Diving into the world of digital marketing is a big endeavor, whether you work for a new startup or an established company. Whether you use an external PR agency or handle things in-house, adding social media to amplify and enhance your traditional PR activities and events is just smart business. But consider some basics about digital marketing before taking the plunge.

TIME

I visited with the fine officers of the FA30 marketing course at Fort Leavenworth recently. One thing we discussed is the misconception that social media is “free.” It requires time, forethought, planning, more time, money (if you really want to be heard on Facebook, for example) and patience.

If you’re a regular or even occasional reader of this column, you know it’s no secret that social media networks are increasingly “Pay to Play” and that organic reach is dropping considerably. Understanding this is important because you then have to figure out how you are going to be heard above the noise. You could up the quality and sophistication of your content, using more videos (have you seen a six-second Vine?) and compelling images. ( See previous column on Vine videos.) You could also put some money behind your posts/tweets, increasing their reach. These tactics take time and considerable planning.

You might be familiar with that little blue button at the bottom of each Facebook update that says “Boost Post.” To be truly effective, you need to create a “boost-worthy” post in the first place,and then spend time targeting the post to the right audience and determining your budget. You should spend time reviewing the analytics (Insights) to gauge ad performance. Kill what’s not working. Do more of what is working.

MONEY

Let’s expand on the budget piece of digital marketing. As with every other department within your company, marketing dollars must be allocated effectively and efficiently. One way to stay in control (and increase success) is to focus on the networks where your (potential) customers are hanging out. It makes more sense to spend $400 on Facebook and Twitter, if that’s where your customers tend to be, than to have thin coverage on multiple platforms just to say you did. Again, kill what doesn’t work. Digital marketing gives you the luxury of reacting quickly, editing and reallocating on the fly. This isn’t always the case with print/radio/TV.

How do you know what’s working best? Use Google Analytics, and compare paid and organic incoming traffic as well as that from social media channels. How are people finding your business? Focus your budget on that.

It’s a basic principle, but I encourage clients to align their messaging across all platforms, so the message is clear and consistent. Having a 20 percent off sale? Promote it on the website, on Facebook, on Twitter and direct mail. All at the same time. The same applies to the budgets for these efforts. Remember to include traditional solutions (direct mail, TV) as well as digital solutions (banner ads, Sponsored Tweets) when planning your marketing budget. Remember to add in the labor costs of having someone dedicated (at least part time) to managing social media accounts. Posting, listening, monitoring and responding all take time. And time is money.

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