The days of free social media advertising have been over for years and any expert will tell you that it was never truly free in the first place.  With that being said, how much should maintaining social media for your small business cost? Let's break down how much time and money goes into running a social media presence, that not only represents your brand, but also drives additional revenue.
I first talked to David Jolly, our Customer Success Manager and onboarding specialist here at Likeable Local, about the amount of time it takes to set up a small business's social media accounts: "For a regular small business owner, it would take anywhere from one to four hours to set up four new social media accounts"
This first step doesn't require any capital but there could be some hidden costs.  If your company doesn't have a logo, high quality photos of your business and staff or a bio written, creating all of these necessary assets can become costly. 
Now that you have invested in a solid social media foundation, it is time to convert your current clients into your first social followers.  If you haven't already cultivated a mailing list that you can upload into Facebook, starting your social media from scratch is going to be time consuming.  However, there are a few ways to do this—invite your personal following, create signage to hang up if you have a brick and mortar, etc.  Although social media is a great way to get in front of new eyes, having your current client base as fans will legitimize your pages and increase customer retention.  
Before we even jump into how to gain new prospects, you'll need to start posting content that will make people want to engage with your company.  Be warned, this is the most time consuming part of the process and also the part that I see SMBs stumble on the most.  In the wise words of Bill Gates, back in the infancy of the internet (1996), "Content is King". 
Not only is educational and entertaining content important, any social media expert will tell you that consistence is also key.  What if a prospective client saw that your page hasn't posted in months and assumed you aren't in business?  To give you a general idea of the kinds of content to post, I recommend checking out our content ebook which outlines how to create and curate engaging content for your business.
I talked to our content manager, Marion Brown, about how much time it takes to properly curate content: "It would take at least an hour to find an article, write the post with language that fits the social media realm, and find an image...and even longer if you create that image."
As for custom content, I chatted with our fearless Senior Pro Account Manager, Julie Sutherland: "Custom content about your business is a little faster to make as long as you aren't creating an image, around 15 minutes per post." 
Many small business owners post content and are discouraged when they don't seem to gain more followers and can't seem to get engagement on their posts.  You might even think that social media marketing isn't going to work for your business at this point.  Don't give up yet!  As previously mentioned, it is now critical to pay for your pages and content to be seen.  You might have heard of Reachageddon but bottom line, if you are not paying Facebook or Twitter for your content to be seen, only a sliver of your audience will see anything you post.  
To counter that, at Likeable Local we boost every post that our clients push out.  A healthy diet of sponsored ads pulling new people to your page, boosting posts for overall engagement and ads for special promotions is the best way to success. 
Truthfully, there's a learning curve when it comes to creating social media ads that are effective.  Playing around with audiences, different ad amounts, and learning each platforms' ad guidelines, all become necessary and time consuming steps in optimizing your social efforts.  Outside of education, there's the hard cost of paying the social networks for placement.  We start our clients anywhere from $30 to $100 a month for a Facebook ad budget and we maintain the three types of ads I mentioned above.
Once you take the necessary steps and start wowing your fans, you will start seeing an increase in engagement, yay!  With great engagement come the great responsibility to respond.  You wouldn't hang up on a client if they were to call and ask you a question.  Social media should be treated the same way.  Community management for a small business should be personal and you should take pride in showing your expertise in your field.  I asked Stefanie Peterson, another one of our Customer Success Managers about this: "For a great page, they will need to spend around 5 hours a week to stay on top of responding to questions, retweeting, liking positive reviews and anything else."
After all that hard work, it is time to analyze the results of your well run social media machine.  Be sure to keep track of what new clients and revenue you have been bringing in as well as their sources. This way you can clearly see if your company is killing it on Twitter or if you need to allocate more of your budget to sponsored like ads on Facebook, etc.  
Understanding your ROI from social media along, with how much investment you are putting into it, will help you understand whether to hire help in-house, from an outside company or gain more education for yourself.
So, let's break down the true cost of social media:
  • Initial Set Up - 1-4 hours to create online assets for the company by setting up your various social media accounts. 
  • Building the Audience and Creating Ads- Uploading your email list, creating signage and inviting your personal social network takes about 10 hours for the initial month.
  • Curating Content - The recommended amount of posts per week is around 3-4 on Facebook and LinkedIn and 3 times a day on Twitter. It could take as long as an hour to come up with each piece of content!
  • Audience Engagement - To fully interact with your communuty and build a solid online presence, you must commit at least 20 hours per month.
  • Tracking your progress - To gauge your ROI properly, it's integral to spend about an hour a week to ensure your goals are being met. 
In order to maintain a social media presence that is truly working for your business, you will need to invest around 50 hours per month and no less than $30/month in ad spend.  Don't forget the initial set up that takes around 1-4 hours.  With a low-end estimate of $15 an hour for your time invested, the overall cost comes to around $800 for your first month.  
Now that figure doesn't seem too bad, maybe not even large enough to require someone full-time to cover the workload. However, this could be a big price tag for a small business owner that is only pulling in a few thousand in revenue a month.  
Marketing automation services are a great alternative for SMB's. They offer the oppurtunity for businesses to focus on what they do best without sacrifcing the extended reach that social media can offer. 

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