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Reassessing ROI in social media

Social media

The burning question on everyone’s social media-laden lips is, “what’s the return on investment (ROI) of social media?” As the social web has matured over the last 8 to 10 years, so has the need, nay, the desire for people to prove its worth as a reputable marketing channel. To be honest, it’s been plaguing. And in many respects, has been the cause of much debate and anger between a new breed and those traditionalists already firmed rooted to the marketing plateau of their advertising value equivalency, circulation and reach values.

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Circulation and reach? Really? Those are the metrics for which print media is valued. In other words, brand X takes out advert Y on page who knows what of magazine Z. John Doe happens to buy magazine Z and due to the disposable nature of magazine Z, might just happen to leave it lying on the train, or bus, or restaurant table to be possibly seen by Joe Blogs. On top of that, whatever number they pull from thin air, they then multiply that by 3. That’s the degree of disassociated consumption of how print media measures ROI or at least values their reach. C’mon!

Personally, the idea of ROI is a broken metric, one that has needed redefining for as long as modern-day traditional media has been around. I don’t think the metrics used by traditional media will change — simply because their “safe zone” has been around for that long that anyone brave enough to challenge it would probably be burnt at the stake — and there is no doubt in my mind those flames will be fanned by a few magazine Zs picked up along the way, you know, by other people and what not. Because that still happens, apparently.

I feel as though we’re asking the wrong question. Simply asking what the return on investment of social media is, is akin to asking what’s the return on investment of a hug or a pat on the back, recognition, a random act of kindness or your parents. To date, the metric within the social environment cannot be measured. Scaling it is a completely different story. Scaling a relationship between a consumer and the brand you’re marketing for in the digital space is now — more than ever — easier to do.

Gone are the days when the local cafe owner used to know how your mother’s knee operation went, or how your cousin’s wedding was last weekend. That attention to detail and customer care (an ancient phrase that is barely muttered nowadays) is almost a thing of the past.

With the readily available tools at out finger tips, why isn’t this kind of service more easily practised? What is everyone so caught up in that people cannot scale a customer’s or potential customer’s affinity to a brand? It’s not hard work; it just comes down to caring more. If that customer felt as though you were proactive enough to recall his last comment or complaint and retouch on it the next time he engaged, I guarantee you that customer would slowly but surely be coaxed along the scale from indifferent to optional to advocate.

Now, I’m not saying that this is a sure-fire way to show return on investment nor can this strategy work for every business model. It’s safe to say that some brands just don’t belong in the online social environment, but play there anyway because they got caught up in the hype. Chances are, if your business didn’t have social at its core, you’ll never make it utilising social media.

Social media. There’s another one I personally have an issue with. Going back to what I discussed earlier with regards to a broken metric, the word ‘media’ has ruined this industry for us all. Lambasting the word ‘media’ on it surely means it can be measured? Surely you can just drop a value on each one of your fans on Facebook? Surely your tweets must be worth this much if you have this many followers? Thanks for nothing ‘media’! It’s not that simple. It’s scalable. It’s complex and it takes time to nurture a relationship with consumers. Why are people still trying to close on the first conversation? No one’s ever managed to close on the first conversation because consumers have wisened up to the bullsh*t. It’s time brands started caring and they can, if they take time to start scaling.

Going to back to ROI, the wrong question being asked took a shift one day when I realized we needed to create context with regards to what we were asking. The broad brush of “what’s the ROI in social” is broken. Instead, ask the following:

  • What’s the ROI of the sentiment around product X?
  • What’s the ROI of the content for product X over this time frame?
  • What was the ROI of shifting 25% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?
  • What was the ROI of our social media-driven product Y awareness campaign in the last quarter?

When one begins connecting the core of the measurement to an actual contextual timeframe and objective, then you can begin starting to understand why measuring the return is not a difficult metric to harness.

If you’re as obsessed as I am about creating context for the content you create, take it a step further and measure it in the same way. Measuring and scaling little victories like this will eventually win the war. Now, I know what you’re thinking, KPIs and ROI must always be tied to business objectives — and I totally agree — but isn’t it now time we started showing those who set those business objects what is possible to be measured in social media? Increase in positive sentiment, desire and likelihood to buy and awareness. How is that any different to circulation and reach?

As someone in digital, if your goal is to convert optional buyers of your brand’s product into advocates and you succeed in doing so, even on a small-scale and that consumer then becomes a lifetime customer — I don’t know, some might call that a return on investment.

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