A well established notion about social media is that it takes time. No arguement there, but I think organizations misunderstand the type of time investment required to build tangible business value.

Many companies still view social media as a series of linear, tactical exercises. Step 1, get on Twitter. Step 2, tweet. Step 3, cash cheques. To use a gardening analogy, they plant a seed, wait and expect to bear the fruit.

The root structure of a successful social media initiative can be pretty complex – it’s not solely constructed in the time it takes to set up your social networks and follow a series of predetermined best practices. There are nuances to growing your business using social media that can be difficult to map out or quantify. Things like learning to BE social, understanding your audiences, having micro-inetractions, building relationships, integrating online with offline, etc. all require an investment in time and energy.

To illustrate, I’d like to share a personal example of the abridged social media timeline that led to a new client for my own consulting practice (names are fictional). You’ll see that it took some time and was not very linear :)

  • Spring 2009 – Make a commitment to use Twitter to share information and build online connections (30-50 tweets per week).
  • Summer 2009 – Find out about a digital marketing industry event via my twitter network.
  • Summer 2009 – Attend event. Meet Bill, one of the people I’ve been following. I mention my interest in teaching and he suggests I follow and connect with Andrew.
  • Fall 2009 – After following Andrew, reach out to get advice on building social media courses.
  • Winter 2009 – Meet Andrew for a coffee, get invited to guest host a webinar.
  • Spring 2010 – Work with Andrew on the webinar.
  • Summer 2010 – Hear about another event on Twitter. Meet client for the first time F2F and connect on Twitter.
  • Fall 2010 – Meet with Andrew to discuss the idea of developing a social media strategy workshop.
  • Spring 2011 – Market workshop to social media community (including client) using Twitter and other digital channels.
  • Spring 2011 – Deliver workshop. Client attends.
  • Summer 2011 – Contract opportunity becomes available with the client, my name gets put forward based on the workshop experience.
  • Summer 2011 – Hired by client.

As you can see, the process from making the commitment to Twitter to building the business value (in the form of a new client) took over two years and did not follow a particularly straightforward path. Without investing the time and energy to make new connections and pursue opportunities, the scenario wouldn’t have unfolded as it did.

Do you think many organizations, big or small, really understand the type of time investment required for social media? Is it difficult for leaders to embrace the complexity of social media and see the return on time invested? What do your social media timelines look like? The comments are yours.

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About Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is also the managing editor at Solopreneur.ca and is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.EdisonSolutionsllc.com Eric

    Thank you for this real life example.  Even in the age of instant gratification, some things still take time.

    • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

      You’re welcome Eric. So true, it definitely helps to have a long term plan around social and to understand the dynamics that are at play.

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    One thing that is very clear from what you’ve outlined above is that the path to social media success is not linear. I think that’s where the challenge lies for most companies. With the traditional ways of marketing, you take an action, you get a result and you have a metric to measure that result. With social media marketing it’s a bit more complex because of the human factor that’s involved. If you went around choosing who to be friends with because of their klout score, you might not only miss out on some amazing people, but you could develop a reputation of being a snob. I think people leading social media efforts in organizations often have their hands tied because they are caught up in measurements and metrics, and as a result their ability to be creative, social, and interesting suffers. 

    • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

      Great insight regarding the human element Srinivas. This is where some will argue that you can’t teach people or organizations to “be social”. In some cases I agree, but there are solutions, particularly for organizations. The CEO or owner might not get it, but there are likely a few savvy, passionate people that (with the right guidance) can get things started on a positive track. One example where this took place with a client – the senior management team didn’t believe their business could benefit from Facebook but they entrusted one of their employees to lead a pilot project. The results were really positive and now management has bought in and are building a more comprehensive strategy around social.

  • Pingback: Social Media A to Z Series: A is for Audience « Social Media Pearls: Welcome!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

      You are most welcome :)

  • http://www.sayitinshirts.com jbledsoejr

    I am learning the importance of the offline interaction to growing your social media garden.  There is still something about the F2F meeting that brings more familiarity and life to the online relationship and trust.

    Great post Mark…thx for sharing!

    • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

      So true about F2F. In the digital era we live in, it’s much easier to build relationships without meeting people face-to-face. However, to build meaningful, long lasting partnerships nothing beats that personal connection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10618874 Chase Sherman

    Excellent illustration, Mark.  The social media element is certainly complex.  But if you can find ways of making consistent interactions with target prospects, I think this is the main concern.  Find out where they’re speaking, then monitor their activity and seek out ways to add value to their lives.

    • Emily

      Great point. Prospects today are interested in the value they will get from someone, and social media is a great way to interact with the people you are targeting. Providing meaningful, valued information established you as a subject matter expert and increases your likelihood to be sought out in the future. 

      • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

        Thanks for dropping by with a comment Emily. Value is definitely a magnet for attracting people to your voice online. From there it helps to put yourself in situations where you can start building on those “loose ties”.

    • http://twitter.com/intersection1 Mark Smiciklas

      Thanks for the comment Chase. I thinks it’s important to be open to the possibilities social media can present – keep adding value and making connections and good things can happen.

  • http://twitter.com/GetBizSociable BizSociable

    Thanks for sharing your timeline, Mark.  We found that it takes 71 hours of work to build a Twitter presence http://ow.ly/6cyfa.  It’s good to hear that we are on schedule for growing a full garden.

  • Joel335

    Great article. I was wondering if could ask your feelings about designers using social medias like Tumblr? Do you feel there is reason to worry about your work becoming faceless amidst the sea of re-blogged pieces? Losing perhaps your identity and your outlined context?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Depends on what you’re really using your content for. If it’s for lead generation, tying traffic back to your site, etc., then as long as the links are there and the content can catch those search engines, I don’t see a lot of need to worry. But you can also position your Tumblr/Blogger/Wordpress blogs to be mini engagement websites for your company and drive people to them. I’ve seen companies use simple blog platforms for just employee/internal blogs, too. So it really depends on your goals and purpose.

  • Bikram Gautam

    I agree that it is hard to grow your social media following, but I have had much success using http://TwipQuick.com in the past