This is the third in a series of posts on the use of social media, particularly Facebook, by hospitals and healthcare institutions. In part one, we examined the current condition of Facebook use. In part two we looked at types of social media content. This time we examine the costs involved in an effective social media initiative and ROI. [To download the expanded white paper on this topic, click here.]

Cost of the First Impression

A CEO of a major hospital in Boston told his VP of Marketing that Facebook was very valuable to the hospital, but they should not have to spend a single dollar to make it successful. (This is not an outlier view from the C suite.) But what are the direct and indirect costs of mounting and maintaining a Facebook page that actually delivers value? Staff time, most will tell you, is already stretched to the max, but whether you have 1 staffer or 10, effort must be invested: a minimum per Facebook page of an hour or two per day for someone to post content and monitor activity—or about 20% of a person’s time on average. Depending upon who is investing this time (social media specialists or marketing specialists typically cost in the range of $50k to $70k) it can range from $10k to $14k annually for basic content. These costs are already being incurred and do not include the cost of acquiring fans, of monitoring, evaluating, and analyzing trends, or of planning and implementing adjustments to increase the impact on business objectives.

Leaders may think that even if they don’t put the dollars behind Facebook, they can at least have a presence. The problem with this approach is that you only make a first impression once, and if you’re not delivering a presence that appeals to your fans, if they are not interacting with you, if you’re not enhancing the experiences with them and for other visitors, they’ll drop you, and you will lose the opportunity to engage them in the future. A negative impression can be costly; it certainly does not help your efforts to make that fan a customer.

Cost of Acquiring Fans

Most successful Facebook pages have made a substantial investment in fan acquisition. This is a critical variable in your success. The investment is worth it if you reach a critical mass of fans. How many fans do you need? Unfortunately, there are not yet hard-and-fast rules about how many fans it takes to reach critical mass. Depending on the market and the adoption rate, a fan base of 5,000 can be competitive for one company and 500,000 fans for another company can mean nothing. In terms of cost, some companies use fan acquisition companies, for which the investment can range from $3,000 to well over $36,000 annually. Having in-house marketing staff acquire fans requires direct and indirect costs, as well as investments in new and traditional media. Some of the largest fan bases are grown by staffs of 8 or more full-time people, with a social media specialist costing between $50k and $65k per year.

The Cost of Monitoring and Measuring Engagement

Collecting metrics and performing analysis will add to the cost. Third-party metric solution companies charge between $500 and $1,000 per month; that is probably one of the best immediate investments. If you go this route, make sure you get reports, training, and trend information as part of the package. But also realize that you’ll need to allocate as much as 2 to 3 hours per week of staff time to monitor the data interface.

To be the most efficient and effective, and to truly work toward a meaningful ROI, you need to be smart and balance where you put your dollars.

Costs of a Comprehensive Facebook Campaign

While we looked at the costs of a minimal Facebook presence earlier (content costs of $10k to $14k per year), a robust, comprehensive presence will cost more. This effort includes the cost of researching, writing, editing, and posting, which also includes generating or connecting to meaningful resources and calls to action. Monitoring comments and writing follow-ups, etc., must also be included in this cost.

Such a comprehensive presence could consist of the 3 types of posts we discussed earlier: straight PR, “To your health” tips or resources, and posts about health topics that reflect your clinical priorities. Each post takes time to research, write, get approved, and post. The more robust health content is apt to take considerably more time than the PR efforts. The average time to write and manage these posts is probably about an hour a day—perhaps as short as a half hour for the PR posts and as long as 1.5 hours for the health content. For three posts a day (assume one of each) at a minimum of $30/hour, 5 days a week, that is 3 hours per day (15 hours per week) in staff time. Thus the annual cost could be in the range of $32,000 per Facebook page. You can mask these costs to a degree if you add social media to the plate of your current PR/Marketing/Web/Editorial staff. But if they’re giving the time to social media, they’re taking that time from something else, and you’ll likely need to add staff in support of social media.

Next time, we’ll look at measuring and making sense of engagement through Facebook.

[To download the expanded white paper on this topic, click here.]

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