How To Tell If You're Ready To Invest In Social Media?

By Tony Restell

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Several hundred people have congratulated me on LinkedIn this last week, for having hit the milestone of it being 5 years since Social-Hire was launched. That got me thinking, what have we learnt in that time and what are some success lessons we could pass on to other businesses thinking of investing in their social media presence?

Investing in Social Media

This had the potential to be an incredibly long post, given the theme, but I decided to focus on the lesson that is arguably the most important for business owners and marketing managers around the world. Namely - how can you tell if your business is ready to invest in social media. And by “ready”, I mean is at a point where you are well placed to successfully invest in social media rather than make a calamitous mistake!

Reflecting on this, I decided there are 3 key tests you have to pass in order to get results from social media - and therefore 3 key checks for you to apply to your business before committing to any investment in social media. They are as follows:


I’ll expand on each of these a little so that you’re hopefully better placed to decide if this is an investment for you to proceed with in the coming months or not…

 

A Clear Idea of What Social Media Should Deliver

The first thing that always sets off alarm bells when I’m talking to a decision-maker is to hear them talk about how they “have to have a better presence on social media”, without having thought through at all how that is actually going to translate into quantifiable business wins - or failing that, to at least be entering into the investment acknowledging that you’re doing so in a way that ROI is going to be difficult to demonstrate. This is critical for at least a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there will come a point in your social media journey when you decide to reflect back on what has been achieved. If you’ve embarked on social media purely to make the business “look credible” (it’s the modern day equivalent of not having a polished website to have a shoddy social media presence after all), then you may be happy to continue without being able to demonstrate quantifiable business wins that have been achieved. Simply having more fans and followers, a greater audience reach on social media, may be deemed a good enough reason to continue.

But for a lot of businesses that will not suffice. Especially if the investment in social media has been considerable. The danger with not knowing from the outset what business wins social media should be delivering is that somewhere down the road you will be unable to justify the continued expense. Not being able to demonstrate some tangible wins from social media jeopardises it ever becoming a long-term investment that your company pursues.

Secondly - and it’s a related point - is the fact that you will not know how much to invest in social media. If you can report back that every additional $1,000 being spent on social media is generating an extra 20 leads for the business, you can look at your other sources of leads - and the returns you generate from each lead - and can then determine whether a significant ramping up of your social media investment should be sanctioned. It’s no coincidence that some of the more successful small businesses I know on social media think nothing of spending $10,000+ a month just on social media advertising. They were clear from the outset what they wanted their social media investment to deliver and so month on month can justify continued spend (and indeed additional spend) without any anxiety.

 

Social Media as a Strategic Investment

A reality of social media is undoubtedly that it takes time to generate results. I make the comparison with growing an email subscriber list a decade ago. Years after investing in growing that email subscriber list, a business would have a sizeable asset in the business and would be able to market to that audience and generate new sales and enquiries week after week after week. But in the early months, growth in the subscriber numbers would have been modest - and the sales resulting from that small subscriber base would have been minimal. The businesses that successfully leveraged email as a marketing tool were the ones that invested in it for the long term and didn’t expect a tranformation in their business results overnight. They’re still reaping the rewards today.

Investing in social media has to be treated exactly the same way. Whether you go down the route of growing your own audience, leveraging influencer marketing or becoming a paid social media advertising expert, the common thread is that it’ll take time for business results to flow. Any time I speak with a business owner who thinks otherwise, I firstly try to educate them on the realities of getting results and the time this takes; if that message isn’t one they want to hear, I then beat a hasty retreat. There’s nothing more certain to kill off the results you’ll get from social media than being pressured into generating results more quickly than is naturally possible. So get buy-in to invest in social media for the long-term, or arguably don’t invest in social media at all.

 

The Complexity of Social Media Calls For Specialist Skills

The last thing that totally derails a company’s efforts to generate business results from social media is the myth that social media is free and that harnessing it is easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, doing social media well requires a significant investment of time - and subscriptions to lots of tools that’ll boost your productivity and enhance the results you can generate. So getting your business on social media is far from being free.

More importantly, though, getting results from social media is far from easy - and so you need to have the right skillsets in your business in order to succeed. Think of social media as a 20+ step process. Each of those 20 steps needs to be understood and needs to be expertly undertaken in order to maximise results. Every time one of those steps is missed out or is poorly executed, you’ve just put a big hole in your social media bucket. Do that a few times and your bucket has so many holes it’s going to need a big flow of water (effort) to ever stand a chance of filling up (getting results).

We wouldn’t expect a rookie salesperson to go out and smash the company’s sales record, or entrust them with our company’s most important client accounts, without first investing in the training that equips them to succeed. We wouldn’t expect a trainee recruiter to suddenly outperform our top billers without a significant investment in their skills and some time to build up their experience. Social media is no different. Put an admin person, intern or apprentice in charge and you’re doing exactly the same - expecting the results of a top performer to flow from the work of an amateur. Sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

 

Final Thoughts

It may be that having read this post, you’re deterred from investing in social media. If that’s the case, I’ll consider this post a success. It’s better that you don’t invest in social media at all, than you embark on it on a sure path to failure. If, however, you’re reading this and feel that you pass the three tests I’ve shared above, we’d love to talk to you about helping with your social media (we’re typically 1/3 the cost of employing a Social Media Manager) or invite you onto our briefing about how to hire a Social Media Manager.

 

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