How to get social media on the 2012 budget

Here are the four things you should ask if you want to boost your online strategy.

Social media is a way to reach customers, and it’s free. Or so we’ve heard.

Social media managers know that’s not true. As evidenced by the need for campaign integration, technology costs and hiring staff, it’s an investment.

Finance departments are already planning for the 2012 budget. Here are the items that should be on every social media manager’s wish list. And remember, if you don’t ask, they won’t throw you a bone.

1. Tracking

You’re tackling business growth one tweet at a time. Certainly CEOs and marketers can appreciate a good anecdote about your tweets with a customer, but the numbers will carry you over the long term. They show how you compare to competitors, help you understand what’s effective, and introduce new measures, like sentiment.

Until you can muster the funds for a tool like Radian6, free services like Google Analytics, HootSuite and BlogPulse can give you an idea of where you stand.

2. Tools

Are you bringing in your personal Mac computer to edit video? Your own Nikon to capture photos? Are you bootlegging Photoshop behind the IT department’s back?

You need the tools to create social outputs you were hired to develop. Photo and video breathe life into stories that might otherwise be dull and overlooked. Equipment can be expensive, so lay out a plan to add these items gradually and upgrade on occasion.

  • Digital camera. Look for video recording capability in addition to great photos. Add a bundle to this purchase: a tripod and good microphone.
  • Photoshop. Don’t skimp here. Get the real deal to ensure your photos are compatible with the software used by your creative teams.

3. Toys

Your cousin “scanned” her contact information into your cell phone at your last family gathering. Overstock.com just launched “o.co” as a shorter URL. You saw a presentation that zooms in and out that definitely wasn’t PowerPoint, and you’re told there’s a game online where people “check in” to a place and reveal their location to strangers. Known as QR codes, .co extensions, Prezi and Foursquare, respectively, social media managers have a lot to investigate.

Up-and-coming apps and social tools sound far-fetched until you see them in action. This is why it’s important to ask for a small “exploratory social budget.” If you have to present a cost-benefit analysis before purchasing a dancing bear app, you’ll never be ahead of the curve.

4. Training

The digital world changes fast. There are plenty of free ways to stay up on trends, but ultimately, you need to engage with people who are thinking about social media as often as you. Find a way to attend a conference or work with an agency. At the very least, create a TweetDeck column of digitally-minded tweeps and hone in on those who are on the pulse.

And remember, don’t be too proud to beg.

April Sciacchitano is an account executive at CRT/tanaka where she focuses on digital strategy and healthcare marketing. You can find her on Twitter at @aprilcs.

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