Can you make money managing social media?

In a blog post almost two years ago about the best business idea for social media marketing, I made a prediction that I think stands up.  I said that there would be increasing demand for out-sourced social media management and content farms that would pump out low-cost, low value content in a Wal-Mart kind of way.

I’m not not saying this is necessarily recommended!  I just thought it would happen … and it is.  Now, here’s the next big question … can you make money managing social media for others?

My original prediction was based on a statement I heard at many companies: “Can you please just do this social media stuff for me?”

Of the course the purists will contend that everybody should do their own social media because of the “authenticity” value.  Certainly that is an ideal, but I’m also a realist. If people want to out-source their social media and there is a buck to made, it will certainly happen somewhere.   I also think there is some value to a consultant or agency helping people along for some period of time.  When you first got your driver’s license somebody still had to sit beside you and teach you how to drive, right?

In my job as a consultant, and especially in my job as a college educator teaching grad-level students from a variety of corporations, I see many approaches to social media management. Now, this is a short blog post and there are lots of nuances and exceptions, but IN GENERAL, here are some broad trends in social media management:

Mega brands – I can’t name names, but I have had a chance to witness some AMAZING and sophisticated social media marketing programs. These companies are beginning to make correlations between “share of voice” and true marketshare, using listening platforms to track micro-trends and the “cool kids,” and taking location-based marketing to a whole new level.

These companies have the resources to hire the biggest agencies and best minds in the world to help them navigate social media labyrinths and determine a strategy, but generally, they are organizing and resourcing to respond to the new opportunities. One brand has renamed part of their marketing department “Customer Connections.”

Medium-sized companies. I have a limited view of the world (of course), but I’ll be honest. Unless you are an elite brand, I believe at least 95 percent of the companies I see are desperately confused about what to do about social media.  I think they would just like for it to go away so they can return to having a trade booth at the annual conference in Las Vegas.

They probably don’t have a corporate culture that can easily adapt to the transformation needed to “listen” instead of “broadcast” and they simply want to check a box to do SOMETHING. You, know … I actually think there is some value in that.  A company that is at least thinking through the platforms, attempting to listen on the new channels and dipping their toe into content marketing is taking a step in the right direction.  Most of these companies at least have the vision and budget to hire an agency to get them started on social media marketing.

Small businesses.  As I wrote last week, I think social media can provide an advantage to most small businesses, but that doesn’t mean it actually does unless they are working on it!   Why isn’t it happening?

  1. They’re overwhelmed by the concept and don’t know where to start.
  2. They started a Facebook page and nobody “liked” them so they quit.
  3. They understand the concept but don’t have the time or resources to do anything consistent and meaningful.
  4. Their marketing budget is tied up in local newspaper and TV ads and they don’t have anything left for something new.
  5. When you bring it up, they stare you down and tell you they “Don’t need the Facebox or The Tweeter,” usually followed by “Dammit.”

Unless your customer falls into Category 5, they may be asking you to manage their social media program for them.  I see the following business models emerging:

Local support.  The new category of social media gurus are trying to teach best practices and perhaps do some hands-on social media management.  My take is that most of these efforts eventually fail because you are communicating for somebody else, which is probably not sustainable, and the labor cost to actually do this stuff is so high –and the results so undefinable in the short-term — that customers lose interest. People with a limited budget need this to work NOW.

Cookie cutter.  I am seeing a ton of people and small agencies offering social media packages — “our gold package features two tweets per day, a Facebook update, and one blog post per week!”  I truly despise this approach because it institutionalizes lazy marketing. But it is happening, a lot. I also forecast that most of these efforts will fail because at some point, the customer is going to wonder when all the new sales are going to start coming in from these two tweets per day they are paying for … and of course there will not be any. So this is a band-aid but I don’t see it working broadly.

Overseas.  Kind of a hybrid. Let’s solve the labor cost problem by hiring low-cost virtual assistants in Vietnam or The Philippines to do the tweets and blogs for us. I have a friend offering this to customers now and the VA can set-up WordPress websites so inexpensively he gives them away.  There are a multitude of problems associated with this approach but it at least addresses the labor issue.

Coaching.  I think the only viable long-term solution for most small businesses is to get some coaching.  I have successfully taken this approach with several clients. They buy an hour or so of my time each week and we methodically work on a step-by-step plan to eventually create a culture, an organization, and an actionable strategy appropriate for the company resources and budget. This seems to be the approach that will work best. It is not fast (and a lot of people hate that! ) but it does slowly integrate these practices into the fabric of the company, get real employees involved, and become a natural extension of their sales and marketing strategy.

I know it’s a big world and there are probably lots of other advances and models around.  What are you seeing?  What’s working or not working? Have you found a way to monetize social media management?

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