Is it better to do nothing if you can’t afford to go big? 

Can you use social media effectively with a limited amount of time and/or money? 

“Do I HAVE to be on Facebook? I HATE Facebook!” 


These are typical questions that we get from prospective and current clients who come to us to learn how to develop and deploy their own digital marketing programs. I love that people are at least thinking about these questions, and are willing to show vulnerability in seeking the answers. 

It used to be that marketing required big dollars – ads in newspapers, direct mail, billboards, radio. But the presence of social media has made marketing accessible to everyone! 

Social media marketing is huge because it can be a low cost medium. Notice I don’t say “free” – and that is intentional. Even if you can post to social media and engage on social media without spending money, your TIME is valuable and therefore there is an explicit opportunity cost to engaging in social media marketing, even if you don’t spend any money on staff time, consultants, outsourcing or advertising. 

The biggest fallacies we hear about social media marketing is that anyone can do it, it’s free, and it’s simple. Please understand that social media is another window into your brand. Like your website. Social media needs to represent your voice, your values, your image. Handing the reins over to your high school intern is not the best idea. Whomever handles social media for your business or organization must know the brand and have a good grasp at being able to represent it to your target audience(s). 

I have delivered a number of social media marketing workshops on this topic. And I always like to stress the old adage of the opportunity triangle. In all things marketing, there are three points on a triangle: speed, quality, and cost. You can not have all three at the same time. Example: you want a high quality campaign, you need it up and running fast – that is going to cost a lot more! If you want a low-budget campaign, you want it to be effective – that is going to take more time. 


opportunity triangle


As you begin to build a social media strategy, start slow. If you are on a shoestring (with time and/or money) you don’t have to be on all platforms at the same time. Pick the platform(s) where your target audience are most engaged. Trying to reach young adults: Instagram and YouTube; people over 40: Facebook.  If your target audience is professionals or you are a b2b company, LinkedIn. All of our clients have target audiences on multiple platforms. But you can start with one or two and get comfortable. Less is more on social media. Pick your channel and do it well.  

What about the “I hate Facebook! Do I HAVE to use it?” question? My answer is this. No, nobody is making you do anything. You don’t have to have sales in your business; you don’t have to advertise; you don’t have to go to events or network or print brochures or business cards. You get to decide. But if you decide that you won’t do any particular social tactic, do it with the full knowledge of what opportunity you are giving up. Facebook is almost always a platform we recommend because the advertising is relatively inexpensive, the targeting is terrific, and integration with Instagram is so streamlined you can manage it easily. Yes, there is a lot of competition for eyeballs on Facebook; yes, building a page following there takes time; yes, you should spend some money to build your following on this platform. But we still think it is worth it. But if you are not going to use it – meaning you set up your page and you never use it, well, that won’t look good either. Commit to maintaining a Facebook page and do it well or don’t do it at all. You get to pick. 

Free social media means you are relying on a content strategy to build a following, drive engagement and ultimately build your brand. This is what we call organic social media. You can use various tactics like following and engaging with influencers or building a brand ambassador campaign. You can co-market with complementary businesses to expand your reach. You can implement video into your content strategy — which can increase your engagement by 30% or more. You will rely on your followers to help share and spread your content, creating growth in brand recognition. Doing organic social media is important. It is the place where you get to express your authentic brand self. You dialogue with your followers, some brands use their social as a means to deliver outstanding customer service. 

Paid social media means you are spending budget on the platforms where you have built an audience. You are “boosting” your posts – which means they will get shown to people who do and don’t even follow you; or you are running “ads” which are meant to reach more targeted audiences, who may not even be aware of your brand. You can use limited budgets to increase your effectiveness on social media. We have clients who are spending $50/month, which is very little, but helps to drive more engagement and actions for the brands (like event promotions, or driving people to the brand website.) With this type of limited budget, you will have to choose between boosting organic content, or running a limited campaign to increase your page likes.The thing we love the most about paid social media is that you can see the results in real time, and you can pause or expand your campaigns with a simple click. You aren’t locked into long term ad contracts, and you have total control of your spend.  

As your budget grows, you can spend more on social media, and see results faster. For targeted campaigns, we generally recommend a budget of at least $10/day on each platform where you are spending money. 

Here are a few of my top tips on doing social media on a shoestring:

  • Social media marketing is not free. Your time is valuable! 
  • If you are investing your time (or you are paying someone) in developing a social media strategy, and you aren’t willing to add some direct spend to the campaign, you are leaving real results on the table. 
  • Planning saves time. Create a content calendar (a plan for what and how often you’ll post each month) about a month ahead of time. You could go so far as to using a  scheduling tool to post for you. 
  • Creating good content takes time. If you don’t adequately “budget” to do social media, it won’t be effective. A good rule of thumb is plan on about 8 hours/month to start. This is planning, writing, creating graphics, finding 3rd party articles to share, posting and engagement. As you add more platforms, it takes more time. You can not strategically use social media by popping onto a platform every now and then. 
  • Start small – don’t try to develop a social media program on 4 or 5 platforms at once. Whatever you do, do it well, even if that means you are only on one platform. 
  • Be realistic. Lower budget social media endeavors mean it will take time to build a following, and you should next expect that social media will drive an increase in sales tomorrow. This is a longer term brand building endeavor, and it can and will pay off if you stay the course. 
  • Don’t try to save money by having an untrained intern handle your social media. Just because someone is young and “born with social” doesn’t mean they know your business, your brand, and your audience. It is more costly to have your brand misrepresented than it is to hire someone who understands the importance of doing it well. 

If you want to diver deeper on social media marketing on a shoestring, you can watch a free recorded webinar that I did with SCORE in spring 2020 on this same topic. If you need help jumpstarting your social media marketing, our team can support you with a low-cost social media audit where you get customized recommendations to take your social media marketing to the next level. 

Have questions? Follow our team on social and drop us a note there: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn


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