What's the ROI of social media? (Part 2)
I can only imagine the number of times this question has been asked in meetings over the last five years. It's a fantastic question because the answer is open, a bit blurry and always unknown. It's an answer that can't be known until some investment has already been made. That's risky. Business people don't like risky, especially when it comes to their investment. But, as with most investments, the bigger the risk the bigger the return. The difference with social media is the investment can have less to do with money and more to do with time. I'd argue and you'd likely agree, that time is more valuable than cash.
Here are the three levels of investment (time, energy, money) and their respective returns (likes, follows, money).
- Do nothing: No investment. No return.
If you're rich or about to retire this is a good strategy. Otherwise, this is like refusing to learn how your phone works. Social media is an essential part of the way humans communicate. If you're not using it for your business, then you have no business complaining when you're forgotten.
- Advertise: Small investment. Short-term return. This is basically the same as it always was. Instead of running a print ad for $10K+, you can run an ad for $100+ and reach the same amount of people. Did you know print ads cost $10K or $20K? That's for only local and regional ads! That's how much they cost for you to casually flip right past them. If the ad is very good and the advertiser is a little lucky, you will smirk and think, "that's clever."
That's only if you still read magazines, which I know I think I do or wish I did. I am nostalgic for magazines. I have been reading Esquire since my dad shared it with me 20 years ago. I love it. But, you know when I would read it? On airplanes and the beach. That's it. So, when I push social media, I push it for this reason: whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, Nextdoor, WhatsApp (ad-free no more) or any other niche platform, this is where your customer is living their life. That's where their attention lies and you better be there if you want their attention.
Well, if this is low risk and works just like advertising always did, why wouldn't you just do this? That's a good question. The simplest answer is that advertising only works if you keep feeding it. But advertising is always hungry for more and only moola will satiate this monster. This is fine for big companies, but for most of us, we have to be more frugal with our funds.
- Branding: Big investment. Long-term return.
What is the difference between branding versus advertising on social media? It's not the money spent. You can promote a branded post just the same as an advertisement. Most companies do exactly that, even the ones who think they're branding are really advertising. For example, a coffee shop posts an Instagram-worthy picture of their world-class latte art featuring a milk tulip. The caption reads "we're tulip-git to quit. Open till 11 pm 2nite!" That's simply an advertisement. If you post that same photo, but that caption reads, "Every barista we train learns how to pour latte art because we believe everyone is an artist in search of the right canvas." That's branding.
But it's sloooow. Slower even. For example, I started this blog over two years ago. If you want to know why I started this blog, you can read my inaugural post. Almost exactly at the two-year mark, I got a call from a person I had worked with briefly years ago, "I've been reading your blog for awhile and looking for an opportunity to work with you. I finally have a project!" You may be thinking, "Sweet, Adam, if I start a blog now, I will get a new customer in two years. Tight." Yeah, maybe. But not trying at all is your alternative.
Branding is about telling the world your story and seeing how many people say, "Hey bro, that's my story too!" It's telling the truth about your company and your ambitions and hoping to find your people in the nooks of the internet. This is why we post what we post. Take us for example; I am certain people question why we post bizarre quotes, font flash cards or Gabe running through a wall. It's not because we're zany creatives or just think we're hilarious. It's actually our brand and we think about every single thing we post. When I say we think about it, I don't mean we think about whether it is funny or appropriate or if it will get us more customers. We just ask one question, "Is this us?" And, if the answer is yes, we post it.
In conclusion, those are your three options. You could say there are actually four because you can advertise and brand. And, you should do both for your business. But three examples sound so much catchier than four. I am getting tired of writing which assuredly means you're getting tired of reading. It comes down to whether you're in it for the long haul. If you just need some short-term results to show your boss, then throw the kitchen sink at advertising. You might hit some stuff. But if you're in it for 2, 5 or 20 years, start branding your organization. If you tell the truth about your imperfect company, you'll earn the attention of your perfect customer.