* Top 10 Questions Startups Should Ask Before Spending Money On Social Media

Social networking is not magic.

“Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” -Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, Apollo 13

In my spare time, I help companies with social media strategies. In most cases, the companies are late to the game. But does this matter? Not really. Not if you have a plan. And can execute that plan. Here are ten questions that I ask each company before jumping in.

1. Have you read “Economics In One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt? If not, then buy it, read it. A basic understanding of cause and effect (or lack thereof) is essential to any marketing plan.

2. In a down economy, do you think it makes sense to spend more or less on marketing? The correct answer is “more.” You should also review your budget to figure out how much money you have historically spent on marketing. A Marketing Budget Ratio (MBR, the ratio of marketing expenses to total revenue) of about 5% is right for most companies. (My MBR is higher but YMMV.) You should also compare your company’s most successful years with your marketing spending in those years. Decide for yourself whether correlation or causation is involved.

3. Do you drive with your headlights on during the daytime? If not, then you should. Headlights serve two purposes: to see and to be seen. You need headlights to see primarily at night. But you need them to be seen all of the time. Use them even when you think you don’t need them. Similarly, consistency is very important in marketing. It is better to write one blog post every month than to write six one month and zero for the next five.

4. Do you put all of your eggs in one basket? You don’t. In your personal life, you invest in stocks and bonds. Similarly, in business, you should have a balanced marketing portfolio. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. I have a colleague who puts all of his faith (and time and money) into in-person event marketing. I have warned him that if he breaks a leg, then his marketing program comes to a screeching halt. I have another colleague who puts all of his faith (and time and money) into Internet marketing. If all you do is foo, then all of your clients will come from foo. But how do you know that foo plus bar isn’t better than foo? You don’t, because all of your eggs are in the foo basket.

5. Are your kidneys 100% efficient? They are not. In fact, you could remove one of these inefficient organs and continue to live a healthy life. But if you remove the second, then game over. Similarly, do not be fooled into thinking that each aspect of your marketing plan must be ROI positive.

6. Do you care what your website looks like? You probably shouldn’t. What your website says is much more important than how it looks. For this reason, I write my marketing resume in monospace font (Courier).

7. Is it easy to add articles to your website? To your blog? If not, then make it so. I use WordPress.org software for my website (WordPress as CMS) and blog (WordPress as blogging platform). There are plenty of other solutions.

8. Do you have a stats package on your website? On your blog? If not, then install Google Analytics. There are plenty of other solutions. You need to be able to measure stuff so you can iterate intelligently. When you implement your social media marketing plan, you should lather, rinse, repeat. Execute for at least 90 days to measure the effectiveness of what you’ve done. Doing without measuring is worse than not doing.

9. Do you know who your clients are? Your prospective clients? If so, then it is relatively easy to connect with them on various social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube).

10. Is social networking a trend? Of course. It’s trendy and trending. All marketing channels have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I would argue that yellow pages is at the end of its useful life for most companies. Print advertising is great for helping established brands stay top of mind, not so great for establishing top-of-mind awareness to begin with. And social media is here and now.

Finally, be skeptical of everything you read. Including this. There are no easy answers. Like most things in life, you will get out of social media marketing what you put into it. You should budget time and money. It’s not magic. But you’ve got to learn the tricks if you want to play the game.

“The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.'” -Source Unknown

Erik J. Heels is not a new media guru. Neither are you. On Twitter he is @ErikJHeels.

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