I’ve had conversations with representatives from major brands and agencies who will tell me they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a national ad campaign, but then balk at spending $30 a month on their social media efforts. Companies seem to have no problem spending money on traditional methods like coupon books, newspaper ads, mailing lists, radio and television spots, etc., but when it comes to social media, they somehow can’t get their wallets open. While you may be able to use Facebook or Twitter for free -- advertising, engaging, and tracking are not.

Your social media presence doesn’t have to break the bank, and it doesn’t have to consume your every waking moment. But it does require a small investment on your part. Here are five things you can do to ensure your social media efforts will pay big.

1. The Right Social Media Tools

In terms of value-per-dollar, investing in the right social media programs and applications is immensely advantageous, and it’s reasonable, too. There are platforms you can use to create custom apps, run promotions, manage mailing lists, monitor engagement, and much more.

While you don’t have to spend six grand a month on an enterprise-grade social media monitoring program, you won’t get all the features you really need with any platform’s free version. Free versions exist so you can get a feel for the product. To effectively use the features you’ll need, spring for the paid version; they’re usually cheap and the features are a huge step up from the free version.

For example, HootSuite has a free version that works great. But to leverage HootSuite for your team, you’ll need to pop for the US$ 5.99 per month Pro Plan. There are a number of tools out there that are great, but to benefit from them, you’re going to have to spend some money each month -- likely between US$ 5 and US$ 30.

Remember that with these programs, you’re buying back your time. It’s feasible that you could go without any of these products and do it all yourself. You could build Facebook applications from scratch, write a program that tracks interactions, and manage your newsletter list with Excel. But it saves you costly time to invest in the right work tools.

2. Social Research 

Take the time to develop a social media strategy that will work for your brand -- don’t just wing it. Come up with ideas, have a focus group, think up campaigns, find out what’s new, read the latest case studies, and learn what’s trending. Is there an interesting story on the wire? How can it be applied to your business model?

Research is one of the best investments you can make because you aren’t reinventing the wheel. You’re taking something that has worked and making it your own. In doing so, you’re saving time by not guessing, and increasing the probability that you’ll have good results because it’s worked elsewhere.

3. Stay Educated, Constantly

Education may sound like it goes hand in hand with research, but I think an important distinction needs to be made: in social media, not only does the medium change frequently, but so do the methods. It’s not just important to make sure you’ve got the right strategies nailed down, you also have to stay on top of new technology and changes to existing technology.

For example: before Facebook’s Timeline came along, Page admins thought they had Facebook figured out. But Facebook switched Pages to Timeline, default landing tabs became a thing of the past, and all these admins panicked.

Instead of letting changes take you by surprise as they happen, be familiar with the tools you use. Ask yourself:

Do we know the product inside and out?
Are we using the product to its fullest?
Are there any planned changes to the product?
Are we monitoring their roadmap?
  • Are we prepared for the changes?

However, this doesn’t just apply to the platforms you use. Social media is constantly changing. What’s true today could be dated tomorrow, and that means you have to be ready to change with social media. This is an investment that’s ongoing, so read articles, check out relevant blogs, and make sure you’re on the up and up. It may sound like a big investment, but it will pay off.

4. Focus on Your Fans

Your fans are your customers, so invest in them and then reinvest in them. Say you’ve had some success on Facebook because you spent money on a monitoring tool and you’ve got your fanbase figured out. Your messaging is better, your strategies are better, and your fanbase is growing and engaged with your brand.

Now you need to continue that investment by interacting with your fans, listening to feedback, running polls and surveys, and offering contests and giveaways. Like research and education, this is an on-going investment. Motivating your army of fans to share, engage and interact gets those who already know and love your brand to market it to their friends for you.

5. Facebook Ads

Facebook ads are a great investment. They’re cheap and effective, making them an ideal way to get your brand in front of more potential fans. Facebook ads are especially effective if you use them to target your city or county, and they’re even more effective if you’ve got a niche product you’re selling, because you can target people who like products that may be similar to your product. Run a budget of just US$ 10 per day, and you’ll be amazed at the number of impressions you get. You can even target your existing fans to make sure you keep bringing them back. 

Make a Commitment

The bottom line is that if social media is a part of your marketing stream, you’re going to have to make a commitment. You can’t put up a billboard for one day and hope it changes your company’s profits for the year. It’s the same for social media: your commitment has to be long-term.

Regardless of the platforms you’re pursuing, your investment needs to be ongoing. So get the right tools, do your research, continue your social media education, engage your fans, and purchase ads. Your brand’s social media presence will be better for it.

Editor's Note: Jim is a new columnist with CMSWire focused on Social Media Marketing. Check out Providing Exceptional Customer Service Through Social Media.