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How valuable is social media, really?

When it comes to creating a successful social media program, there are three core issues: Building a following; creating engagement; and sales action. What drives them all? Content.

Great content is not simply posting about or promoting a product: It’s truly knowing the target, down to individual people, and constantly refining and adjusting based on what is trending, being shared, and drawing comments. Though seemingly simple, this equation works – and quite well – for us at GRM, a “zealotry marketing” agency serving nonprofits and other passion-driven businesses.


Some look for ways to “beat the algorithms” or otherwise outsmart the system, but this rarely works: Unlike in traditional media, the social media playing field is not fixed. What works on one social site doesn’t necessarily translate to another, and each site revises and adjusts its own rules more-or-less continuously. What works today may be dramatically altered tomorrow.


To debunk another common misconception: Social media is not free. By design, social media is a very competitive environment where posts and ad dollars are pitted against each other. You’ll need to determine how you’ll measure your outcomes and ROI carefully, and up front. In other words, social media requires a plan with measurable goals – just like any other effective advertising or marketing program.


And, like any great advertising, content is the driver. Ad dollars and sponsored posts can put you in front of more people, but what happens then? If the content (“creative” in traditional ad-speak) is not interesting, distinctive, visual or otherwise engaging, the viewer is already scrolling down the page. For those reasons, a team is always better for handling social media than a single employee (who typically has other pressing tasks as well).


That means the cost of a successful social media effort can be significant: the cost of engaging dedicated pros who work multiple sites for multiple clients, giving them the experience and perspective to understand how to quickly adjust, or pivot completely, to achieve success; the cost of covering sites 24/7 to provide timely response to comments, questions, and other engagement from followers; and other resources critical in building an online community.


There is also one hidden cost: How are you measuring up to competition online? Leading brands understand the value of building followers: It is the best and most economical database you can get. Think about the cost of buying lists, generating signups at events, and sending out direct mail: What is the real ROI there? Many companies struggle just to build an active and accurate list of their existing customers – never mind adding in interested prospects. Simply put: If your competition has more followers, their cost of marketing is less than yours.


Even further, they can exponentially add more prospects than your company, at a lower cost. The reason for that: referral. Up until now, media has been linear, in that advertisers (or other content producers) push out messages, and audiences have one choice: view them or don’t. In social media, consumers can participate publicly in the content.


Is that a good thing? In our estimation, it is a great thing. Those most passionate about your brand – we call them your “zealots” – will not just follow you, they will recommend, engage, and share. That public engagement means instant referrals – and because the average person on Facebook has about 300 followers (friends), many people can be introduced to your brand for the first time through a friend, the most credible referral a brand can get. In addition, most consumers now view peer reviews as more valuable than professional ones, and see greater numbers of followers as an indicator of greater credibility.


Although value will vary widely by brand, $174 is a widely quoted the average value of a Facebook follower. How does that compare to your cost of prospecting or new donor acquisition? If you understand those numbers, then you understand why social media is not a nebulous cost, but the most valuable marketing asset ever available to companies.


For more lessons on social media and best practices for marketing and fundraising online, sign up for the four-part Certificate of Nonprofit Social Media I’ll be leading, starting April 21, 2020, at GCN’s Nonprofit University.

April Voris is co-founder and chief zealotry officer of marketing agency GRM. Voris has has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, working with nonprofits and for-profits of all sizes, and has been leading Nonprofit University courses for 7 years.

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