Its growing. It is definitely important. And, for good reason, its everywhere. But, is social media marketing a line-item in your 2010 budget? Isn’t it free? Trouble is, many business owners know little about social media so planning and budget management is a real business challenge.

The processes are confusing and complicated. The results are frustrating and it all seems like a colossal waste of time. If that’s you, let’s first dispel some of the myths of social media.

One: Social Media is Free

Yes, for next to nothing you can quickly create a presence on the top three social media sites – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, you can create accounts on other sites such as Blogger, WordPress, YouTube, Flickr, StumpleUpon and Digg; all within a few hours. That too is almost free but incorporating the plethora of tools into a business marketing system that produces real results requires time, marketing savvy and money. Social media marketing is far from free.

Two: Social media profiles are just brief bios or short descriptions of your company

You don’t need to spend a lot of time creating your social media profiles or bios; right? Unfortunately, that’s far from the case. Those that understand the strategy and importance of social media profiles are obtaining far better results than those that don’t. Profiles are very important and very effective when they include a theme that matches your online business goals and objectives.

Three: Anyone can do it and you can do it in-house.

Ask yourself, do you have the experience? Are you using the most appropriate strategies and the right tools? Fact is, few businesses have in-house teams with the experience needed to launch an effective social media marketing campaign. And, many lack the resolve to allocate the necessary resources required to obtain meaningful results.

What do you need? First and foremost, a concise written strategy as well as numerous technical tools, a contact list manager, copy writer, graphic artists and, most importantly, knowledge and experience.

Social media marketing is a fundamental shift in the way individuals network, organize information and communicate. In essence, it is the child born from the evolution of technology during the past two decades. Today, businesses are leveraging technology in more ways than you can possibly imagine.

Each business has unique goals and objectives. Therefore, establishing a social media marketing budget depends on your industry, your competition and your expectations. But, creating a budget is similar to any other project. Here are four quick steps to get your started:

What “projects” and “resources” are required?

  1. Social Media Strategy and Theme – generally developed by the business management team (or owner) with the marketing/communications manager. If you don’t have a full-time marketing manager, consider outsourcing this important starting point to an experienced marketing firm.
  2. Tools – select the sites and tools you’ll focus on for your campaign. And, stay focused. The most appropriate sites are not necessarily the top three. Research the sites visited most frequently by your target market just like you would with any other marketing campaign. Stick with your plan long enough to collect meaning data to determine the effectiveness of the campaign.
  3. Integration – plan out specifically how you intend to use other forms of advertising – such as marketing brochures, trade shows, local events, print ads, etc. Are you driving traffic to social media sites and capturing leads to build your contact list? Are you sponsoring an event supported by an email marketing campaign? For example, are you posting photos and copies of presentations you gave on your blog following an event? There are costs associated with this aspect of the project such as contact management software, email marketing software, blog maintenance, etc.
  4. Define success – almost everything online can be measured. However, the more you intend to measure the more money you’ll spend collecting and analyzing data. It is very important to understand some of the costs are “branding” costs and some are “operational” costs (IT support). Understand the different aspects of your marketing campaign and appropriate the resources as well as the expenses accordingly.

Next week we’ll go into more detail on planning and budgeting for social media marketing. You can subscribe to our site here; it allows you to receive the updates when they are published. Also, please leave a comment below if you have specific questions about social media. Or, tell us what lessons you learned last year about social media marketing?