Why social media for business is never “free”

Time for small biz social media If we had a pound for every time we’d heard some dodgy ‘social media guru’ proclaim the wonders of “free” social media sites that can magically double your business overnight, we’d be so wealthy we could retire early and live the good life in the Bahamas.

Social media marketing is a tool to help you grow your business, and like any kind of business growth it will always incur one of two costs: money or time. The cost of money doesn’t really need explaining(!) so we’re going to look at how much it really costs to spend your business’s time on social media marketing and blogging.

Why time spent on social media is so expensive

There’s an understandable preference amongst small businesses to spend time rather than money on social media, because the latter is a finite resource, often in scarce supply. However, we’re going to make the case that it is actually time which is the more dangerous expenditure for small businesses who want to get results from social media.

A survey of 500 small businesses by LivingSocial revealed that most SMEs are struggling to get a financial return from social media, with 68% of respondents failing to realise the full potential of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ etc, and more than a third generating less than £150 a year from their social media activity. Fewer than a quarter (23%) were managing to generate over £1,000 per year from their social media efforts.

A lot of small businesses end up in the unfortunate position of putting a lot of time into social media for not much return. The LivingSocial report concludes that UK SMEs lose a collective £554 million every year because of poor social media marketing.

Let’s have a look at why this could be the case – and it starts with who’s in charge.

The overburdened Marketing Manager

Stressed marketing managerOften the person tasked with the responsibility of setting up and running social media accounts and a blog for the business will either be the owner, or the Marketing Manager. In either case, this individual will have a finite number of hours in the day and will already be responsible for creating and executing the business’s entire marketing strategy.

Social media marketing is an inherently tricky beast to tame – it may look like all you have to do is log-on to Twitter and start posting haikus with hashtags, but this won’t get you very far. Several different skills are needed to make a success of social media marketing, including: copywriting, journalism, blogging, community management, design, research, strategic planning, analysis, and of course marketing.

Usually what happens is the entrepreneur or Marketing Manager who has been tasked with social media on top of their regular workload will find themselves needing to cut corners to get through the sheer amount of work involved, resulting in activity without effectiveness.

A time-calculation exercise

How much of your own or your Marketing Manager’s time is likely to be taken up with writing blogs, researching social content, publishing status updates, interacting with fans, and attempting to measure results, alongside all other responsibilities?

The answer will vary for each business, so this exercise is designed to help you calculate the amount of time needed to implement each part of a social media strategy.

Add up the number of hours each week you think need to be allocated to the following breakdown of social media marketing:

Small business blogging time
[Infographic published by Silicon Republic.]
  • Up-skilling and training
  • Strategy and planning
  • Competitor research
  • Researching content
  • Writing blogs
  • Creating social content
  • Formatting and publishing
  • Community management
  • Measuring results

When you’ve got your total number of hours per week, multiply it by the hourly wage you pay to your Marketing Manager, or draw from the business yourself, making sure to factor in any holiday pay, sick pay or tax.

How much are your “free” social media profiles really costing your business?

You should attempt to answer this question both in terms of the monetary cost of the number of hours and the opportunity cost of what else could have been accomplished within those hours.

Two things a social media agency can offer

It’s almost always more expensive to try to run your own social media strategy in-house than to hire an agency – and this is because a social media agency offers your business two valuable advantages:

  1. Expertise – They will have a team of experts in all areas of social media marketing and will be able to put together a strategy uninhibited by any limit in skills.
  2. Efficiency – They do social media marketing day in day out so they’ll know how to make efficient use of your budget and maximise your return on investment.

A good agency should always be completely transparent about their method and approach. They should also offer you a way of measuring your results and provide on-going support. Most important of all, they should seek to work with you rather than take over from you.

The best social media strategies are those where the spirit of the business shines through as a result of excellent communication between agency and client (but where the legwork is done by the agency!)

If you need help with your social media marketing strategy, you may want to consider taking out one of our small business blog and social media packages. Prices start from £249 per month.

1 Comment

  1. To do social media “right” (whatever that might mean for your business), takes lots of time. And it might take money, too. It is not always an either/or proposition.

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