Getting Started, website innovation

Budgeting for Social Media Success

13 Comments 11 September 2009

image courtesy of ionushi
image courtesy of ionushi

Implementing a real social media strategy is not…free. Recently, I met with a nonprofit organization that is struggling to create a strong social media presence but hampered by the lack of designated funds for social media. It reminds me of the dilemma of technology: in order to be an efficient company, organizations must to invest in regular hardware and software upgrades. But how many nonprofits have the budget to do this, or the funders willing to contribute towards technology upgrades? Unfortunately, this is the reality that must be acknowledged:

We are still under the illusion that social media costs nothing.

And that’s wrong.

Website costs:

One sure cost will be expenses associated with making your website more “social.”  Some of these might include:

  • website upgrade (more than once)
  • embedding social media into the site itself
  • creating conversational, social areas on the website itself (blog, membership forum, community reviews, etc.)

Staff Time:

Social media requires time and personal investment. Be sure to budget time for staff, volunteers, or paid consultants to work on your social media strategy. For reference, see a previous blog post discussing much time social media takes. When I asked my Twitter followers to tell me the “hidden costs of social media,” the overwhelming response was “staff time!”  The important thing is to remember to allow staff (many people, one person) dedicated time to monitor, respond, create and engage online using social media platforms. I know how hard this is to do, as a former nonprofit executive, but it’s impossible for someone to work effectively juggling their regular responsibilities and all the social media.

Blogging costs:

Your organization can certainly create a blog using any of the free blogging tools available. However, if you choose to add premium features or host the blog yourself, there are associated expenses. These include:

  • upgrading to premium status (usually costs around $10 a year)
  • self-hosting a blog (called website hosting fees) can be much higher
  • create a custom template for the blog to compliment the website

Video costs:

If you want to include video in your social media strategy (YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv), then you must own a video camera. Depending on your organization, you might need a very good camera. If you are university, or a hospital, then you want the quality of your videos to be outstanding. If you are a grassroots organization, you don’t need a $3000 camera! If you will be livestreaming, or uploading large videos, then investigate the cost of increased upstream internet bandwidth, which you can buy from a cable service provider or your internet service provider relatively cheaply.

  • video camera and microphone
  • webcam
  • increased bandwidth

Photo sharing costs:

If you will be uploading photos to a photo sharing site such as Flickr, Picasa, or Photobucket then your organization will need a high-quality camera that produces good images. I recommend budgeting money for a new camera every other year.

  • digital Camera
  • premium fee for unlimited digital storage on a photo sharing website (around $30/year).

Twitter costs:

You’re thinking, “hey, Twitter is free!” Yes it is free to tweet, but it is not if you have to pay for the associated hardware to do it. If you are planning events where your organization will want to “live tweet,” don’t forget the portable devices that allows you to do that. You may also need a portable wifi network for a space (such as an event space, or outdoor space where you might hold a press conference) that is connected to the outside world. It’s a “movable wifi domain” that provides internet access for all your twittering fans and live streaming needs. Here is an example of what one looks like and does. Associated Twitter or live streaming expenses:

  • smartphone or a laptop that can search for wireless connections
  • mobile wireless access hub, called a 3.5G cellular modem with a built-in wifi access point

Facebook:

Facebook Pages are free and easy to create. When you need to create a custom Facebook Page, or a Facebook Application as part of your social media strategy, you will need a programmer that is fluent in the Facebook program code, called FBML.

  • Facebook programmer to develop custom Application, Facebook Page, or other custom code

Social Media Campaigns:

Your organization will probably create and implement a social media campaign. Campaigns ask your stakeholders to take action on your organization’s behalf. The expenses involved with campaigns are hard to budget ahead of time. Depending on organizational and campaign goals, you might develop a game in Second Life, a custom Facebook Application, a campaign micro-site, a voting platform…the possibilities are endless. I highly recommend setting aside some of the technology or campaign budget for social media campaign-related expenses.

Don’t let this list deter you from engaging in social media!

Social media has become a critical part of true stakeholder engagement and meeting your mission. When you do engage, be aware that there ARE “hidden” costs of this “free” social media.

What are the other costs associated with social media?

Do you have a social media budget?

How do you budget for it effectively?

Thanks to Eric Guth of Efrat Networks for hardware consultation.

»
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  • http://www.melindaklewis.com/ Melinda Lewis

    This is going to be really helpful in talking with nonprofits, especially small grassroots ones that lack some of this infrastructure, about how to plan for social media success. It seems that the lack of resources (not just staff time, but the programming expertise and technology you also mention) is not necessarily a barrier to participation in the social media world but rather a distinction between those NPOs that have a successful, ‘put together’ social media presence and those kind of cobbling something together. With better ability to measure the impact of this investment, combined with a proliferation of (free) tools and some attention from donors of the potential, some of this should be addressed somewhat, but it’s also quite likely that the gap between the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ nonprofits will spread to the social media world too, despite all that we hear about virtual communications being the great equalizer.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Melinda, that is an incredibly astute observation. In fact, I agree that, unfortunately, this may be the case. This point strengthens the argument for the need to set aside funds for a social media budget and plan to raise funds for these costs. For a donor, raising funds to an organization or a campaign must now include the online and offline technology necessary for it to succeed online. You have given me a lot to think about, and I will hope others will respond to this comment as well. I really appreciate your stopping by and offering this comment.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.melindaklewis.com Melinda Lewis

    This is going to be really helpful in talking with nonprofits, especially small grassroots ones that lack some of this infrastructure, about how to plan for social media success. It seems that the lack of resources (not just staff time, but the programming expertise and technology you also mention) is not necessarily a barrier to participation in the social media world but rather a distinction between those NPOs that have a successful, ‘put together’ social media presence and those kind of cobbling something together. With better ability to measure the impact of this investment, combined with a proliferation of (free) tools and some attention from donors of the potential, some of this should be addressed somewhat, but it’s also quite likely that the gap between the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ nonprofits will spread to the social media world too, despite all that we hear about virtual communications being the great equalizer.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Melinda, that is an incredibly astute observation. In fact, I agree that, unfortunately, this may be the case. This point strengthens the argument for the need to set aside funds for a social media budget and plan to raise funds for these costs. For a donor, raising funds to an organization or a campaign must now include the online and offline technology necessary for it to succeed online. You have given me a lot to think about, and I will hope others will respond to this comment as well. I really appreciate your stopping by and offering this comment.

    [Reply]

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  • http://www.fundraisingassets.com/ Connie Oswald Stofko

    This is very well written! One option that nonprofits might consider is working with a consultant or contractor. There are several advantages:
    1. You get the extra staff you need.
    2. The consultants are already experts in their field. If you use your own staff, you’re paying them to learn new skills on their own. The consultants can teach your staff, thus speeding up the learning curve. The experts can also look at the needs of your organization and help you map out a strategy that’s right for you. Also, it may be cost effective to have them do some of the work for you.
    3, You hire them only when you need help the most. They can work on a short-term basis or you can hire them for a particular project.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Connie – consultants are a good way to stretch a budget, but ultimately social media cannot be handled only by consultants. I, myself, am a social media consultant and though I bring expertise and value to clients, I know that not every company or nonprofit needs one. The best social media strategies integrate the passion that comes from people in-house communicating with stakeholders. Additionally, this blog post speaks about the “hidden” hard costs of social media – and of course some of those could be consultants (a Facebook application developer, a web programmer) or handled in-house. The important part is to remember that social media is NOT free – but more effective and lower-cost than advertising or public relations.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.fundraisingassets.com/ Connie Oswald Stofko

    This is very well written! One option that nonprofits might consider is working with a consultant or contractor. There are several advantages:
    1. You get the extra staff you need.
    2. The consultants are already experts in their field. If you use your own staff, you’re paying them to learn new skills on their own. The consultants can teach your staff, thus speeding up the learning curve. The experts can also look at the needs of your organization and help you map out a strategy that’s right for you. Also, it may be cost effective to have them do some of the work for you.
    3, You hire them only when you need help the most. They can work on a short-term basis or you can hire them for a particular project.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Connie – consultants are a good way to stretch a budget, but ultimately social media cannot be handled only by consultants. I, myself, am a social media consultant and though I bring expertise and value to clients, I know that not every company or nonprofit needs one. The best social media strategies integrate the passion that comes from people in-house communicating with stakeholders. Additionally, this blog post speaks about the “hidden” hard costs of social media – and of course some of those could be consultants (a Facebook application developer, a web programmer) or handled in-house. The important part is to remember that social media is NOT free – but more effective and lower-cost than advertising or public relations.

    [Reply]

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About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She is the current Director of Outreach at the National Brain Tumor Society. She speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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