image courtesy Scott J. Waldron via Flickr
I am often asked some version of this question on a regular basis: “Why does social media cost so much?” I’m also often asked lots of follow up questions about how to get the best deal on social media services. I get it, everyone (especially entrepreneurs) are looking at how to save a buck and minimize expenses.
My team and I have offered social media consulting and management services since 2005, which means that for 10 years I’ve seen freelancers to big firms (and everything in between) who have done poor jobs, so-so jobs and great jobs on handling social media for friends, prospects and clients. I’ve also had a few situations in which a prospect has handed me someone else’s proposal and asked me to meet or beat the price, which is always an enlightening experience.
So, here is what I have learned about the cost of social media services and how to get a great deal on a good job.
1. You will get what you pay for. If you are on a limited budget because you’re just starting out, you are probably better off using the amazing resources at your fingertips and Googling some social media tutorials, and using one or two social media platforms that you can manage well.
Why? Because good (did you read that? I said good, you want good, effective social media right?) social media takes a LOT of time. If you’re just looking for the cheapest person to do your social media you will likely end up with A) someone totally inexperienced, B) someone who will cut corners to make it worth their while, or C) someone who isn’t really committed and will post sporadically at best.
How could you entrust your brand to people willing to work for peanuts? You may find that your posts are inconsistent or nonexistent, they could be full of errors, or even worse if you’re working with an inexperienced social media professional they may not understand your brand or audience and inadvertently piss people off with what they post.
Don’t risk it, pay for a quality job or do it yourself until you can comfortably afford a professional.
2. Have a budget. Yep, social media costs money, unless you’re lucky enough to find someone willing to barter with you. Nothing makes it more difficult to work with someone than asking for a budget and being told they don’t have one. It tells your social media professional that you aren’t serious about your business or you are unwilling to be honest about how much you can spend (whether it’s a little or a lot).
Every real, established business has a marketing budget – social media should fall under that category. If you’re looking for some marketing dollars to throw at social media, look at what’s currently working under that category and cut what isn’t.
Be ready to shell out a (bare) minimum of $1000 a month to work with a freelancer on a very basic scope of work (and up from there depending on what you need and who you work with). There are a number of factors that are taken into account when determining your fees, including the amount of work you are asking for on a monthly basis, the expertise and resources of the professional or firm you are working with, and many people forget to factor in the fees the sites themselves charge for sponsored ads (which are a necessity these days).
If you’re working with a creative group you will likely be looking at 4 or 5 figures each month for effective social media that does what it’s supposed to do.
3. Be a GREAT client. I am personally usually willing to make a small concession on pricing for a GREAT client. What makes a GREAT client? A terrific attitude, fun subject matter, realistic expectations, trusting us to take the lead, getting back to us in a timely manner and someone who values my time. Basically, make my job easier.
3B. I’d like to expand a bit more on valuing time. You wouldn’t want anyone to waste your time, so don’t waste your social media professional’s time. If you work with a firm that charges by the hour, you can save yourself a bundle of money by calling or emailing only when it’s important. I have had clients who have reached out to us about broken printers (I wish I was kidding), personal problems and company infighting on the client’s end (yes, really) and to ask us to send them the same graphic files over and over again because they weren’t organized enough to save the files where they could find them.
Don’t get me wrong, no one should nickel and dime you for pleasantries or short, simple interactions, but inconsiderate requests, inappropriate requests, or requests that take a lot of time to fulfill will cost you more money. Respecting your vendors’ time will get you the best deal.
4. Plan well. Our most organized and successful clients either have an editorial calendar or ask us to create one for them. They understand the ebbs and flows of their business, we plan sales promotions and special offers well in advance, and then for the most part the client sticks to it.
Last minute rush jobs, repeated changes or tinkering, and asking for the same explanation more than once adds up – if it costs someone time, it costs you money. Be organized and stick to your plan, avoid last minute changes and you’ll minimize your social media management fees.
5. Understand why it takes so much time. This will save you lots of heartache when it comes to billing. You will either be able to contain your fees to something you can live with OR you will understand what is going into your investment in social media services.
You MUST get a contract in writing (and read it) and ask questions if you aren’t clear on what the scope of work includes. It is not OK to ask for everything you need all month and then freak out on your vendor about the amount of fees you’ve racked up. A good social media professional will explain how much time they believe your project will take monthly, and why.
For example, we spend a good deal of time researching studies, trends and timely news articles each month when developing a client’s content. Next, a copy writer has to actually write up all that content (typically a minimum of a post a day X the number of social media platforms + other things like blog posts, newsletters, print and web ad copy) and then a copy editor proofs all that content for typos, grammatical errors and brand / voice. We also have to get a client to approve that content, we have to post the content and then we monitor for comments, leads, questions and complaints (and reply to them, which can get complicated and time / labor intensive), and if anyone is talking about your business outside of our posts.
We also keep an eye on trending topics, cooperative marketing opportunities and what your competition is up to. We pull reporting each month to make sure we are offering more of the content that your audience likes and less of the stuff that isn’t working, and use reporting to develop contests and promotions. If you are running sponsored posts, or requesting graphic design (which go through a similar lengthy process to ensure quality and effectiveness), or requesting meetings, phone calls, new or different services or training, the time for those requests can add up quickly.
6. Expertise will cost you more. There are a zillion people out there who claim to be social media professionals. The expertise is what separates the boys and girls from the men and the women. More than just being able to write some cute posts, you want someone (or a creative group) who understands strategy and has experience with designing plans that include tactics that achieve specific outcomes.
The better the proven track record, the more expense involved. But look – if you know you’re going to spend some money and you want a plan that will work, you are much more likely to achieve your goals working with experienced social media professionals than keeping it on the cheap by asking your 17 year old nephew to Facebook for you in exchange for gas money. Remember #1 on this list? You get what you pay for.
More Food for Thought
Keep in mind that I focused on keeping costs down in this post. It is not unusual to spend $5,000-$10,000 or more each month on social media services, especially if you require ’round the clock monitoring, have lots of engagement, spend a lot on ads or need multiple social media professionals working on your platforms (say to provide customer service for example). If you happen to work in healthcare, law, finance, insurance or another regulated industry you will also pay more to work with a professional who understands advertising regulations and compliance for your industry.
Is this freaking you out? It shouldn’t. You are paying money to make money in the form of great branding, increased engagement and eventually conversions. Think back to the crappy feeling you got the last time someone wanted something for nothing from you. Don’t do that to your social media professional – you are asking them to help you make money, and that costs money. Be honest about what you need and what you can offer.
Have questions? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Maggiore is a nationally recognized social media consultant, author and speaker. She launched her company in 2005, quickly expanding her business as one of the country’s first social media consultants.
Today, she and her team work with public and private companies throughout the United States, offering social media management, strategy and training services, including a specialty in HIPAA and NLRA consulting for healthcare organizations.
red balloon was named a Top 10 Marketing Firm in her home state of Arizona, Jennifer was recognized as one of 35 Women Entrepreneurs in Arizona Under 35, and she was most recently interviewed for the show Roadtrip Nation.