Social media budgets won’t increase this year, survey says.

A look at the average social media budget, how much social media managers make, and more in this revealing survey from Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions.

Hoping for a social media budget increase?

If your organization is like most, there’s little chance of that in a creeping economy.

Social media budgets didn’t go up at most companies, government agencies, and nonprofits in 2012, and aren’t likely to rise in 2013, a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey shows.

[Download the complete survey’s findings here.]

Only 28 percent saw their budgets—excluding salaries and benefits—increase in 2012, while 69 percent stayed the same. Prospects were only slightly better in 2013, with 62 percent of budgets projected to remain static.

“We’re constantly told we’re among the most advanced,” stated one participant, “but the company doesn’t spend its budget to create social graphics, videos, etc., to support our social media efforts.”

Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey respondents ranged from small nonprofits to corporations of more than 50,000 employees, with government agencies also participating.

Organizations of more than 1,000 employees constituted 28 percent of the 2,714 total respondents; the majority had staff size under 1,000, and 23 percent worked for organizations employing fewer than 25.

The survey also found:

  • A plurality—23 percent—of budgets are below $1,000, while 14 percent top $100,000.
  • Salaries for “social media manager” split widely, from the $25,000 to $35,000 range, all the way to $125,000 and higher. But given the range of organizations that responded—from nonprofits to multinational social media sophisticates—this comes as no surprise.
  • Most of the lower salaries are paid by small organizations with annual revenue under $1 million. Conversely, the highest salaries are heavily clustered in organizations with revenue over $1 billion.

For many, little growth in sight

Sixty-nine percent of respondents reported their budgets didn’t grow in 2012. Many communicators and marketers were left doing social media on a shoestring, using free monitoring and measurement and getting by without promoted tweets or high-powered tools. And it’s not getting any better for most: 62 percent say their budget won’t grow in 2013, either.

Optimists made the best of the bad situation: “We have $0 budget; social media is an afterthought,” one respondent said. “We are successful at it because of the passion of the people involved.”

A commenter wrote: “As a city entity, we have very restrictive budgets. Social media is a great barrier-breaker, but at the same time, we cannot give up on traditional streams of communication since many of our citizens do not have direct access to the Internet, nor are [they] engaged with social media.”

Some industry experts expressed surprise at the static budgets. Jonathan Rick, CEO of the digital communications firm The Jonathan Rick Group, says from what he sees in the industry, budgets are increasing.

“In my experience, people are interested in shifting dollars to digital,” he says.

Adam Brown, principal of adMAGINATION, cited a mixed picture. He has seen evidence that organizations are starting to see the value of social media. A study by eMarketer indicates that social media is getting an increasing share of companies’ digital budgets, he notes.

“I don’t think they’ll grow at the rate we were anticipating a year ago,” says Brown, who is a former executive director of social media at Dell. “The economy certainly is hitting that.

“The challenge we face in difficult times like this is that senior executives—your [chief marketing officers], your chief communications officers—are going to go with what they’re most comfortable with. And what they’re most comfortable with is more of the block-and-tackle PR and marketing activities.”

One participant seemed to confirm that. “Few understand the value of SM presence,” the commenter said. “And fewer understand the way SM can function as a tool for us.”

Another questioned the return on social media investment, saying it “doesn’t appear to have value in high-tech marketing.”

“It can be difficult to provide [return on investment] for social media,” another stated, “and without ROI, it’s difficult to build a business case for investment.”

Twenty-three percent listed budgets (excluding salaries and benefits) of less than $1,000. About 27 percent had budgets exceeding $50,000, including the 14 percent that exceed $100,000.

A snapshot of salaries

What does—or should—a social media manager earn? The numbers that emerged represent a range of compensation, with clusters at the $25,000 to $35,000 (20 percent), largely among small organizations, and another around $65,000 to $95,000 (22 percent).

Before you march in and demand a $70,000 raise, bear in mind: The survey offers only a snapshot. For one, the survey did not break down answers geographically, and responses came from countries ranging from Australia to Finland. Respondents worked for small businesses, one-person public affairs offices, international charities, hospital groups, and multinational corporations.

Given these variables, you’re unlikely to sway your boss with this survey. Such diverse organizations would define “social media manager/director” in a multitude of ways. Many beleaguered staffers do social media on top of other duties, whereas a director in a major corporation could clear a six-figure salary, along with stock options and hefty bonuses. The Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey results fall within the range of observations by several sources. Shel Holtz, who has consulted with many major corporations, says he sees social media manager salaries of between $60,000 and $90,000. But Holtz adds that data from Payscale.com give a lower range: $25,335 to $68,029.

“I also consider what the ‘manager’ level pays in most organizations, which strikes me as higher,” Holtz adds. “Of course, this [Payscale.com data] could also include much smaller organizations. I work primarily with Fortune 1,000 types.”

Of those in the lowest salary range in our survey, 43 percent worked for organizations with revenues of under $1 million, and another 19 percent earned annual revenues of from $1 million to $5 million.

One participant, commenting about lack of money as a roadblock, added, “‘Lack of money’ refers to salaries for the job being low.”

At the top end, 55 percent of those reporting salaries over $125,000 worked for companies with yearly revenue of more than $1 billion. Another 35 percent reported revenue of more than $100 million, up to $1 billion.

At this level of compensation, however, the sample was small, with only 20 respondents saying their organization’s manager or director is banking the big bucks. Two worked at organizations with revenue in the $5 million to $20 million range, while 11 worked at organizations where revenue tops $1 billion.

The salary figures were most evenly distributed among all organizations, regardless of size, at $45,000 to $55,000. Twelve percent of those in that range work for organizations with revenue of less than $1 million, while 10 percent clock in at corporations with revenue topping $1 billion.

David B. Rockland, CEO at Ketchum Pleon Change and partner at Ketchum Global Research, said entry-level social media salaries in New York City tend to fall between $35,000 and $45,000.

Compensation rises as people work their way up the chain; top social media executives earn the big bucks.

“It can get up into the several hundreds of thousands of dollars if you’re running the business,” Rockland says.

Companies tend to have different definitions of positions as well. Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications at General Motors, says the salaries at the lower end of survey might be pulled down by community managers, which many organizations regard as an entry-level position. The job can have a frenetic pace and a high burnout rate.

Government communicators who use social media also receive compensations in a wide range of levels. A search for “social media” at the U.S. government website USAJobs.gov reveals salaries from $38,000 to $49,000 (for a Smithsonian Institution communications assistant with social media skills) to $62,467 to $115,700 (for a Transportation Department program analyst that also requires social media skills). Like many respondents in the Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey, however, people filling these positions would be doing social media on top of myriad other responsibilities.

In the end, the ability to navigate all those new platforms isn’t a bad skill to have.

“Social media expert is something that is valued in the marketplace, both in terms of measurement and in terms of the practice of public relations through social media,” Rockland says.

[Download the complete survey’s findings here.] via)

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