There are a lot of misconceptions around social media marketing. It isn't unusual to find business owners and managers, for example, who think that setting up a Facebook profile is enough to double their online sales (it isn't). Similarly, it isn't unheard of to speak with new clients who think that having a few thousand followers on Twitter is enough to make them a millionaire (it's not).
Probably the worst myth about social media, however, is that it doesn't cost anything. This is one that's so widespread that you often read it in business magazines and even well-known blogs. Signing up for Facebook or Twitter doesn't require a fee, so using them must not involve any expense… right?
That's wrong for at least three important reasons:
1. Even “free” online marketing tools cost time. Within most successful businesses, time is worth even more than money, and few of those at the top have it to waste. Considering that just keeping up with your social profiles, responding to invitations, and making a few new connections every week can easily burn a few hours, it would seem that the minutes required actually carry a fairly hefty bottom-line price.
2. You will probably want to hire a creative team for social media marketing sooner or later. Part of this has to do with the time factor mentioned above, but another part also has to do with the fact that it's all about results. In other words, having a team of experts posting to your profile is the best way to turn those updates into actual sales. And so, even though you could manage social media marketing with little more than your own time, it tends to be counterproductive.
3. Like any other Internet marketing medium, it's all about efficiency. When it comes down to it, you shouldn't be worried about whether social media is free or not, or how much it costs you to have someone else write things like tweets and respond to others. What really matters is what you're getting out for the investment you're putting in. Whether it's part of your calendar or part of your marketing budget, efficiency and ROI are the real keys.
So given that social media marketing isn't really free, what's the best way to manage it? The answer is treated the same way you would anything else: Set the direction yourself, hire someone who knows it to take away the day-to-day burden, and then set some measurable goals for the long term. Over time, that's the best way to both figure out how much time and money to invest, and then to get the most out of that investment.