Social media is not “free” marketing

Many business leaders, especially those with limited marketing budgets, think of social media as a free way to deliver their brand’s message in the marketplace.  While it is true that the barriers to getting into the social media fray are low, there are costs to developing successful social media campaigns.

This post is not meant to deter any business from setting up a social media account.  By all means, pick a username, set up your profile and post a few logos and pictures, but be sure that you have considered the following:

  1. You will need to develop content regularly.  Simply developing an account and linking your website to your social media account is a futile exercise.  If you do not have a plan to deliver content—that is, posts, pictures, videos, infographics, etc.—regularly, you need to rethink your social media strategy.  The point of the social media account is to initiate a relationship with your target audience, which can only be done through regular communication.
  2. You may need multiple accounts.  Consider why you are setting up a social media account.  Are you trying to attract new customers?  Do you want to build brand awareness of a specific product?  Are you ready to answer customer questions?  If you search for Amazon on Twitter, you will find @amazon, @amazonkindle, @amazonvideo, @amazonassociate, @amazonappstore and @amazonhelp, among several other Amazon accounts.  Each one serves a different market need.  It is not likely that you will need as many accounts as Amazon, but it may be desirable to give customers a social service “line” that is distinct from your primary brand-building account.
  3. You should have an integrated marketing plan.  Your social media marketing strategy should be one component of your overall marketing strategy.  Think of it as an extension of what you do in other marketing channels and be sure your have consistent messaging across media.
  4. You must measure your social media efforts.  Given the time spent doing #1 through #3 above, you will want to be sure that there is value in your social media activity.  Are you getting enough views of posts to efficiently build awareness?  Are you reaching your target audience?  How has your customer satisfaction changed as a result of creating a social service account?

All of these things will affect the marketing budget but there are a few things you can do to mitigate the above costs.  For instance, there are tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck that increase the efficiency of managing social media accounts.  These solutions allow users to manage multiple accounts from a single platform.  They also allow users to schedule posts for a future day or time.  So, executing a social media strategy often becomes less arduous with these tools.

Being selective about which social media platforms you use can also mitigate costs.  It is not likely that you need to be on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and Google+ and Instagram and every other new social media.  Select the platforms that are most relevant to your target customer base and focus on optimizing your presence there.

Consider hiring a social media expert.  It may seem counterintuitive but if you are inefficient because of lack of familiarity with Hootsuite or because you do not have the bandwidth for developing content, it may make sense to hire an expert so that your time can be spent where you add the most value.

Social media is not free but with the right support and tools, it can be an effective and efficient component of the overall marketing strategy.