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How much should a company invest in their social media strategy?

While most businesses acknowledge that they need to invest in social media for future growth, the evolving nature of the online world makes it difficult for some companies to know how much they should really be investing into their online communication channels. Most big businesses have official strategies and many of the little guys have jumped on the Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn bandwagon.

Social media is based around getting and sharing little pieces of information everyday, whether it’s a Tweet, a promotion for a contest through Facebook, or a new photo on Pinterest. A company needs to think about if they need to be providing the social media content themselves or outsourcing to a third party. Some companies really need to reach out to customers in their own words, while others can get away with hiring a communications agency that specializes in social media. But is it always a good idea for their company to dive in to the social media world if they can’t invest the proper time and funds to pull off a social media campaign? According to an infographic from SocialTimes that was released in May 2011, the average cost of a campaign was $210,000 (this is likely for bigger businesses).

Do the companies who don’t provide daily services (think: funeral homes) also really need to invest in a social media strategy? Is there a point in joining the social media world if the company isn’t going to devote time and resources down the line to their online presence?

To answer some of these questions, I spoke with Laura Townson, an Interactive Project Manager for Toronto-based Blend360 Communications, which specializes in social media, website and design development, and content execution, among other things.

Q: How important is a company’s social media strategy?

Laura: It’s extremely important. We’re seeing companies use it more and more, whether or not it’s a large enterprise or a small business. The numbers are there to that show people are online. Not every company is using Twitter or Facebook, but their audience is online. Traditional media and advertising isn’t being picked up the same way it used to be. But social media is about more than just promoting businesses, but about in engaging the audience. If you are a small or large business, it’s important for your longer term business strategy to engage people.

Q: Could you put a dollar value on the social media for a company?

Laura: I don’t think you can. It changes so much from day to day, company to company. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. How are you engaging your client? A lot of it is not measurable. While there are score boards for Twitter followers, or Facebook followers, people are realizing it’s less about the scoreboard and more about influence. And how do you measure influence? We’re just starting to explore that.

Q: Should companies be hiring someone dedicated to social media or can they get away with tacking it onto existing communication strategies?

Laura: That’s tricky to answer because it goes by a case-by-case basis. In a perfect world, everyone should have a person dedicated to their online community, but that’s not exactly realistic to the small business world. I often see companies thinking they need to be using social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and then they just step back from it. I think it’s okay to post a promotion once in a while but your social media content should be 30 per cent promotional and 70 per cent value content. If you need to hire someone else, it’s okay and I’d recommend an intern to small companies who can’t afford to hire a Community Manager. There are a lot of interns out there with a public relations background, looking for the opportunity to get their hands dirty . Interns are bright eyed and bushy tailed and know the space.

Q: What’s a great example of a company who has invested in their social media strategy?

Laura: Rogers Communications is really doing well with their social media. I [previously] worked for the Agency of Record for their social media team and I love that they are embracing the negative as much as the positive. A lot of people think Rogers and think “I hate being on hold or something was wrong with my bill,” but Rogers really took to the net. They created two Twitter accounts, one is business to consumer, one is businesses to business. Their goal was “I don’t want to hide the bad;” expose us, good or bad. They have a community manager team for social media listening and you’re guaranteed to get an answer even if you are ripping them to shreds. They’re a perfect example of why they have become a monopoly in their industry, because they built trust with the consumer.

Q: Any industry that social media is especially important for?

Laura: I think a lot more non-profit groups need to start embracing it. The trend is definitely starting, but a lot of groups taking their time with it because they think they don’t have the resources to fully embrace it. Social media is all about getting your name out there and non-profit organizations have an important message that they need to promote and communicate.

One example is the Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa. I worked with them and they really embraced social media, especially with Twitter. They would send out a Tweet saying they would need bed linens and spoons, and then it would go viral and suddenly they would get too much. Non- profit groups should really embrace social media.

Q: How do you see companies handling their social media strategy in the future?

Laura: That goes back to what I said before about influence, and about how people will measure their success in social media. People are definitely recognizing that it’s less about the numbers (people can purchase followers now, so numbers mean nothing), and more about the company’s influence.

You can follow Laura on Twitter at @lautow

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