The social media milieu is crowded, complicated and constantly changing. It can also provide an incredible means to promote your business. But it’s so very easy to go wrong. Companies of all sizes are quickly learning that social media marketing requires more than an exciting profile and interesting content—it also requires time and money.

Not too long ago, the recipe for effective social media marketing simply involved coming up with creative ideas to leverage platforms. Gradually we’ve seen that recipe expand to include time dedicated to servicing profiles, scheduling and posting content and engaging with fans and followers. Today, without throwing some marketing budget into the mix, you can’t expect to generate great results.

This is because organic (unpaid) reach is declining with popular social media networks. All signs point to one thing: paid advertising on social media is no longer a secondary marketing initiative, but a necessity.

Too many businesses take an ad hoc approach to social media marketing, dabbling in it only when they have the time and/or inclination. And that’s leaving money on the table. Yes, figuring out what resources to devote to this increasingly important means of marketing is a complicated equation, and it requires serious strategic thought. But it’s the smartest thing you can do if you don’t want your efforts to be wasted.

Read: 17 Simple Ways to Master Social Media

The money commitment

The first step is accepting that you’re going to have to allocate both time and money towards social efforts

The first step is accepting that you’re going to have to allocate both time and money towards social efforts. It’s prudent to develop a paid social media strategy if you don’t already have one. Determine which platforms—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.—you think could have an impact, and then start small. You don’t want to risk too much of your marketing budget without knowing the ROI the platform will deliver.

How can you determine where to start? Consider what your competition is doing and what platforms they are active on. Will you need to cut through a lot of different voices to be heard? Are there opportunities to establish a presence and/or carve out a niche? These considerations will help you define a strategy and budget.

If you’re already using paid social advertising, reevaluate your current spend. Do you have enough budget behind your paid social media marketing initiatives to reach your goals? As organic reach continues to decrease, will your current budget allow you to market effectively, or is your budget too thin to elicit any real results?

As Facebook and other platforms continue to limit unpaid reach, they are also improving their advertising options. In order to keep up with this trend and explore new advertising features, you may need to up your ad spend.

Read: A Simple Spreadsheet for Social Media Success

Yet it’s not a simple matter of throwing money at the problem. If you decide to embrace paid social media, you should also account for the time it will take to create and manage your advertising strategies. Developing effective paid campaigns involves planning, creating content, setting bids and targeting and monitoring ad performance.

If you’ve tried social media advertising in the past, you should have a good idea of the time required; but if you are new to paid social, you should begin with a small campaign—promoted posts on Facebook for a piece of premium content, for example—and track the amount of time the process takes. That way, when you are revisiting your marketing budget, you’ll be able to allocate the appropriate amount for both ad spend and time, which will only become more important as paid social media becomes the norm.

The time commitment

Determining the amount of time you should allocate for social media is not an exact science. There are a number of variables to consider, including the size of your business and whether or not you have staff devoted to social (a community manager, for example). That said, there are some guidelines that can help you ensure that time and resources are allocated efficiently.

To start, if you’re running a small or medium sized business, you should allocate some time in the morning, middle of the day and afternoon to monitor and service social profiles. After a while, you will begin to understand the amount of time required to effectively engage with fans and followers, respond to comments, complaints and suggestions and, importantly, monitor metrics. (What you measure will depend on your marketing goals, but could include such things as likes, views, click-through rates and more).

Read: How to Use Social Media Like the Big Brands

If you’re running an enterprise businesses, you will likely (or should, anyhow) have staff devoted to managing social media presence, such as community managers and social media specialists. You may even have an entire team responsible for your social media efforts.

Whatever the size of your business, you can benefit from the use of a content scheduling service, such as HootSuite. Not only will this allow you to pre-schedule posts (as opposed to manually posting updates every day), but it also offers the ability to monitor keywords and conversations related to your business, as well as plan out your social media calendar in advance.

These days, effective social requires a realistic allocation of financial and human resources. It’s something that requires thoughtful consideration, planning and budgeting. Otherwise, all your efforts will simply disappear in the crowd.

Jeff Quipp is an expert on digital marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada’s largest digital marketing firm, which has been on PROFIT’s ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies for the past five years. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jquipp or connect with him on Google+.

Read: Social Media Made Profitable

Loading comments, please wait.