“Show me the ROI from social media.” I can’t tell you how often I hear this. Over, and over, and over again. In fact it is endemic with every person and organization participating in the medium. It was even a huge controversy at one of the largest social media parties in America: SXSW. Needless to say it is a topic that has become tired and vapid and rarely yields satisfactory answers for those asking the questions. I’ve talked about it over, and over, and over again and I too feel my answers are becoming cliche. But an epiphany hit me today as I sat with the rain pounding the Napa Valley. It is all about the flaw of the question, the multi-purpose function of the medium, the false expectations of the market (I blame Google), the misunderstanding of the term ROI, and the people who ask the questions understanding their own business goals. To keep this post short(er), I won’t go into all of these but instead focus on two important principles: the meaning of ROI and what we see as the three buckets of measuring social media.
First and foremost it seems that in the context of social media the acronym ROI has been forged into a singular meaning of “efforts that convert directly into sales.” I am not sure where the disconnect started but it likely originated from the skeptics and naysayers with myopic phrases like “show me the money” or “social media does not make sales so it has no ROI.” Borrowing a statement from one of my favorite thought-leaders in social media Brian Solis in his forward for Olivier Blanchard’s incredible book: “it’s impossible to measure the ROI for something if we haven’t first established the R (return) or the I (investment).”
Secondly finding ROI in social media has hit three major categories:
Social Media is no longer a novelty. The Internet has been socialized and there is no turning back. The traditional consumers of content have been empowered and are now the biggest producers of content. Social customers are increasingly turning to their social and interest graphs for product information, recommendations, and support. For brands it is no longer acceptable to ignore social media. Just as when businesses adopted the telephone, added fax machines, started using email, and established websites, social media is now just part of doing business. I think we can all agree that the pace of change in the digital arena is only accelerating. Whether brands choose to evolve and embrace these new channels or hope they fade away, the adoption of these channels by consumers in all demographics is unstoppable. Therefore, at least at a base level, a minimal investment in social media has become a requirement. Fully leveraging the medium and maximizing the return are where we need to focus. Interacting with customers is one of the greatest investments a business can make and almost always yields the greatest return. Social media represents an extremely cost-effective and scalable medium for businesses of all sizes to connect with their customers.
Then there are the tactical goals associated with your strategy with social media. This is a very clear function of defining your goal and measuring your investment vs. your return. Your investment can be money, time, product, intellectual property, etc, etc and your “R” (return) can be increased engagement, better brand awareness, reduced wine club churn, increased second sales, email acquisition, and so on. Your goal can even be, *gasp*, sales. In this way social media can definitely be measured and you can assess the ROI of your efforts. But there is no single magic formula that determines ROI. It is specific to the individual goals of the business. This is a basic concept and is (hopefully) one we are already applying to our other business activities (advertising, marketing, sales, operations, etc). For more specific guidance and tactics for assessing ROI in social media, I highly recommended the book from Oliver Blanchard. You can learn more about the book or buy it here: http://smroi.net/. Another AMAZING post about ROI in social media is from Brian Solis himself: http://www.briansolis.com/2012/02/when-roi-represents-the-realization-of-influence/.
Yes, we are all in business to make money and the ultimate measurement of success is a sustainable business. In this way we measure the contributions from all our efforts to the overall success of the business (sales, marketing, operations, finance, public relations, technology, R&D, etc, etc). Interestingly social media has real use cases for almost every department and can contribute tactically to achieving the strategies for each business unit. But rarely do we say that one component of any of our strategies and one of our singular tools/channels is responsible for contributing to the health of the business. I have rarely heard that operations, finance, public relations et al using a singular tactic that ensured the health of our business. I am still confused why we still look to social media as the panacea for business health.
Footnote for perspective on ROI as viewed through the expectation of conversion in the wine industry.
With so much focus on trying to determine the ROI of social media as a tool for converting to sales perhaps we should take a look at common tactics we use and their ROI: