Social media marketing requires skills many companies don't have in house. Some businesses may lack the headcount to devote enough attention to social media to stay current on the ever-changing landscape. Hiring an outside specialist is one possible solution. But what are the social media advertising costs of outsourcing this task?
The answer isn't simple, according to Thomas Harpointner, CEO of Atlanta marketing agency AIS Media.
“Of all the things we've ever done—and I've been in the business for 20 years and done marketing from email to search—social media marketing has been the most challenging form of marketing for us to price because it's extremely complex," Harpointner says.
"The key question to ask is how you measure success for social marketing for your particular company," Harpointner adds.
For some, success may mean increasing products sales. For others, building website traffic is the goal.
Different objectives require different approaches, different levels of resources and different social media marketing costs, he says.
“Everyone wants to know how much it's going to cost," Harpointner says. "But it's difficult to answer. It's like asking, 'How much does direct mail cost?'"
How Are Social Media Advertising Costs Billed?
Social media advertising costs are usually paid as a monthly retainer. (Typically clients sign a 12-month agreement.)
Flat-rate billing per project may be appropriate for a pay-per-click initiative that yields quick results. But social media marketing takes time to produce results, Harpointner says.
According to social media marketers, the rate a client pays depends in part on the type of provider. A freelance social media marketing consultant may charge a small business client $150 or so a month. A full-service marketing agency might bill a larger company $1,500 or much, much more a month.
Some difference in pricing may also be explained by the providers' varying resources and capabilities.
An agency may assign several people to an account, for instance, which can increase costs. However, thanks to economies of scale, agencies may also be able to afford more costly, up-to-date and powerful software for creating and disseminating content, as well as tracking and optimizing a business's investment in social media marketing.
Managing Social Media Advertising Costs
Business owners can control their outsourced social media advertising cost by choosing different levels of service such as frequency of posting, number of platforms and specific services and deliverables the marketer will provide.
For instance, increased frequency can mean more cost. If a business can provide photos, graphics and written content from an in-house resource, it may reduce the outsourced providers' charges.
Posting to multiple platforms can be automated to a considerable extent using social media marketing tools, says Nancy A. Shenker, founder of Scottsdale, Arizona-based marketing consulting firm theONSwitch.
“The hard part," Shenker says, "is coming up with the content."
Harpointner adds that clients today want better content, which can increase marketing costs.
“We're using more HD videos and more quality writing, because expectations have gone up," he says.
The existence and extent of in-house marketing assets may be one of the biggest factors controlling outsourced social media advertising costs.
Harpointner recommends that businesses take stock of what they already have.
“It requires both a capability audit and an asset audit," he says. "Business owners can start by asking: What internal capabilities do we have? What are we good at? What are we not good at? Do we have good articles, good art?"
This could also take the form of finding existing employees who can write, photograph, design or otherwise contribute to the campaign.
Deciding what parts of social media marketing will be outsourced is a collaborative decision, Harpointner says, and has a direct bearing on the cost and ultimate quality of the product.
Alternatives to Outsourcing
That said, outsourcing social media marketing may come with a hidden cost of reduced effectiveness, warns Hamilton Wallace, owner of Small Business Marketing Consultant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“You are really better off doing it yourself," Wallace advises.
One problem, according to Wallace, is that social media postings created by an outsider may not provide the sort of rich, real content that engages target markets.
“They tend not to have as authentic a voice as you would if somebody inside the company was doing it," he explains.
“The second problem is that their content is more hollow," he continues. “It's one or two steps removed from the real, authentic voice or personality of the company."
Outsourced social media marketing providers may post more often and on more platforms. But because of the authenticity issues, Wallace suggests businesses consider limiting their use of outsourced marketing providers to setting up accounts on social media platforms. Then they can use employees to craft the actual posts.
Some marketers offer training to help employees use social media effectively.
“The best social marketing comes from the heart and is genuine and has the personality and heart of the brand," Shenker says. "So if a business has the interest and resources to do it themselves, I'll gladly train them."
Future of Social Media Marketing Costs
Social media marketing is, of course, just part of overall marketing.
And, according to Harpointner, businesses are sourcing social media marketing from the same providers that help with search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising and other forms of marketing.
“It's rare that somebody comes to us and says they need help marketing on Facebook," he says.
In the future, the price of social media management tools (which make up a significant portion of social media advertising costs) are likely to decline, he adds.
However, as long as there's a demand for higher quality content, the challenges of social media marketing aren't likely to decrease significantly.
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