Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where's the Spend? Social Media Budgets for Event Marketing

As we melt through the dog days of August, Event Marketing eyeballs are beginning to focus on (if they have not already started) planning for 2010, and specifically budgeting. This is going to be a big challenge for a number of (in some cases obvious) reasons. Forecasting the economic environment as a baseline to develop budget revenues and attendee volumes will be challenging … and then there is the expense budgeting exercise.

With the advances we’ve seen in social media as a channel over the past year (even in the face of - or maybe because of - the economy) the question that needs to be answered is “What do we spend on this 'stuff' in 2010?” My concrete, set-in-stone answer is: it depends. Taking a look at a chart from a MarketingProfs/Forrester Research report, “B2B Marketing in 2009: Trends in Strategies and Spending,” certainly shows that across the board, drive-to-web marketing spend was up in 2009, traditional/branding channels were down. Do note: this chart isn't a guide: how “up” or “down” really varies and is a question to be answered strategically by each marketing group. In the realm of social media spend and the % of marketing budget to allocate, however, I’d suggest centering the answers around a few interrelated questions/points:

1. What are you looking to achieve? Are you looking to use social media as a way build year-round community around an event? Drive-to-web? Lead gen mechanism? “Revenue” is end game; and there are a slew of SM options available (and combinations thereof). But in short, do make sure you have a strategy in place first before starting to think through and detail social media tactics around this. The thought and discussions put into this will pay off in the long run.

2. What sort of infrastructure do you have in place? Social media is inexpensive in the context of marketing channels available – setting up a Facebook page, for example, is free (!) But I think, in the next 18 months, event marketers will be asked to produce more report on the ROI of social media initiatives. Not clicks, not hits, not bounce statistics – lead acquisition and conversion. And to do that you need to make sure your back-end infrastructure is defined and in place. And this may take additional investment – so make sure this maps to item #1.

3. Do you have people in place? Again, social media tactics are comparatively inexpensive. A hidden (or overlooked) expense is, as I’ve noted before, bandwidth. Are there people in place who will take ownership of producing content? Doing content right takes manhours – with today’s lean workforce you need to make sure this is taken into consideration – and ensure this area is properly staffed.

In the context of setting your marketing budget for 2010, this is the time to follow the trend of re-allocating marketing spend from direct mail (being more targeted and, of course, integrating into these other channels) into online marketing. One additional thought, pending your budget process: do establish this spend as an established budget line – avoid entering it in a soft, “testing” category. If the industry is soft and expenses need to be cut, this could be the first money to go – not a desirable result.

Good luck!



  1. John, all good comments, #1 is very important, and also you are very right about #3. Social media is not free and can be very expensive once you account for all the resources needed on an ongoing basis.

    Re ROI I think in the event industry there could be a relatively simple way to measure real results. You already know who you have contacted about events, and let's say that you have an active set of social media activities. In those activities you can track people. If someone signs up who you have not mailed but is from one of your social media groups then you have tangible "contribution margin" once you subtract costs. That should be an underestimate. It's something worth trying, just to see if it is a good base.

    I want to add just one additional suggestion for your three tips. If you choose to get active in the social media then people assume that you are listening. So for those event organisations that do get active then have to have a "listening" activity costed and managed.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Social Media Academy, Australia

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