Social Media Ain’t Free

Author’s Note: This post is a pointed effort to support Step #2 in the getting-the-world-to-respect-social-media odyssey: realizing that, to do social media well, you’ve got to be willing to pay for a job well done.

Though we’re not all the way there, small business owners, CEOs and marketing professionals have come a long way. They have not only started to a) accept that it’s here to stay, but they have also, b) begun to believe that social is essential for competitive business.

Companies like Chobani and Wells Fargo now have dedicated social media efforts. And agencies are no longer waiting for social media to “die out.” Really, they can’t afford to. The price is too high to forego. They must now staff to handle what is now reality: integrated communications, including social media strategy, execution and reporting.

But with one obstacle halfway behind us, it’s now onto the next:

Convincing these same people that it ain’t free!

Let me be the first to say that I understand how these misconceptions were bred, so I can’t really fault anyone:

  1. The fact that social media first rose to popularity in the context of personal use has challenged people’s natural inclination to separate work and play. Accordingly, since it is so prominently used on an individual basis, it’s assumed that, “Hey, anyone can do it.” It makes sense that companies would delegate it to the intern with the lowest bill rate.
  2. Social media basically forced businesses and consumers to evolve the definition of brand access. The idea of communicating in real-time, all the time wasn’t something that was previously a problem, or that required an infrastructure to support. Some steadfast business traditionalists are still trying to convince themselves that it’s not necessary to expand customer service to the social realm…even if that does mean efficiently managing the customer relationship.
  3. Social media isn’t like traditional media…or even digital media. These both have tangible costs associated with creating and placing an ad. Both have a physical payoff. That is, the person paying the bills can first approve the creative and then subsequently see it in a newspaper or on a website.

Social media, on the other hand, is different. To my peers’ ironic misfortune, social networks, forums, blogs—the online mainstays where we spend our time conversing with valuable prospects, existing customers and peers—are free to access. We don’t have to pay to set up a Facebook page. We don’t slide our credit cards to respond to a consumer review on Yelp. We don’t have to purchase an ad to be able to share exciting news with our constituents on Twitter.

But notice that in each of my three previous sentences, the act of not paying was associated with a verb. That is, we as social media professionals have to do something in order to cultivate these prospect and customer relationships.

Here it is in plain English:

The majority of a social media professional’s expense is labor. 

Since labor is intangible, companies make the mistake of confusing that with a lack of importance. Naturally, if this perception is even unconsciously translated to a monthly budget, how do you think that affects the portion dedicated to social media?

But if we take a step back and look into what goes into creating that social media strategy, execution and reporting that we talked about earlier, what would that look like in terms of man hours?

Well, let me give you an idea. These are the steps re:group goes through with a brand new social media client:

  1. Conduct a competitive social media audit
  2. Identify client business goals, social media objectives and metrics to support those goals
  3. Create a network-specific social media content strategy to guide content development
  4. Craft a social media policy that will dictate appropriate internal and community behavior on social media
  5. Develop an internal workflow and response strategy to address prospect and customer feedback online
  6. Design brand consistent creative to be the face of the client’s owned social media networks
  7. Create network-specific monthly content calendars to guide content creation and distribution
  8. Develop network-specific monthly content for use on social networks and blog
  9. Regularly monitor social media mentions of client’s brand, competitors and industry-specific keywords for conversation opportunities
  10. Manage the client’s owned social media networks, including publishing of content and the moderation of the community
  11. Provide monthly analytics, insights and recommendations to improve the performance of the social media program in regard the metrics established in #3

Oh, and for a reality check, numbers 7-11 are things that happen on a monthly basis to ensure that the client is always in real-time. Surprised?

I now have to ask the question: would you like to trust your living social brand in the hands of an intern with a laptop?

 Photo Credit: Flickr’s janoma.cl

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