Baller On a Budget: Social Media Costs

A large majority of brands - small and large - are utilizing social media to market their businesses (of course) but many are still in the dark about their return on investment (ROI) from the various networks as well as how to properly budget for both the time and money it takes to actively acquire and retain on social.


In fact, 2016 data from the Content Marketing Institute indicates that one of the top challenges for business-to-business marketers is the lack of content marketing budget (a category in which social is the most used tactic). There is likely a reason for that as we're seeing a snowball effect in that marketers have a lack of buy-in from higher-ups - and thus no budget flexibility - but if they were able to prove ROI that may not be the case.


Quick Tracking Tips


Enterprises can do better and that starts with understanding current performance and using tracking mechanisms for future initiatives. Here's a quick, high-level overview of ways to track social's ROI:


Generate custom URLs to track whether links shared on social networks help accomplish the goals set up in Google Analytics (e.g., purchases, sign-ups, whitepaper downloads, etc.).


Examine the metrics provided by the networks themselves and a social media management platform to test elements like optimal time to post (such as when a brand's Facebook users are most active - see image), types of content to share, copy and more to generate higher engagement (click throughs are best while shares come in a close second to increase organic reach).



Understand which networks your audience is most active on (and when) to maximize time spent. For instance, Taco Bell which caters to a millennial audience was wise to be an early adopter of Snapchat (which shares a similar following) whereas it would be downright wasteful for an organization like AARP (with its baby boomer demographic) to spend any energy on the ephemeral social network.


Cost Considerations


Understanding (and being able to show) how social media efforts are contributing to a company's bottom line (both revenue and reach) is crucial as is budgeting for these initiatives. The following are some cost considerations to make when formalizing a budget:



Thirty-three percent of marketers devote 1-5 hours weekly to social media followed by 6-10 hours each week (25 percent). The more mature a social media strategy is, however, the more time is spent. Even so, however, employee hours are not often calculated in a social media budget. This shouldn't be the case as those responsible for posting and strategizing a brand's social presence (as well as responding and delegating incoming customer service inquiries and brand mentions) have a dollar amount associated with them. What's more, with anywhere from 1-10 hours a week spent on social, they are not doing other tasks. Enterprises would be wise to associate staff hours on social with their overall investment on the channel.



Social networks, particularly Facebook, are marketing hubs. Although organic search sends the most website traffic, Facebook has made it incredibly easy for businesses to target very specific groups (down to location, other pages Liked, occupation, age, etc.) in order to gain new business or activate old. Brands should allocate money toward social advertising because it will prove to be more difficult each passing day to reach audiences organically. In fact, Instagram just announced its own newsfeed algorithm. What this means is that before posts were only sorted by time on the Facebook-owned property and now what users see first will be based on Instagram's algorithm for showing photos and videos based on the likelihood individuals will be interested in the content as well as the relationship with the person (and brand) posting and the timeliness of the post.


Instagram has revealed advertising options in the past, but this is the biggest move to date to get brands to jump the line - and pay for higher placement. To compete on social networks, enterprises will need to advertise but luckily the networks provide a variety of options for all budgets. Check out, "Accelerated Guide to Social Ad Targeting."



Many social media management platforms have free options but those dedicated to successful social campaigns will need to select a subscription plan that allows for more robust features like reporting, multiple account management and brand monitoring options. Aside from platforms like Sprout Social, Buffer and Hootsuite, enterprises may also want to consider standalone analytics platforms like Simply Measured and/or Quintly.


Other social solutions worth exploring and adding as line items are BuzzSumo (content research/analysis), Pagemodo or Canva (to create professional graphics on the cheap) and bitly (to share vanity short URLs).




Social media is nothing without content but if the material is primarily for website audiences, content creation should likely be a different budget altogether. That said, social-specific campaigns like giveaways, Twitter chats and similar network initiatives should be on social's dime because these campaigns take time to conceptualize, implement, promote, manage and analyze.


Balling On a Budget


Despite access being free, social media efforts take time and money. Enterprises that allow for allocation of funds to help managers improve their acquisition and retention initiatives on the various networks are those on the fast track to social success.