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According to a Salesforce survey carried out towards the beginning of this year, 70% of marketers planned to increase spending on social media and content marketing. In hindsight, that statistic’s not terribly surprising. Social networks, after all, have become a core element of our daily lives, integral to how we connect and communicate. For those marketers capable of selling to consumers through social platforms, they’re incredibly powerful, too – so much so that it borders on impossible to remain competitive without them.

“With the current marketing landscape, it is critical to invest the necessary time and resources for building and maintaining a top-notch social presence for your company,” writes Social Media Today’s Monica Jade Romeri, noting that 27% of total US Internet time is spent on social networks. “Social media is here to stay, and its influence continues to rise.”

Unfortunately, establishing your business on Facebook or Twitter isn’t as easy as creating an account and posting a few photos. If it were, there wouldn’t be an entire industry dedicated to it. There wouldn’t be scores of gurus online claiming to know the secret to success.

For many organizations, budgeting is their first – and most significant – stumbling point. The problem, I think, is that they’ve a distorted view of how much social marketing should cost, and how many resources it requires. As a result, they usually underspend, and their efforts fall short as a result.

“Management often thinks social should be free or really cheap, so they don’t invest in it,” explains Clayburn Griffin of Social Media Explorer. “These captains of industry haven’t figured out that in order to get the kind of results they are looking for, they need to support social with some resources. Ironically, they tend to forget about their lack of investment, and wonder why their social efforts are a dismal failure.”

“That’s not to say you need big bucks to create social media success,” he continues. “You don’t. I’ve seen some impressive results achieved with modest budgets…but expectations should be adjusted to correlate with the level of investment in both budget as well as staffing.”

That’s what we’re going to discuss in today’s piece. How much should your business spend on its social marketing efforts? More importantly, what steps can you take to get the most out of every dollar spent?

Plan First, Budget Second

First thing’s first, strategy is intrinsic to the success of any marketing endeavor – something Griffin notes is often overlooked where social media’s concerned. If you don’t know what you’re on Facebook to achieve, then it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at your campaign. Your results will be lukewarm, at best.

“Social media has been the next big thing for several years,” Griffin notes. “And now brands are increasingly throwing lots of money at it. Unfortunately, most of their investment is going down the drain.”

“Many brands treat social media like a shiny new toy: it’s different, it’s fun to play with, and most importantly, everyone else has one,” he continues. “The problem is that social media rarely has any strategy or business purpose behind it. As a result, social media typically benefits nothing more than corporate vanity.”

To avoid turning your social marketing into a money pit, you need to take the following steps:

  • Understand your purpose. Do you want people to know about your brand? Do you want to bring in new customers? Do you want to provide the customers you’ve already got with better service? Make sure you nail down a list of concrete objectives – that’ll allow you to shape your tactics and measure your success.
  • Know your target demographic. A campaign aimed at upper-middle-class teenagers will look very different from one aimed at Baby Boomer business executives.
  • Choose the right platforms (more on that later). This is largely based on the audience you want to reach.  This infographic provides a bit of insight.
  • Know your business – what is your unique selling point? What value do you offer your customers over competitors?
  • Put together a schedule, but make sure you leave a bit of flexibility/space for spontaneous posts, as well.
  • Devise a concrete social policy, including style and type of content you want to relay and the voice you want to relay it with. 

Look At How Much Others Are Spending

With a plan firmly in hand, your next step is nailing down exactly how much time and money you want to put into your campaign. There are a bunch of factors that come into play here, naturally – larger businesses are going to need to spend more, but likely have the budget to hire a devoted social media manager. Smaller organizations, meanwhile, will spend less, but may have to dedicate a bit more time to their efforts.

The easiest way to figure out how much you should be spending is to look at what your competitors are doing. Find a business of equivalent size to your own, and take a look at what they’re doing. This will help you shape your own efforts. Check out these larger brands and see what they are doing for ideas. 

If you want numbers that are a bit more concrete, IMI rescue team’s put together a great infographic concerning time management on social networks, while Web Strategies Inc has collected a wide range of digital marketing statistics from Forrester Research and The CMO Survey.  There’s also a fairly comprehensive breakdown of social marketing costs on Buffer

Between these three, you should be able to work out the details of your spending.

Hire A Social Media Manager

As noted by Griffin, a big problem businesses have with social marketing – especially smaller ones – is that they don’t really have a firm grasp of the time requirements of social marketing. Simply put, it’s a bad idea to try and balance management of your business with management of your social feeds. Hire someone to do the job.

And make sure they have marketing experience.

“Social media is a real-time brand bullhorn,” writes Meltwater’s Leslie Nuccio. “That anyone thought that hiring someone fresh out of school with no marketing experience as the public, real-time voice of a company was a good idea has always been baffling to me.  This hiring philosophy seems to stem out of an insecurity of upper management that has to do with feeling uncomfortable with a new technology and deciding that hiring someone who understood the nuts and bolts of Twitter was more important (and far cheaper) than having a fundamental understanding of solid marketing principles.”

You Need a Process

Next up, your social marketing efforts need to follow a process. What I mean by that is that you need to schedule your posts. Regularity is the key to building an audience on any social network – people don’t want to pay attention to anyone whose social feed is a complete ghost town, after all. To help you along in the development of your social tactics, Griffin advises that you look into a few tools, automating everything that doesn’t require a human touch.

“Tools will help boost the efficiency of your social media efforts,” he explains. “There are many free or inexpensive tools on the Web that can streamline your process, especially in regard to using the channel for listening. Google Alerts, Hootsuite and IFTTT are great tools for monitoring key terms and alerting you to take action. There are also tools like Twuffer that allow you to schedule updates. They let you make posts around the clock without having to work around the clock!”

Note that it is important to also have interaction past your scheduled posts. Those are just a base of your content, now it is the time to communicate with your followers.

Involve Your Audience and Employees

At its core, social media is about content marketing. Unfortunately, unless you’re a creative genius, you’re going to eventually have a bit of trouble coming up with fresh, unique stuff that’ll keep your audience engaged. Why not put marketing and creation in the hands of your audience?

What I mean by that is that you share stuff your target audience is sharing. Encourage your employees to act as brand advocates, even when they aren’t on the clock. See, that’s the real power of social marketing at its core: people.

In other words, social media is about the consumers – not your business. Keep that in mind, and you’ll do just fine.

Don’t Shotgun Your Efforts

While you shouldn’t tie yourself to a single social network, you also shouldn’t try to be involved in every single network on the web. That’s a sure-fire way to see yourself overwhelmed, and putting in only a token effort on each of your social feeds. Ideally, you want to look at the networks where your audience is most active, and focus on those..

Finally, Don’t Forget To Monitor

Last, but certainly not least, you need to keep a constant watch on your efforts. The more closely you monitor your campaigns, the better equipped you’ll be to adjust them if they prove ineffective. Plus, it’ll allow you to determine your ROI – and possibly justify further spending.

“When it comes to social media for business, the potential rewards can be great,” says social media director Jenelle McCleary.” “However, there can be changes in the market, in internet trends, and in the effectiveness of your campaigns in general. If you find your budget isn’t working, analyze why and make changes. If you find it to be more than successful, you can always decrease it and put those funds where they are more needed. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on marketing trends and costs too and to evaluate where you stand at least every quarter if not more often.”