It’s not unheard of, in the early stages of a conversation with a prospective client, to find myself answering the question: “How much does social media cost?”
Most of us expect to use social media for free. Of course there are exceptions, such as premium accounts on LinkedIn and the trend towards paid amplification becoming the norm. By and large, however, the barrier to entry in social media isn’t the cost of the tools themselves, but the resources that are consumed by effectively utilizing these tools.
Ric Dragon summed it up nicely while attending Media Bistro’s Inside Social Media conference:
@RicDragon @kmullett And when there is a fuel price spike, the cost of the generator will remain the same. Just saying.
— American Wind Energy (@AWEA) December 3, 2013
@RicDragon @AWEA absolutely, and once “constructed” good SM/SEO infrastructure will continue to provide value. ;)
— Kevin Mullett (@kmullett) December 3, 2013
Social Media may be as free as the air we breathe, but to convert that air into wind power requires a turbine. Sure, a business could set up its own wind turbine, but how will you know if it’s pointing in the right direction? If the wind is your audience, you want to make sure you position your turbine in the right place, i.e. the social network(s) where they are active. Is there wind, but your turbine isn’t spinning? Perhaps you aren’t engaging the right audience. What if the wind is blowing, the turbine is spinning, but your conversion funnel isn’t connected correctly to the turbine? Perhaps you’re not sending the right message to convert your audience. And of course, if the wind is blowing too strongly in the wrong direction, you might have a reputation management situation on your hands.
You may have guessed by now, that this is where social strategy comes in. The difference between merely buying a wind turbine and having expert guidance on making that turbine drive business goals is what makes a strategy successful. Notice I said business goals (not marketing goals).
The strategy is a process which defines the system that is used to capture the wind energy to power the business. This energy could be as ethereal as improving brand equity and establishing credibility or it could be as tangible as improving conversion-funnel velocity or retention rates.
In contrast to this focus on process and customization is a world where an agency (or tool) is simply pushing buttons. When asked, “How much does Facebook cost?” the answer might be to present a menu of buttons that could be pressed with little diligence paid to the act of building the wind turbine system beyond that choice. If presented with a menu of options for what a social media campaign might involve, the role of strategist falls back on the brand.
Developing a social media strategy is likely not the organizations core competency. Even with an internal marketing team, their value lies in their highly specialized knowledge of the vertical and the customer experience that their products play a role in. An external team, on the other hand, should be highly skilled in determining how best to tell that story in a variety of specialized mediums. The major difference here is deeply rooted in the reason a brand would choose to work with an agency in the first place: expertise and specialization.
Although some might be quick to present a proposal that explains what buttons will be pushed, our approach is to present a process where we determine what buttons will actually use the turbine to power the business. This is part of what makes us a learning organization. Our skills lie in our team’s ability to build successful strategies that are unique for each client and uniquely effective for meeting their business objectives; pointing that wind turbine in the right direction.
Do you have a social media strategy that is powering your business? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.