This is an interesting 'length of string' question as the resourcing requirements of social media vary dramatically depending on why and how an organisation chooses to use social media. Generally the more engaging your participation the higher the resourcing needs - although even social media listening can soak up resources rapidly.
I consider social media participation as a 'ladder of effort'.
At the lowest end your participation can be limited to a Twitter account or Facebook page, auto-publishing content from your website or media releases. This requires little or no resourcing and, while not a particularly effective approach, can serve as a platform to build on with more engaging content.
Moving upwards, an engaging Facebook page (or similar social network presence) may require several custom posts per week (or day if you are really, really active) and some moderation, responses and management oversight, possibly 10 hours or 1/4 of a person each week. Twitter, when used well, with around 5-10 tweets per day, may require the same or a little less time.
If you step up to participating in forums and blogs or using social networks as customer service channels the resourcing is likely to increase further. This is, however, where leveraging your existing customer service channels becomes essential. If you trust people to answer phones or emails with citizens on the other end, then you should trust them to respond to citizen enquiries online (otherwise you have an internal issue).
I have not seen many examples of agencies giving their customer service teams access to use social media on behalf of their organisation, and there may be challenges in skilling people to engage correctly in more public forums - however au remain hopeful.
If you decide to actively run collaborative exercises online via social media, or create and run communities using social networks and forums, you are likely to need to dedicate substantial resources. However even this can be managed through sharing the load around and operating in a pragmatic fashion. The ATO, for example, has done a great job with its SME forum over the last few years on a limited budget (and with some external support).
Cleverly managed many social media channels can be run efficiently through good planning and piggybacking. For instance, your website is chock-full of pre=approved content that can be reiterated through social media channels. Also, when seeking approvals for media releases, reports, policies or the like, pre-write one or more tweets, posts and social network updates and send them for approval with the document. That way you don't need to re-engage on the same content, providing context and a new proposal.
Keep in mind that, sometimes, you can 'trade-off' resources, potentially retasking people from activities that you are cutting to replace with social media engagement. Also it may be possible to find people willing to spend a few minutes a day, or hours a week, supporting your social media efforts (even if just for the resume boost)
Important things to keep in mind are:
- Live within your means - choose the social media channels and engagement approaches that suit your available resourcing limitations.
- Don't grow unnecessarily - being bigger and better than anyone else is a common desire (as is the desire to be first), however if it doesn't suit your goals then don't extend yourself beyond your resourcing.
- Set limits - make it clear to participants the amount of time you will dedicate to a channel. Some might criticise you, but most will appreciate that some engagement is better than none and that time is money.
- Seek resources beyond the usual suspects - Don't simply seek dollars to get things done, see whether you can discover innovative tactics to unlock resources.
- Invest proportionate to your goals - if you do have significant goals for your social media presence, then ensure that your organisation are prepared to invest appropriately. If your goals are larger than your resourcing, something has to give (and typically individuals burn out before organisations do).
- Develop exit strategies and pull the plug if needed - while it is hard to let channels go, sometimes, if your resources are cut, so must you. It is better to do this in a planned and considered way that preserves reputation and carries forward as much good will as possible.