How big is your social media budget?

I’ve heard of companies that spend millions on marketing and others who spend zero (we skew toward the zero side at Buffer).

Regardless of how much you spend, you aim to spend it well. That’s why a hypothetical situation like — what would you do with $100 to spend on social media marketing? — can be an extremely valuable exercise.

I have some ideas on what I’d do with the $100, ways to wring the most value out of every penny. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have also.

Social Media Budget

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The average social media budget

Before we get into some answers and ideas, I thought it’d be interesting to see just how much social media takes up in an average marketing budget.

The answer:

The industry average settles between $200 to $350 per day.

This average comes from an analysis by The Content Factory, looking at the cost to outsource social media marketing services. They found that $4,000-$7,000 per month was the industry average, which works out to the above per-day costs.

As a percentage of the total marketing budget, The CMO Survey found that social media spending is at 11.7% in 2016 — a three-time increase since 2009.

Social Media Spending Trend by the CMO Survey

How does this compare to yours? Is your budget higher or lower?

At Buffer, our marketing budget consists mainly of the tools we use. We have also recently started exploring Facebook ads to increase our brand reach and social engagement.

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Imagine: You have $100 to spend on social media

Here’re the three possible ways to spend your $100:

Plan A: The all-in-one social media budget

Plan B: Invest in education

Plan C: Advertising-focused

Let’s dive in!

Plan A: The all-in-one social media budget

One of the first qualifications of spending $100 on social media is that the way you spend is likely to be quite unique: Everyone has their own specific niche and audience to serve, and most social media profiles are at varying degrees of completeness.

With this in mind, I’ve aimed to share some thoughts here that might fit the majority of profiles. Feel free to adjust as needed for your particular situation.

Graphics/photos/videos – $40

With visual design carrying such a large emphasis on social media, it feels great to put your best foot forward on the visuals front.

This can mean:

We’ve written some fun tutorials on what to do with certain resources — how to turn photos and graphics into ideal social media images. It’s possible that you’ll be able to create these images for free with the great, free tools out there. Two of our favorites are Unsplash for free high-resolution photos and Canva for quick graphic design.

If you choose to spend in this area, here’s one direction that your money could go.

  • Animoto for simple video creation ($22/month) – Quickly create short social videos with pre-built storyboards.
  • Add some funds to Creative Market or IconFinder or The Noun Project ($18) – Each of these sites is a digital marketplace for designers to sell the cool things they make such as icons, website themes, templates, photos, graphics, and tons more.

Animoto

Advertising – $40

If you’re just starting out and looking to grow your influence on social media, advertising can help build an initial audience. Even for established brands, it can be a great option.

Social media advertising is a huge topic with lots to consider. To help you get started, we have written guides on Facebook and Instagram advertising.

The takeaway: Test and see what works! Spend $5 per day on Facebook or Instagram ads for a little more exposure.

  • Facebook or Instagram ads ($40) – Run an ad for several days to see if it’s a channel worth investing more in.

A study by Nanigans, a Facebook marketing partner, found that while Instagram ads cost less for impressions and clicks, Facebook ads have higher click-through rate.

Instagram Ads vs Facebook Ads

Social media management – $10

Our top time-saving tip for social media managers is to manage your social media with a tool like Buffer. You can manage one social account per platform — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google+ — for free forever.

If you want to manage more accounts, the Awesome Plan is just $10/month. With Awesome, you can manage your brand’s accounts plus keep your personal queues full, too.

Analytics – $10

Your social media management tool likely has a good deal of analytics already built in. There are also many free social media analytics tools out there. To stay super lean, you could stick with these free options and move more of your money into design or advertising.

If you’re up for spending a little to learn what’s working on social, here’re some great options:

  • Iconosquare for Instagram analytics and management ($9/month) – Iconosquare provides some advanced Instagram analytics and management features, allowing you to understand and improve your Instagram marketing.
  • Chartbeat real-time analytics for your site ($10/month) – Useful for seeing in real-time which visitors on your site have come from social media. Recommended for websites big enough to have multiple people visiting at once.

Audience research – Free

One of the key things we’ve learned about social media is that it’s hugely helpful to listen to the people you’re talking with online. What are their needs? Their problems? Their favorite things? A lot of this falls under the umbrella of audience research.

Many elements of audience research can be had for free. If you find one that works well for you, that could be the one worth spending a bit of your $100.

  • Followerwonk for Twitter research (free) – Managed by Moz, this tool lets you dig into your Twitter audience: Who are your followers? Where are they located? When do they tweet? The basic version is free, or you can upgrade by snagging a Moz Pro subscription ($99/month).
  • Facebook Audience Insights (free) – The robust audience creation tool from Facebook lets you create any sort of target demographic—by region, by age and gender, by interest, by Page Likes, and more—and shows you the breakdown of the audience slice you’ve chosen.
  • Instagram Insights (free) – The analytics in the Instagram app provides a wealth of information about your followers such as their demographics and the times and days when they are most active.
  • Typeform for surveys (free) – Send out simple surveys with TypeForm to get to know your audience better. It works great to post these survey links to social.

Typeform Survey Tweet

Sharing buttons – Free

For your website or blog, you can boost your social media marketing by making it easy for others to share your content. If you’re after something a bit more customizable and premium, you might like one of the following tools.

Sumo Share Widget

Total spend: $100

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Plan B: Invest in education

The inspiration for the $100 question came from a post on Inbound.org, asking what you’d do with $1,000 to start an online marketing strategy. (Tons of great answers there, too, if you’re curious!)

One of the takeaways I learned there is that it can sometimes be best to invest your money on educating yourself.

Here’re some options for how to spend $100 on social media education.

Great books – $80

We’re incredibly grateful for the chance to learn from so many good books. I read a cool quote from author Ryan Holiday:

I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it.

It’s great advice, and we’ve taken it a bit to heart here with these book recommendations.

Helpful ebook and blogs – Free

Great communities – Free

Being able to tap into the shared knowledge of a big group of experts or like-minded peers is a huge advantage and privilege. In terms of social media marketing, these few communities have some of the best advice and most knowledgeable participants:

Miscellaneous resources – Free

Total spend: $80

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Plan C: Advertising-focused

Let’s say you have a good grip on your social media marketing workflows. You’re in a groove with your scheduling, content, follow-up, and reporting. Maybe you’d just like to grow with a little paid promotion.

Here are some options for spending the $100 toward advertising particularly.

Facebook ads – $40

With Facebook, you have many different ways of approaching an ad campaign, and all these ways can typically fall within these four  categories of benefits:

  • Reach: Expand your reach to new potential customers who can interact with your content.
  • Interaction: Having your ad right on the News Feed allows users to interact with it like they do any other piece of social content.
  • Followers: Brands also report a notable increase in followers through social advertising since brand visibility increases significantly.
  • Traffic and leads: You can use ads to drive traffic to your landing pages or blog or to generate leads directly.

(The same goes for Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn ads, too. And since the creation of Instagram ads and Facebook ads are very similar — through the Facebook Ads Manager, you can spend this amount on Instagram ads instead if you think your audience are on Instagram more than they are on Facebook.)

For small budgets, you’re likely to get the most bang for your buck with boosting reach.

Facebook Ads Objectives

Twitter ads – $40

Like Facebook, Twitter gives you a number of ways to get your content in front of more people. Here’s a list of possible paid routes with Twitter:

  • Drive website clicks or conversions
  • Get more followers
  • Maximize brand awareness
  • Increase tweet engagements
  • Promote your video
  • Drive app installs or re-engagements

Twitter Ads Objectives

Many of these advertising options have to do with Twitter cards, which are a media-rich version of a standard tweet.

LinkedIn – $20

LinkedIn gives you the options of

  • sponsoring existing content (similar to boosting a post)
  • creating a text ad (which will appear on the top or the right side of many LinkedIn pages)
  • sending an InMail directly to your target audience

LinkedIn Ads Objectives

Total spend: $100

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Big-picture ideas on how to spend money

1. Spend your money on what you can’t do well

If you lack a certain expertise in an area, this could be a great signal that it’d be worth it to pay someone else to take over.

2. Spend your money on what takes you the most time

Time is money, as they say. Your time is super valuable, especially if you’re juggling all the many tasks of a social media manager by yourself.

Look at what takes you the most time to do. Can you spend a bit of money to make these processes a bit easier?

3. Spend money in such a way that you can make more money to spend

Especially when you’re first starting out, it’s likely that money might be a bit lean. The idea here is that you’d spend your budget on only those activities that could lead directly to you making more money. If you have $100 to spend, it’d be great to have a way to get $100 to spend again the following month.

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Your plan

Over to you: How might you spend $100 on social media marketing? 

I’d love to hear your ideas, or maybe even how you’ve spent it in real life, too! Any insights you have would be so great to hear.

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Written by Alfred Lua

Content Crafter at Buffer. I swim, cycle, and run a lot. When I’m not doing all those, I love to read and try new things.

  • Superbly expansive list as always Kevan… So much to learn…

    I’ve had little success with LinkedIn advertising (want to use that platform optimally). Can you share insights on what content works and best practices for that platform?

    Thanks in advance, and keep enriching our lives with oceans of knowledge each day 🙂

    • Thanks so much for this comment, Vishal! We’ve yet to do much LinkedIn advertising on our end, so I think my best guess as to what could work there would come from Matthew Kammerer’s guest post on social media advertising, this line in particular:

      Display Ads: We work with a lot of marketers who are looking to get more specific with their display ads. We’ve found that time and again it’s more effective than spreading your ads too far and wide (such as on Google’s Display network). Approach your display ads here the same way you post regular updates on your LinkedIn company page—by focusing on certain, targeted content, as opposed to Twitter and Facebook.

      https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-advertising-twitter-facebook-linkedin

  • This post is thoughtful and comprehensive. I was expecting the answer would be limited to advertising. I especially like the section on big picture ideas on how to spend money.

    • Really glad you found some value here, Promod! Thanks!

  • This is great! I will add that typeform let’s you have a “thank you” page. I just ran a survey (~2100 responses) and offered a discount to my products at the end of the survey as a thank you. In a couple hours I had made 100’s of sales! So surveys can get great insight AND make good money.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this tip, Paul! Really cool to know how you went about this. If I remember the survey right, it was kind of a general knowledge one about what your newsletter list might like to see more of?

      • Correct – it was a “getting to know my list” survey to see who subscribers were, what they were interested in, and what they wanted more of from my writing. SO MUCH DATA 🙂

  • Mark

    Good post but I’d argue that a lot of the suggestions you make could be handled by free services that do a more than adequate job, especially for lean start-ups or tight budgets, Maybe an idea for a future post – free options to popular paid services!

    • Great point, Mark! And wonderful idea for a future blog post. 🙂

  • Jayashree

    I would recommend affiliate marketing for small budgets which allows you to pay for leads and conversions

  • Stephanie

    Kevan, Thanks for the resources and thoughts. I have some to share as well. You mentioned that Buffer spends closer to zero, but do those handling social media for Buffer not get paid to do so? There seems to be an ongoing ‘tale’ about social media marketing being free. But it’s not free. Even if a business uses only free tools, there’s still a cost. There’s opportunity cost (how else could you have spent your time and energy?) and the cost of the person handling social media – even business owners like me who handle our own social media are ‘spending’ our time. Thoughts?

    • Hi Stephanie! This is a really great point. You’re exactly right. We use Buffer for our social media sharing (which is free for us), yet it also takes about one full person – and that person’s time and salary – to compose and schedule the updates and to plan the strategy. Definitely a cost there to consider!

      (P.S. If you’re interested in how salaries/tools costs break down for us, we share a bit about it here: https://open.bufferapp.com/transparent-pricing-buffer/)

    • LeBlancly

      This was the reaction I scrolled down to share as well! Buffer has a great blog and regularly produces bigger pieces of content marketing as well (downloadable guides, how-tos, etc.) all of these take human effort to make well, and it certainly doesn’t come free! I always tell clients that you can spend time, or you can spend money, but you have to pick at least one of the two to be successful.

      Personally I’d probably pair the paid ad spend recommended above + some human hours spent on free tools to produce content to spend my theoretical $100 budget, because I can’t get the reach for “free,” but in theory my hours are already paid for.

  • Great guide, @kevanlee:disqus! Regarding Facebook ads, Noah Kagan wrote a detailed step-by-step beginner’s guide to Facebook ads which I found really helpful 🙂 http://okdork.com/2014/03/04/how-to-start-advertising-on-facebook/

  • Great Article, Thanks Paul

  • Ingo J.

    Or head to pexels.com to get free stock photos and to save your money.

  • Perfect tips, thanks Kevan! As always high quality content full of useful links and tools. We’ve found out that for our app it is better to aim for brand awareness, growing community and reach instead of pure ROI and sales.
    But I’ll definitely think about the $1 per day on Facebook and maybe the same on Twitter and see how it goes. If those numbers from MOZ are real or will be real for us too, we’re in 🙂

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  • Talent Hounds

    What an excellent post. Thanks for sharing all these great ideas and links. I have trouble getting people to respond to surveys. S

  • Kozzi Images

    Hi – I would like to point out that you social media buget goes a lot further if you use Kozzi Images – Only $4.95 per month for 150 images per month http://www.kozzi.com – we have over 2,000,000 images to choose from.

  • Excellent ideas, especially the self-education! So far, I’ve only paid for my logo ($299), which I had designed through a design contest on 99 Designs. I’m very happy with the outcome, and highly recommend them!

    I actually had my dog blog first (launched it last year), and then recently started my own pet sitting business by the same name (K9sOverCoffee; only added “Pet Services”, that way I can still use the same website) ~ the professional pet sitter side of things was the main reason why I wanted a professional looking logo.

    I think I’ll give a Facebook and/or Twitter ad a try within the next few months, just to see what kind of an effect it would have.

  • John Anderson

    I think using social media it a great way to contact people. That can be people you know, or you have never met before. If you are talking on social media, you can find things you are looking for. That has been my experience. http://www.liftmetrix.com

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  • Nishant Maliakel Oommen

    Hi Thanks for explaining it in simple way. I liked the way you explained how to allocate SMM budget with $100.

  • Baskar J

    Nice info, thanks for sharing those valuable information, P6 be interfaced to an Asset social media marketting system & it can prepare the optimum project scheduling with accessible time, budget and resources in social media marketting
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  • Raven Bedenfield

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    Laying out 3 spending alternatives AND breaking down each one was so helpful to me. It was so hard to find articles that actually laid out how to spend a small budget for social media marketing. I thought I was going to need hundreds of dollars as an initial budget just to see results, but now I see I can start a lot sooner.

  • This is awesome!
    Some people just give up when they know that the budget is “only” 100 but the possibilities are endless!
    Great points.

    • Thanks, @jaywi:disqus! Yeah, I think with a bit of creativity, we can do a lot with $100. 🙂

  • Awesome post, worth a share. I was wondering how to plan for my client and this post makes it much simple. Thank you Alfred.

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  • Gary Earley

    I like it very much. I think its very helpful.

  • Now it is all good a well providing exceptional content, but you need that content to be shared, liked, tweeted, emailed and seen by as many people as possible.