The corporate resource commitment to social media: Plenty of talk … but how much action?

Social media staffing prospects for 2013 are no better than they were in 2012.With social media activity seemingly bursting at the seams, it’s also risen near the top of many marketing departments’ punch lists of tactics to reach, engage with and influence their customers and prospects.

But when it comes to putting serious resources behind that effort, how much of a commitment is really there?

A recent Ragan Communications/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey suggests that the commitment to social media may be a lot of “talk” … and a lot less “walk.”

The November 2012 survey of ~2,700 social media professionals found that two-thirds of the respondents perform their social media tasks above and beyond their regular marketing duties:

  • Social media tasks are on top of current responsibilities: ~65% of respondents
  • Have established a team for social media activities: ~27%
  • Use an in-house team along with an outside social media agency or planner: ~5%
  • Outsource all social media efforts: ~3%

For the distinct minority of companies that have seen fit to devote some degree of dedicated personnel to their social media program, nearly 85% of them have created teams of three people or fewer … and in more than 40% of the cases, it’s just a single individual instead of a team.

What departments within companies are involved in social media activities?  No surprise here:  It’s the usual suspects (marketing and public relations) with a variety of other departments having their toe in the water as well:

  • Marketing: ~70% of departments are involved in social media activities
  • Public relations: ~69%
  • Corporate communications: ~49%
  • Advertising: ~26%
  • Customer service: ~19%
  • Information technology: ~17%
  • Legal personnel: ~14%

As to whether we’re on the cusp of something much bigger in terms of resourcing social media activities, this isn’t evident much at all from the future plans of the businesses surveyed by Ragan.

Let’s begin with budgets. Excluding salaries and benefits, half of the companies surveyed have social media budgets of $10,000 or less – and one-quarter have essentially no dollars at all earmarked for social media:

  • Annual social media budget $1,000 or less: ~23% of respondents
  • $1,000 to $5,000: ~14%
  • $5,000 to $10,000: ~13%
  • $10,000 – $50,000: ~22%
  • $50,000+: ~26%

When asked whether companies had expanded their social media personnel assignments during 2012, fewer than one-third of the respondents answered affirmatively.

… And the trend doesn’t look much different for 2013, with more than three-fourths of the respondents reporting that there aren’t any plans to hire additional social media practitioners this year.

What about interns, that fallback position for cheap and easy labor?

Fewer than one-fourth of the respondents reported that interns are employed by their companies for social media tasks. Most others believe that using typically inexperienced interns for the potentially sensitive customer engagement aspects of social media is a “non-starter,” as they consider those sensitivities to be a disqualifying factor.

And in the cases where interns do help out in social media efforts, the vast majority of their activity is confined to Facebook and Twitter, as compared to LinkedIn, blogging,creating online “thought leadership” articles and the like.

How satisfied are companies with how they’re doing in the social media realm? According to this study, there’s rampant dissatisfaction with the degree to which companies feel able to measure the impact of social media on their sales and their businesses.

The tracking mechanisms put in place by companies range the gamut, but it’s not clear how convinced practitioners are that the information is accurate or actionable.

  • Track interaction and engagement (e.g., followers, fans, likes): ~86% of respondents
  • Track web traffic: ~74%
  • Track brand reputation: ~58%
  • Track customer service and customer satisfaction: ~41%
  • Track new lead generation: ~40%
  • Track new sales revenues: ~31%

The vast bulk of tracking activity happens using in-house mechanisms or free measurement tools (~59% use those), although the paid measurement tools offered by HootSuite and Radian6 do have their share of users.

The takeaway from the Ragan/NASDAQ research is this:  Company staffing and resource allocations have a ways to go to catch up with all the talk about social media.

Chances are, those resources will be easier to allocate once proof of social media’s payback potential can be shown.  But that might take substantially more time to prove than some people would like.

As if to underscore this notion, statistics compiled by IBM researchers covering the past holiday season found that less than 1% of all online purchases on Black Friday emanated from Facebook.  The percentage of purchases from Twitter was even lower — undetectable, in fact.

And similarly paltry results were charted for the rest of the 2012 holiday season.

As long as social media marketing continues to contribute such pitiful sales revenues, get used to seeing scant social media budgets and near-zero increases in dedicated human resources.

As direct marketing specialist and raconteur Denny Hatch has so pointedly remarked:

“Social media marketing is an oxymoron.  You cannot monetize a giant cocktail party.”

What do you think?  Is Mr. Hatch onto something … or is he just reaching for dramatic effect?  Share your own thoughts if you’d like.

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