers on (and off) the blog, it can cause more trouble than its worth.
3 – Do the blog themselves, but hire a consultant or agency to train/mentor them. Unless I am extremely confident in the company’s ability to handle the blog themselves, I typically encourage them to go this route. And yes, I offer Social Media and Blog Training. A big reason why I like this option for the company is because you can customize the level of training you think you need or can afford. For example, if you hire an agency to create and write your blog for you, you will incur setup fees as well as likely several thousand dollars a month in ongoing costs. But by doing the blog yourself with ongoing training, you can spend less plus typically tier the training costs so they decrease as you become better at developing your blog.
So if you want to spend as little as possible on social media marketing, remember these tips:
1 – Do your research and build a plan. Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish with social media. This will save you a ton of time down the road. And for smaller companies especially, time is money.
2 – Start small, then grow. Unless you have a 10-person social media team and a 6-figure budget, it’s probably best to start with one or two social media tools, then build others out as you can.
3 – Comparison shop. Get quotes from multiple consultants/agencies for the services you think you will need.
If your company is using social media, what pricing advice would you give other companies? Did you do it yourself, or pay someone to help?