4178265189_4785cf3fa5_mIt is easy to rationalize social media marketing as a tactic that is more cost-effective than traditional marketing. This post by Erik Deckers suggests that traditional marketing is barely worth your time and money while social media marketing is a cost-effective alternative. Just a year ago, MediaBistro.com suggested that with social media marketing, you can reach “1,000 people for a fraction of the cost using social media than you can through television, billboards or even email.” The Fast Company article we cited last week does not make a single mention of the cost of social media marketing.

These might be comforting thoughts in some ways, but we suspect that statements about the low cost of social media marketing do not consider one major factor – time. With traditional marketing tactics time, and hence cost, are a little easier to track. When we quote a new advertisement, for example, we base that quote on the following:

• Time for developing a new concept

• Time required for laying out the ad

• Time required for copywriting

• Time required for any photography or illustration services that might be needed

• Time required for making client revisions

• Time required for proofreading and preparing the file for publication

While any one of these areas can extend beyond our time estimate, defining our services and tracking the time each step takes is fairly simple and intuitive. The media cost also is what it is. Budgeting for these kinds of tactics is easy, even if the tactics themselves may add up quickly in the ledger depending on the campaign.

In the world of traditional marketing, time is equated with cost. There is no audible gasp of surprise in regards to any of what we have said thus far, we are assuming.

In the world of social media, things get a little more complicated.

Breaking down your social media marketing time

If you are not currently engaged in social media marketing, you might not have an idea of how much time a company can dedicate to the task over the course of a week. Since so many social media practitioners are talking about content marketing as a significant part of today’s social media marketing techniques, let’s start with just that part of the puzzle. Let’s assume that your company wants to get started with social media marketing but not witha really aggressive program. Your campaign calls for the following:

One blog post per week

One white paper per quarter that will get posted to your website and promoted via your social media channels

One webinar per year that you will also post to your website and promote via your social media channels

Let’s be generous and say it takes your blogger half an hour a week to write the blog post. So that’s 52 x 30 minutes = 26 hours/year.

Each white paper requires research, writing, and an approval process, not to mention designing the piece. Let’s again be generous here and say that just takes 10 hours per white paper. That makes 40 hours a year for white paper development.

Finally, the webinar. This is the hardest thing to estimate in terms of time because there are so many variables. Who will develop the slides? Who will actually create the content for the webinar? Who will manage promotion and moderation? For the sake of argument, let’s say your company dedicates 30 hours to your annual webinar.

For content marketing alone, you have just dedicated 96 hours a year, and this by the way does not include e-newsletter content or content that you would produce separately as part of your presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus. What is your going hourly rate? Multiply that by 96 hours.

In the B2B space, there are publications where this kind of investment could get you a three-time print program. If the publication is audited, you know exactly who will be seeing that ad. Your content marketing needs to be promoted to the right people in the online world. Finding those people, those ideal leads, means research time for your company or perhaps an investment in a social media “listening” tool. Perhaps both.

Continuing with our trend for conservative estimates, let’s now say that in terms of actually “doing” social media, your company wants to dedicate most of your time to Twitter. You decide you’re going to dedicate about 2 hours a week to tweeting, broken up into small blocks each work day. Two hours a week for a year equates to 104 hours. How much are you paying the person who is tweeting for you? If you are doing this work, what is your hourly rate?

This is all starting to add up.

This is not to scare you away from social media marketing

Understand, our intent is not to say that social media marketing is prohibitively expensive. However, the reality is that social media takes a lot of time, and if you do not track your time carefully, the investment of time, and hence money, that you put into your social media bucket can add up extremely fast. Especially if you are brand new to the world of social media, this can be particularly risky because it takes awhile to build up the kind of credibility that can lead you to new customers.

Just as you plan and budget for your traditional marketing tactics, you must do the same for your social media marketing campaign. In doing so, remember that everything social media marketing requires includes your time (or someone else’s). It is not free, and it may not even be less expensive than some of your current traditional marketing programs.

If you have any questions about what we have thrown out here today, just let us know in the comments section!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/4178265189/ via Creative Commons