You have worked hard in researching and developing a social media strategy and plan, but how much will it cost? Budgeting is an important part of social strategy and probably needed if you want your strategy to be executed. Few managers or business owners will approve any effort without first knowing the cost. Understanding expense is also an important step to calculating return on investment (ROI).
Click here for an updated version of this article and template.
To help make the budgeting process easier follow the Social Media Budget Template shown above. It breaks down costs into five expense categories and divides each category into in-house costs (to be performed by employees) and outsource costs (to be hired out). It also calculates the percent of each line item under a category and the percent of each category out of the total budget to understand where you are spending most of your money. As you understand how each category is contributing more or less to business objectives you may want to adjust percentages to match contribution level. Each item and category is calculated as a monthly expense and percent of total per these categories:
Content Creation covers in-house or outsourced time to write and design plus any fixed costs such as stock photos or video production. Estimate time to create the content needed for the strategy in a month. You can get an idea of how much you need from a Content Calendar. For in-house employees divide salary into an hourly rate. For outsourced help calculate by their hourly rate or their cost per piece or project. Global brands may need to consider cost such as cultural partners and consultants plus language translation.
Social Advertising is paid outsourced costs for reach per social channel such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Again, start with a Content Calendar and estimate how many posts will be paid social ads or promoted/boosted posts. For an idea of what is available see this guide to paid social. Then calculate costs based on current rates per social media network. Because much of social advertising works on a bidding process many managers set per day limits. Thus, this category is estimated based on spending per day, per network multiplied by the number of days you expect to be running social ads in a month. In addition be sure to include costs for influencers. Influencers are paid a variety of ways such as per post, free product and commission. For more on how these campaigns are structured see this guide to influencer marketing.
Social Engagement is the cost for employees or contractors to listen and respond to brand talk per channel. Listening and engagement are important activities in social media. They cannot be planned ahead of time, but you can estimate how much it may cost based on current activity. You could go back to or perform a Social Media Audit to get an idea of the level of customer activity on brand social media channels. Are there hundreds or even thousands of posts everyday day or a few dozen? From there estimate hours per day needed to engage all or a percentage of those customers per channel. Multiply number of hours by employee or outsourced rates. Depending on the business management may also require costs for social media strategy planning and reporting as a percentage of a full-time employee salary or the salary of dedicated social media staff. However, some include this as a part of the overall operating budget as overall marketing budgets don’t normally include the salaries of the marketing department employees.
Software/Tools covers monthly costs for social media monitoring and other automation software services. These software services and tools can help save time and thus money in other categories such as content creation and engagement. There are a lot of free tools, but to get access to advanced features and enterprise level service many organizations have to pay. This budget category is broken down into monitoring, scheduling, reporting, and analytics as a first step. You may find it useful to add additional categories such as consumer research, automation, or artificial intelligence (AI) software. Some tools may have one time costs but most are billed as monthly access fees. Another consideration is accounting for the cost of training for these tools. This may be one time upfront costs to get up to speed on a new software package. Yet, social changes so quickly you may want to estimate a monthly amount for ongoing training of staff to keep up to date.
Promotion/Contests are costs for prizes, discounts, etc. Besides buying reach through social ads, many businesses build audience and engagement through special offers, discounts and contests. Whether they are executed through a Facebook app, hashtag or unique offer code promotions, contests, sweepstakes, coupons and discounts have hard costs associated with them. In this category estimate those expenses per campaign. For example, you may have a summer campaign and a Spring campaign or campaigns that happen around specific holidays. If you have a social campaign built around a live event, don’t forget to include those costs as well.
Finally, add totals per month, per line item and category. Also calculate percent of each category and category percent of the total budget. This social media budget template is a good way to calculate how much a social media strategy will cost to execute, but how do you know if the total is too much or too little overall?
One way to put total social media budgets into context is to compare to competitors. In a Social Media Audit you may have uncovered insight that a main competitor is much more active in social media and seeing business success as a result. Your strategy would be to increase your social activity to compete and your budget is an estimate of what it costs to match that level of engagement.
Another way to put your total social media budget into context is to compare to industry standards. In an analysis by Content Factory they estimate that outsourcing professional social media marketing can cost anywhere from $1,000 per month to $20,000 per month. Admittedly this number is very broad. Another approach is to look at typical percentages of overall marketing spending and social spending. In other words, take your existing marketing budget and estimate social media spending based on current standards.
Nick Rojas of The Next Web points out that businesses spend an average of 10% of revenue on marketing. Yet, this could vary by industry. For example, B2C products companies spend an average 16% of revenue on marketing. For social spending the CMO survey indicates businesses now spend an average of 9% to 15% of their marketing budget on social media (expected to increase to 20% by 2024). Thus, a general guideline would be to take your marketing budget as a percent of revenue (such as 10%) and then calculate a percent of the marketing budget (9%-15%) dedicated to social media.
Seek additional research to narrow this estimate further. The CMO Survey reports social media spending by sector including B2B Products (9%), B2B Services (12%), B2C Product (13%) and B2C Services (15%). Companies with over 10% of sales from the Internet spend more on social media (14%) compared to those with no Internet sales (11%) and small companies (<$25 million revenue) spend the most (15%). If your estimated social media marketing budget from the template above is significantly off from this general number you may want to go back and adjust the plan.
Budgeting in social media can be complicated. But taking a step back and calculating costs based on categories and in relation to marketing spending averages can simplify the process. If you are budgeting against a solid social media plan tied to real business objectives with the right metrics in place a return on investment (ROI) will be justified.
To consider the bigger picture in measurement see Why You Need A Social Media Measurement Plan And How To Create One. To consider the bigger picture in social media marketing Ask These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Strategy.