Every B2B marketing manager must grapple continually with the following question: What’s the optimal commitment of time and resources for managing social media? It’s tempting to shortcut an in-depth analysis by consulting an industry-specific survey and choosing a median (or mean) value based on a percentage of marketing spend. Bigger marketing budgets of course offer more opportunities to play in social media channels. Large companies will, on average, spend more than smaller companies.
We know everyone is busy, but this approach is shortsighted. Social media resource allocation requires in-depth consideration and a more nuanced approach.
First, some basics …
Social media is a set of channels just like other marketing channels. You would not buy print advertising, spend money on email campaigns or set up booths at conventions without plans that include objectives, measurements, ROI targets and so forth. And like other channels, you need to experiment, measure results and adjust plans and campaigns accordingly. Social media will be an element in your marketing mix and should be treated as such.
If you want to simply monitor what people are saying about your company and react to it as needed, that’s one approach you can reasonably adopt. But we think it’s much better to be proactive than reactive because this media propagates messages – both good and bad –at warp speed.
Do your target segments use social media? If not, will you build a presence and expect people to change their habits?
Do you really understand, at a fundamental level, what you want to do with social media? Are you just striving for competitive parity? Or will you use it to methodically build long term relationships? How do you define “engagement” for your business or in your industry? Establishing these principles early is important. It doesn’t mean they are cast in concrete forever, but everyone who uses in social media on behalf of your company needs to be on the same page.
There are separate considerations for startups and small companies.
Small companies may need (or want) to allocate proportionally more resources and time to social media because they may not be able to afford expenditures such as conventional market research. Moreover, direct contact with users, key customers and prospects may provide unique real-time perspectives that would not be available from other sources. This is particularly true for very specialized businesses with limited audiences where ongoing conversations with stakeholders (which include customer or prospects) will benefit applied research, product design and the configuration of support services.
Such a company may encourage (or require) an “all hands on deck” approach for social media engagement, but that creates risk. Huge productivity and creativity value may be offset by:
- An inability to control the overall outbound “message” when too many people are involved in freewheeling discussions.
- Accounting for the time people spend on social media. Is it “free” because an engineer is a sunk cost? Should that effort be considered a marketing expenditure?
- The distraction factor: At what point does social media engagement hinder productivity and progress?
- Unintentional sharing with competitors.
The risks are present even when operating in a closed environment with access controls.
Big (or bigger) companies with established products will have fewer issues like these because they will likely have trained personnel dedicated to social media management.
Like so many other aspects of marketing, “one size does not fit all”. There exists no general formula for how much time or how many resources to allocate to social media (or how much risk to accept). It’s very context-specific. And today’s conclusion will likely need ongoing adjustment.