An actual question I am asked regularly is, “Why do we need to pay for advertising? Social media is free.” Of course, social media is not free. At the very least, there is effort required to implement a marketing program that resonates with your target audience. Consistent communications –- and social media is business communication – requires time to manage imagery and messaging as well as any ensuing engagement. Those efforts involve time you did not spend on some other business necessity, which is known as opportunity costs, meaning social media is an expense.
But what about those businesses which choose to rely on social media for customer outreach and engagement, both necessary precursors to sale? An important issue there is the simple fact that the algorithm is never working in your favor. Right now, an estimated less than 5% of your audience sees your social media posts for most of the major social channels.
Let’s assume that <5% figure is much too pessimistic and a full 10% of your audience actually sees your post. If you have 1,000 followers, 100 people might see the post. Now what percentage of those 100 are in the market for the message of that post? If that’s also 10%, then 10 people out of 1000 followers are interested in the social media message. Among those people, how many are going to make a business purchase decision based on a single social media post? Engagement requires awareness and trust – which take time to build.
Are you thinking that “going viral” will increase your social media audience reach and shorten the trust cycle to building sales? That might happen, but social media virality generally does not translate into sales – especially for B2B. Most of the time, it doesn’t even translate into a significant uptick in followers.
What does translate into regular upticks in social media followers? Content (aka marketing) focused on solving customer issues. Consistent content that is on-brand with the problem you solve and for whom you solve it. Creating that content probably means investing in your advertising, branding, and marketing activities.
Advertising and marketing and branding are adjacent, but different, spend categories in my opinion. You spend budget to create and protect a brand; you pay for advertising placements to achieve recognition and awareness of the brand; and you invest in marketing (paid and unpaid strategic communication of the brand) to keep the brand top of mind as a solution provider for potential customers’ problems.
When is it smart to pay for marketing or branding or advertising? It’s smart to pay for events that put your service, product, or company in front of clients and potential clients; it’s smart to pay for channel placement (whether with effort as with social media or actual expenditure as for digital or print placement); and it’s smart to pay for any services which you can’t handle in-house.
Paying for services which you or your team are not experts in is strategic spending. You pay for SEO experts to improve your web traffic. You pay for videographers or photographers to best highlight the visual aspects of your product or service. You pay for content specialists, whether written or visual, to best showcase your messaging. (You may even pay lawyers to ensure your GDPR compliance or trademarks or patents are in order.)
Paying for advertising placement is also smart when it is aligned with audience goals. Advertising allows you to be present in front of your target audience with a purposefully crafted message that supports the brand you want to build. The consistent messaging and presence of a paid advertising campaign can improve the impression of reliability, which improves the probability that your message will be in front of customers (or easily recalled) when they are ready to buy. The exposure of live events such as trade shows, targeted to your industry, can be a way to meet potential customers or to engage with current customers. (Nothing beats a trade show as a listening opportunity.)
Strategy is what consistently aligns your message to your audience with channels and placement for long-term growth. Another smart expenditure may be paying for strategy, if you do not have in-house marketing, branding, or advertising strategy. That choice can support marketing planning and budgeting to maximize the brand resources you do have in-house.
The real question may be how much you value the time and effort spent creating the marketing, brand, and advertising that builds your company. “Free social media” may just be a way of saying the in-house personnel costs of social media creation and management are your budget for marketing. Just acknowledge that sometimes you get what you pay for, and not paying for marketing placement or support may cost you business (and money) in the long run.
Alexandria Trusov is the Director of Marketing at Euthenia Manufacturing Group and a B2B marketing consultant to manufacturers and other B2B companies. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.truinsightsconsulting.com.