social media researchHave you asked this question: Is the time I invest with social media really worth it?  Whether you’re new or an old hat with social media, chances are you’ve wondered if the time commitment is really worth the return on investment (ROI).

Make no mistake about it:  a true investment of time and resources is necessary to see significant social media marketing success.

But the real question is, “Just HOW MUCH time is needed to see solid success?”

This question was recently answered in the new study, 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, authored by Michael Stelzner.  Based on the report findings, ROI is top of mind for most marketers using social media.

Top Social Media Questions Marketers Want Answered

According to the data, the number-one question marketers most want answered is how to track social media ROI.  A sampling of questions includes:

  • How can I tell a convincing story to management about the ROI for social media marketing?
  • What are the key metrics to follow for measuring ROI in terms of customer satisfaction, revenues and brand loyalty?
  • How effective is social media versus the resources needed to maintain the effort?
  • Are there any industry benchmarks that track the impact of social media marketing?

In the 2009 study, the number-one question from marketers was related to social media tactics, followed by ROI.  Now tactics have moved down considerably and the ROI question has moved up.  One reason for this could be that social media is maturing and more people have started using the tools and tactics.  Now they want to know if the long-term payoff for their time and resources is really there.

Time Versus Return for Social Media Marketing

When looking at ROI, you also have to look closely at just how much time you’re investing.  Unlike some other traditional forms of marketing, when it comes to social media, your investment is more time than money.

The industry report results shed some light on the amount of time marketers are really spending on social media marketing.

Out of the 1900 marketers’ responses, almost all were using social media for marketing purposes and the majority of these marketers were fairly new in the social media area.

  • 91% of respondents indicated they were employing social media for marketing purposes.
  • 65% of marketers have either just started or have been using social media for only a few months.

When drilling down to the actual hours spent using social media tools, the largest group was in the 1 to 5 hours per week range.  Of that group, 43% are spending 4 to 5 hours each week on social media activities. A significant 56% of marketers are using social media for 6 hours or more each week and 30% for 11 or more hours weekly.  It’s interesting to note that 12.5% of marketers spend more than 20 hours each week on social media.

This chart shows the overall breakdown of marketers’ time spent using social sites.

But even more interesting than the time spent on social media marketing, the report also showed a correlation between the amount of user experience and the time spent using social media tools. The median weekly time commitment for beginners was 1 hour versus 10 hours for those doing this for a few months or longer. Because 65% of respondents indicated they were newbies or just a few months in, much of their time spent on social sites could be more trial and error than solid strategy. Perhaps the difference in time spent using social tools is because the marketers who have the most experience also have more well-defined social media strategies, allowing them a clear plan of action on the social sites.

Just like with anything else, experience is golden.  The more user experience one has with social media marketing, the more valuable every minute spent on social media sites becomes.  The time spent on social sites is not as important as the actual results.  What we really should be looking at is what kind of results are you getting for that 1 hour, 4 hours, even 12 hours per week?

Top Benefits of Social Media

When the respondents were asked about the benefits they’ve received from social media marketing, there were some clear winners that stood out above the rest.  When looking at ROI on social media marketing, money in the bank can’t be your only indicator of success.  Increased traffic, lead generation and happy, connected customers all are factors in deciding which social media strategies are working best for your business.

According to the survey, the number-one benefit of social media marketing is greater exposure (85%).  Improving traffic and building new partnerships followed next.  More than half of marketers indicated a rise in search engine rankings was a benefit of social media marketing.  The report states, “As search engine rankings improve, so will business exposure, lead generation efforts and a reduction in overall marketing expenses.  More than half of marketers found social media generated qualified leads.”

This chart shows how respondents viewed the benefits of social media marketing.

Outsourcing Social Media

Because time and ROI are such a central focus for many marketers, it was surprising to see that very few were outsourcing their social media efforts.  According to the report, some factors may be that social media outsourcing is fairly new and the majority of respondents were new to social media, perhaps yet unaware of what they should and should not be outsourcing.

The chart below shows how the majority of marketers are not outsourcing their social media activity.

Where we’re seeing the outsourcing trend is in the larger organizations.  According to the report, “the larger the organization, the more likely outsourcing is taking place.  For example, 25.7% of large businesses and 25% of mid-sized businesses are currently outsourcing, compared to only 10.6% of sole proprietors.”  Like many marketing trends, what starts with the “big guys” tends to make its way to the smaller businesses—therefore, we may be seeing more outsourcing overall in the coming year.

Check out the full report here.

Now it’s your turn!  Do you feel your time using social media marketing is worth the return? Does your own experience match up with the results? Share here—we want to hear from you!

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  • I have tweeted for others and find that it’s difficult to do. You don’t necessarily know the great details of the business that make the tweets personal and engaging.The whole trend of the new marketing is taking your message to the customers directly. Outsourcing tends to put a barrier in that defeats the greatest advantage of the new marketing model.

    Thanks for the great post

  • Michael Tucker

    Hi Amy,
    After working with a few ‘technophobes’, I find that while setting up their accounts and such is easy, but giving them the idea that they can attract followers that way is something that takes a little comprehension. Even automating tweets is a great option if they are willing to put in the time to do so.

  • Great post as always Amy,

    Alas, social media for business is an oxymoron. No amount of semi-quantifiable and pseudo-scientific reporting will change that.

    As Lou pointed out, outsourcing to social media pros creates yet another layer thats counter to the idea of social media.

    There is a new movement amongst companies to intercept and address problems (a la pizza hut with their “our pizza sucks but we’ve improved it” campaign), however, it all reeks of effort and comes off disingenuous and manipulative.

    If the social media efforts are driven by the profits and bottom line (and corporate actions always are) then thats going to come through loud and clear regardless of how they try to mask it.

    So I think the question becomes how does a business hide their true intention and trick people into brand-indoctrination? Of course, now we are getting into unethical waters but then again thats not unfamiliar territory for most corps.

    None the less, I think you’ve done a wonderful job of presenting almost unpresentable 🙂

    I dont mean to rant

  • cloudspark

    Hi Amy –

    I was glad to see a broader study come out on the time investment of social media. We conducted a small survey this past spring of social media practitioners (people who spend 60% or more of their time in social media), and these were our results – if you have 1 brand in 5 channels (FB, Twitter, LI, YouTube and Flickr) the average hour/week was 65 (the results are here: While we surveyed people who spend nearly all their time in the social media sphere – the similar finding was that it take a lot of TIME to listen, engage, respond, invite, (and measure) your online communities.

    I’ll be adding this post into the comments on our blog as well as using these study results to reiterate in presentations, that time invested with your customers is nearly always of value.

    Thanks, Jenny

  • Verndale

    Great post! It is hard not to ask these ROI questions because social media efforts truly are time-consuming. I was not surprised to see a small percentage of companies outsourcing and don’t feel it will change too much. Another way to evaluate the ROI is to look at the positive and negative effects it is having on your brand. Companies should have a social media optimization (SMO) strategy in place, but right now that may seem daunting for most companies.

    We took a more in-depth look at SMO in our recent blog post as well: Again, thanks for the info!

  • One easy way of tracking your return of investment for social media for the likes of twitter and facebook is using google analytics and track all the way through to a purchase.

    Brand awareness type of stuff is hard to track but still easier than trying to figure out if someone looked at your billboard. At least you can see how many fans liked or shared the content. If they like or share they seen it. If they drive by a bill board in the car did they see it or?

    So that is the issue people are making with ROI on social media? It’s easier to track than traditional forms of advertising, tell me if I”m wrong!!!

  • Amy, Thanks for the info!We have only just dipped our toes into the social media world, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it really is worthwhile for us to spend our time online; articles like this remind me how important it is. Trying to reach the right people on Twitter and Facebook is incredibly daunting! There are so many people out there and it’s hard to find our target audience. However, Google Analytics tells us that traffic on our site ( is up by over a thousand percent since we started tweeting! So we are certainly seeing results in traffic and while more visitors to the site is never a bad a thing, we haven’t seen any conversions. So we are just waiting for the day when all the hard work pays off!Thanks again!Marjorie

  • In my experience with my current business and previous ones, networking is a very effective way to do business and social media gives us the platform to reach more people in less time than it would if we still had to depend upon physical meetings. I love the internet and know that I can reach millions of people just by sitting at my desk and reaching out over technology.

  • I absolutely do not get outsourcing for something like Twitter. That would be like hiring someone else to go to a party for me.

    What am I missing?

  • Twitter, Facebook, etc. are a waste of time for advertising your business. Nobody goes on these sites to look for business ops. It seems that everyone is trying to advertise on these sites. There are just too many entrepreneur 7 very few interested prospects or leads. You have to pay money to get quality advertising & quality prospects.

  • I completely disagree with you. It totally depends on your business. Plus social media marketing is about developing relationships and generating conversations with your brand. So if you develop a conversation with someone about your brand and it comes time they want to use a product/service like yours, it is highly likely that they’ll remember you instead of your competitor. That’s great value right there.

  • Social media marketing is definitely worth the time as long as your target market is using social media and your business is appropriate for social media (i.e. it would probably not be appropriate for someone like a gynecologist to use social media for marketing purposes).

    Plus, if you use the right tools, you will save time and generate more leads. We’re working on a building an app that will help companies save quite a bit of time.

  • Strong words (and extremely ignorant and unfounded) coming from someone who works for a “make money staying at home” company.

  • new

    how much should one charge to do social media marketing?
    and (for Social Media Marketers) what are some sample services within this type of marketing do u offer?

  • Marjorie — What are you attempting to convert them from and to? Are you letting them take one very small, comfortable step at a time? If they click your link and land directly on your home page, there’s a lot of relevance lost and that’s a BIG transition from reading your tweet to requesting a meeting with you to discuss their marketing. Instead, try something akin to tweeting a line from a section of a white paper or case study and having their click take them to that section. Then invite their “conversion” by offering the rest of that white paper or case study in exchange for their name and e-mail address. I know this is really basic for some but an important concept that’s often overlooked even by savvy folks.

  • That’s funny and I don’t think you are missing anything. I wouldn’t outsource that.

  • Great post, Amy! You guys are my favorite source of social media information…

    As a communications professional with many many years in this field, I found myself having to learn almost everything again when social media took place. On the other hand, being a communicator is definitely handy! 😉

    Now, I am offering social media components to my clients but, as Lou pointed out, it is tricky to tweet for them. One way to do that is to spend time with them, moving my office to their office for a couple of hours a week. Just an idea that might work to some of you…

    Thanks again,

  • I hope I don’t sound naive in saying this, but I feel that using social media for lead gen works better for some companies than it does others. I personally hate using social media to get leads because I feel that taking it down that path leads to an less genuine place. I like to view social media as a “safe” place where our fans and follows don’t have to worry about being pitched or advertised to. They can just enjoy us. But, maybe I will change my mind tomorrow. (That also happens a lot to me with social media.)

  • I’m noticing a lot of social media wizards (and I mean that kindly) show cold feet at the notion that sales [Gasp!] might occur because of something they wrote on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or their blog. C’mon, folks! Wake up smell the CHANGE! Is it a BAD thing to make a sale? Is anyone asking you to be less than genuine? Yes, of course, you can be dishonest if you choose — and, no doubt, there will always some people behaving dishonestly via social media. But social media throws more light on every business involved and makes it harder for dishonest practices to hide. Are you afraid that your ability to provide information might actually turn you into a resource by which people are guided? Are you automatically labeling that guiding you do as “manipulation”? Are you leading people toward something against their better judgment? Against their will? Against their best interests? If you believe so, that’s sad. Would you prefer to guide people AWAY from the company writing your paycheck or TOWARD the company writing your paycheck? Is it a problem for you that what you do might result in more people doing business with your employer? If so, then marketing via social media is not your main problem. And if you think that marketing, by its very nature, is evil, then you’ve got some serious navel-staring to do before you share (i.e. provide, offer, promote) ANY information via ANY media. If you’re in business — or even in a non-profit, you really ought to realize that, as Jeffrey Gitomer says, “the customer does not like to be sold to, but he loves to buy.” As soon as you understand that, you’ll begin to LOVE communicating — openly and honestly — and helping people get all the information they need (and that you feel they deserve, too) to make the right decisions for themselves.

  • Dude you are coming across kind of snarky and rude. All I’m trying to say is that there is an appropriate state of mind you should be in when using social media. If your state of mind is purely sales, sales, sales that will come across the same as the person who is at a party only talking about himself getting one everyone’s nerves. In social media you have to put others first. If your state of mind is wanting to just build relationships and foster brand evangelism then you will have much more success.

  • Steve

    Right, without being tracked and monitored like an animal at the shopping preserve…

    Now when I comment, I’m asked to tell the publisher who I am, who are in my contacts, what photos I’ve got on Picasa, and probably much much more about me. Just to leave a damn comment? sorry, the reciprocity in this exchange is not balanced.

    Hello to Social Media, goodbye to anonymity!

  • Steve

    annie, you spot on.

    all these fools rushing headfirst into social media (as if media were supposed to be anything else) are just going to find themselves feeling a little foolish later…because they will be losing control of their “personal brand” and once that is gone, you can’t get it back.

    we’re all so scared of Identity Theft, however here we’re giving our identities to various publishers and advertisers…who of course would never do anything deceptive, right?

  • That’s funny… wasn’t it DOMINOES PIZZA, not Pizza Hut, that ran that campaign? Seems to have missed the target with some I guess. 🙂

  • Ed, you are right that it was Dominos.

  • Social Media marketing has paid off great for my small bus. I have done some paid advertising on FB and You Tube with good ROI too.
    It has been well worth my time to cultivate relationships through my FB friends. You Tube is awesome, Twitter not so mch for me, LI ok, Just started with Flicker.

  • If my anecdotal experience is any indicator, social media marketing works. In just 3 months of using Facebook, Twitter and Article Marketing and no SEO, my site’s Alexa rank is higher than I would have thought possible. I’ve achieved a great deal of exposure and credibility as well.

  • As usual, another valuable and worth reading article. It is amazing the way in which you people post interesting and realistic content but also the way in which you organize the information is also amazing. Congrats!
    Regarding the article, I believe this should be shown and explained to a lot of entrepreneurs who feel uncertain when it comes to invest both time and money on their social media strategies. It is, in my opinion, as if they were neglecting the fact that social media is the main character in this business play!
    @Steve, do you think anonymity will help a business in any way? Remember social media is not intended for business to storage confidential data they are not willing to share. See, the problem is that people don’t fully understand the way in which social media strategies have to be approached to take advantage of them.
    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  • @Steve, do you think anonymity will help a business in any way? Remember social media is not intended for business to storage confidential data they are not willing to share. See, the problem is that people don’t fully understand the way in which social media strategies have to be approached to take advantage of them.

  • Great post and great charts! A very clear representation of how social media works–very ideal for newcomers and those intending to use social media in their marketing mix. I’m also surprised that they are not outsourcing for their social media projects. It will surely save them time if they delegate tasks to others. I understand if they probably trying to save up money by doing everything themselves.
    PS…Sharing more tips for newbies on internet marketing:

  • Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud

    I know I definitely see a correlation between just one social media outlet–Twitter–and the number of profile views I get on LinkedIn.

  • I definitely see that my time using social media as a marketing tool is a worth the return. I’ve gained insight into my customers, and have personally grown by learning from the information others have offered. Also, I think the amount of time you spend depends on what and how you want to use the tool. If it’s an important tool for what they do, they’ll probably use social media more often in their marketing mix. And for each social media tool, you can use it often or infrequently..all depends on what your objective may be. All I can say is check it out and see if social media is relevant for what you do.

  • BlaineMillet

    You make some great points of which I agree with for the most part. ROI in social media is an end result, not the process. Social Media is also designed to be a “non-sales” part of the process. It was and is designed to “build more engagement and trusted relationships through conversation and dialog”. This is the key point I see the majority of people in marketing missing. Most marketers still see the world in “PUSH” mode (shoving information and offers and such at their audience) where social media is designed completely to be a “PULL” process. This is where the problem begins.

    The audience is telling us they don’t want to be sold to – that means stop pushing more things at them that they didn’t want to see in the first place. The Holy Grail is around “advocacy” and “loyalty” in the social world. People often mistake these for the word “referral”. Just because someone “refers” an offer to someone else doesn’t mean they are “engaged” and doesn’t meant they are your advocate. This is an element of ROI most miss.

    What makes ROI difficult in social is that the biggest benefits are around “advocacy” and “word-of-mouth” – both of which require some level of trust and a relationship. For example, people don’t create massive word-of-mouth by simply referring a site or offer – they create it by “talking” about it in detail, emotionally connecting with it and becoming an advocate for it. This is where social media marketing shines and leverages the power of the tools – where you create the “Pull” and people decide to follow you for who you are and your dialog. If you can measure this, which is much more difficult than clicks, then you have the magic formula.

    So my recommendation is for people to stop measuring a brand new way to build trust and relationships with tools designed to measure simple activity – they are completely different and won’t give you the answers you are seeking. Hope this helps…

  • Denise

    I “ghost” Facebook business pages for several busy executives that know their businesses need to be social networking, but just really truly don’t have the time/experience/desire… it’s a unique situation where I know their businesses, their markets, and they trust me implicitly. I don’t know how else it could work… But for those of us who “love to go to the party” (literally and figuratively) it’s hard to understand those who don’t – but a pretty fun way to love “work”! ;^)

  • bellevuedentist


    As always, a wonderful article. I noticed that 54% in your chart said they use Social Media “to rise in the search rankings” — I thought this reason would be much higher. I started Social Media to help keep our cosmetic dental business at the top of the Google rankings for our geographic area, because cosmetic dentistry is a very, very competitive marketing arena all over the US. One thing that always mystifies me is the “dofollow” and “nofollow” — I know what the terms mean, but I don’t know how to tell which one a site is using. This seems like an important aspect of where you concentrate your time for your social media work. Subsequent to each new post I put on my blog I send it off to several Social Media sites, but do not always find back links to the article on subsequent checks at sites like “Link Popularity Check”. I assume this is due to “nofollow” tags. Do you have any thoughts and comments on this. Thanks.

  • bellevuedentist

    You would probably be amazed at the things some MDs post on their web site.

  • Hi, Lou. I agree that tweeting for others is difficult–you often can lose the relationship building piece. However, many businesses tweet “value-add” tweets such as third party articles and links to great videos or new blog posts. The research and preparation for these types of tweets could be a great thing to outsource if you train the person well. Just something to think about.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Michael–you make such a great point regarding “willing to put in the time”–so many companies get overwhelmed with the time factor of social media. I think there are many great ways to automate some of the process while still maintaining the “in the moment” relationship building. You just have to decide what works best for you (or your company) and design the strategy around your resources, time, and outcomes. I know it is not simple, but very doable!

  • Hi Dino! I always enjoy your “rants”– you continually show us an alternative side of things. I personally do not think corporate social media has to be about hiding true intention and tricking people into brand-indoctrination (I give you cred for being so bold!), however I do think corporations struggle with being real because that’s a really new concept for many. The winners will be those that are able to be real (showing the good, bad and ugly) and then continually striving to be even better by reaching out and listening to the needs of those that are buying their products and services. Time will tell . . .

    As always, so good to hear from you!

  • The Social Media Optimization idea is fantastic and I can see that becoming a focus in the future for sure. You are right, a bit daunting right now for many, but it is important and will be necessary as social media matures. Thanks for stopping by!

  • YOU ARE SO RIGHT! 🙂 That is the huge advantage here that I think many are forgetting….

    Analytics and tracking for online marketing, including social media marketing, is much easier to track and only gets better with time. It is amazing to see what others are doing to drill down not only on tracking the activity of their buyers, but also profiling the user based on where they are going on the web and exactly what they are doing. Building an avatar of your ideal client becomes much more scientific than it ever did with traditional marketing.

    You bring up a great point here!

  • WOW! 1000% is pretty impressive. I love to hear stories like yours. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  • Ha! Love it Dave . . .

  • Denise–I think this can be done when you REALLY know the business of those you are working with and you are in constant communication with them. But I still think someone on the inside should be monitoring the page and offering feedback or even jumping on a few times a week if possible. I think it can work–but it takes the right person or company to take something like this on. It sounds like you are making it work!

  • Cassie–I agree with you. Blatant advertising will not work, but promoting as we build up our relationships with clients and prospects is essential. The personal touch of reaching out to someone and showing them why your product or service will work for them is powerful when you do it right (meaning you listen to them first and understand their needs). Thanks for sharing!

  • Well said, Annie! I am on the same page with you and I think you said that perfectly. Thanks so much for adding your insight!

  • Love to hear that, Marveen! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hey Doc!

    To clarify, 54% are achieving an improvement in search, not using it to achieve that. It is the outcome.

    Regarding nofollow. This is particularly common on blog comment systems (like this one). WordPress defaults all links to nofollow. This prevents spam bots from attacking our blogs with 1000s of fake comments.

    But realize there is a difference between a trackback and a link. In order for a website to generate a trackback it needs to be set to do so. For example, this blog does that when we link to outside articles in a blog post. It is a bit of a tax on the server, but we do it.

    I do not think sites like Facebook or Twitter offer this service because it would be of no benefit to them. I would not let that stop you from participating.

  • Do you have any examples?

  • Thanks, Amy. I enjoyed the post.

  • You know, this could be an industry thing… and an idea of what the population is and what the norms are. I think for individuals who are doing personal brand building, trying to get leads for consulting work just feels a bit crass as you’re likely going to be competing with people in the same space. And it isn’t something where you can easily put up: Hire me for $50 to do a one hour social media consult. (There are a lot of other non-social media sites where you can do that. The brand building and demonstration of those skills are in your personal space.)

    Take a different culture and brand like a sports teams where the audience likely wants to get information on buying your stuff… It just becomes much more culturally acceptable to do that sort promotion.

  • Do you think that sports teams aren’t looking for opportunities on social media? They have a large built in audience of fans on these networks. They can get 50,000 people to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. One of the most popular definitions for sports fans is spectators. Spectators tend to buy tickets or watch on television… Seems like great potential ROI to say “Hey Chicago Cubs fans! Still got tickets for tonight’s game. Come down and enjoy a beer at Wrigley Field.”

  • For me, I can barely measure how important the exposure I received on Twitter & FB was to my future. Spending the time I spent on these communication platforms helped me land my job. Personally, it can’t get any bigger than that. How that translates into a company spending time on Twitter…. I would advocate for as much time as you can convince your Marketing department to let you spend on it!

  • The number of people who said they don’t outsource their social media efforts is a bit surprising to me, but in a good way.
    I hear a lot of people talk about hiring companies to handle their social media. While I think it can be a good idea to get outside help in set-up and planning phases, I think that social media (especially the conversation and engagement part) should be done in house. Who else knows your brand better than someone who works there?? Probably no one.
    Glad to hear that people are not outsourcing all their social media.


    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • The number of people who said they don’t outsource their social media efforts is a bit surprising to me, but in a good way.
    I hear a lot of people talk about hiring companies to handle their social media. While I think it can be a good idea to get outside help in set-up and planning phases, I think that social media (especially the conversation and engagement part) should be done in house. Who else knows your brand better than someone who works there?? Probably no one.
    Glad to hear that people are not outsourcing all their social media.


    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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