Six months. Just kidding! The real answer of course is “it depends.”
It depends on your strategy, what “results” means to you, what you’re willing to pay, what your audience wants (and where), your commitment, and your consistency.
1) Developing a Strategy
It’s pretty obvious, right? If you have a good strategy, you will see results faster than if you had a lousy (or no) strategy. Part of a good strategy involves clearly identifying your audience and where they get their information. If, as a provider of software solutions for lawyers, your ideal customer is a 45 year old man whose hobbies include golf and boating, Pinterest is not going to be your first platform of choice. Not if you want results.
Knowing that he’s in the office from 8am-6pm weekdays will impact the scheduling of your updates. Understanding his concerns and frustrations (keeping track of billable time, etc.) helps you determine WHAT to share. Experimenting (yes, all good marketers experiment) and watching results will help you refine your strategy over time.
This is where the “six months” answer has some relevance. Six months in, you start to have a feel for what is working and what you should tweak for better results.
2) Defining Your Results
“Seeing results from social media marketing” needs to involve more than a vague feeling that it’s working. Start seeing results immediately by keeping track of follower/fan counts, traffic referrals, calls to your special “social media-only” phone number and by using discount codes only shared via social (if these make sense for your business). Expect to see a slow but steady rise over time. Make sure you’re taking advantage of all the ways you can track social media ROI.
Engagement and lead generation can take a little longer and are highly dependent on your strategy and the quality of your content.
If you are looking for more followers, fans, shares, comments and likes (or +1s), focus on creating content people want to share. People share things they feel will either amuse their friends or make them appear “in the know.” Share a mix of both. You should start to see some action within a month or so.
On the other hand, if you hope to generate leads from social media, you need to make sure your website is well optimized for lead generation and that you regularly share links to your landing pages or to blog posts with effective CTAs. Share powerful visual updates that entice your fans to click through to see your site and download your offer. If one image and set of teaser text fall short, try another one! If you’re doing this well, once you’re over a couple hundred fans or followers, things should start picking up.
3) Your Budget
If you are willing to pay to boost or promote updates, you will see faster results – immediate results, in fact. A word of warning, however – no matter how anxious you (or your boss) is to see results now, do not resort to buying fans or followers.
You may want to give your strategy a chance to run organically before you start paying to promote updates. It will allow you to spend more wisely. Then again, if you’re in a rush (and you have the budget), paying for greater exposure will allow you to refine your strategy more quickly.
4) Determine What Your Audience Wants
If your business is a no-brainer for social media (ie., you work with pets, kids, humor, food), your audience may be waiting for you to give them what they want on social media, so the growth in followers, fans, traffic and sales might be very fast – and within the first month or so you might start to wonder why you didn’t do this a long time ago.
For a not-so-obvious business, like, say, business stationery, it might take quite a bit longer and involve more strategy and more adjustments to your strategy before you start seeing the results you want. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means you have to be a little more creative – and a little more patient.
5) Your Level of Commitment
When you decided to become a social business, did you jump in feet first, or did you just test the waters with the tip of your toe? Making a commitment to social by sharing your social links everywhere (email, print, website), commenting on or sharing updates to your personal accounts, and incentivizing your employees to do so will give you a huge head-start over the business working with the “just trying to find out if this will work” attitude.
6) Consistency is Key
Do yourself a favor and find out before you commit just how much time your social strategy is going to take. If you aren’t reasonably certain you can keep it up, either adjust your strategy (maybe start with one platform instead of four) or get help. Posting 15 times on your very first day on Facebook and then taking a month off is not going to give you results – not in one month, and not in six months!
Oh, and since 42% of customer complaining over social media expect a response time in 60 minutes or less, make sure someone is keeping a close watch and is responding as quickly as possible. If people start to feel like your social media channels are on auto-pilot, they’ll check out, too. Part of what you want are comments and replies – so reward them by responding in a helpful and human way. This too will speed your time to results.
The Bottom Line
So, how long will it take to see results from social media marketing? It certainly depends – and mostly it depends on you! If you’ve taken the plunge, how long did it take you to start seeing results? Please share your experience in the comments below. We’d love to know what you were measuring and what you think helped you get the results you wanted – or what didn’t work at all!