Social Media and ROI: Strange Bedfellows, or a Match Made in Heaven?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock during the past few years, you’ve noticed that social media has become the new norm in our lives, both personal and professional. For businesses large and small, what was initially a curiosity has rapidly emerged as a highly effective tool for interacting with their customers and prospects. … As interest and investment in social media continue to grow, it’s inevitable that corporate stakeholders and bean counters across corporate America will begin to clamor for marketers to demonstrate ROI …

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few years, you’ve noticed that Social Media has become the new norm in our lives, both personal and professional. For businesses large and small, what was initially a curiosity has rapidly emerged as a highly effective tool for interacting with their customers and prospects. In fact, according to Emil Protalinski in an article on ZDNet.com, a whopping 68 percent of small businesses say they use Facebook as their main marketing tool. Wow!

As interest and investment in social media continue to grow, it’s inevitable that corporate stakeholders and bean counters across corporate America will begin to clamor for marketers to demonstrate ROI for their firm’s social media activities. And believe me, Social Media spending will most certainly continue to grow. According to an article on CMOSurvey.com, in the next five years, marketers can expect to spend 19.5 percent of their budgets on social media, which is almost three times more than the current level. That’s a lot of shekels. This year alone, in fact, marketers are already spending 10.8 percent of their budgets on it.

With increased budgets will undoubtedly come increased scrutiny. But as is the case with most things, the devil is in the details, and measuring social media success is much easier said than done. Unlike most marketing activities, you see, which can be traced back to number of leads generated, customers acquired or sales made, Social Media KPIs are anything but clear cut.

Think about it for a moment. How much is a Facebook “Like” worth, anyway? How much would you pay to get a new follower or to be mentioned on Twitter? How much does each LinkedIn connection contribute to your company’s bottom line? Given this environment, it’s not a big surprise that there are some who simply shrug their shoulders and say that trying to pin ROI to Social Media is a complete waste of time. I don’t necessarily belong to that school of thought, but I do think that Social Media is an entirely new beast that needs to be viewed in a manner distinct from other places marketers spend their money.

Fact is, social media is not simply another advertising channel with a specific budget that can be attributed to a specific group of sales or other traditional marketing KPIs. This is because social media can be used by a firm for many different activities by different departments, many of which are not exactly under marketing’s purview or control.

For the customer service team, using Social CRM technologies and listening platforms, Social Media is an incredible tool that can be used to listen to and engage with customers on the Web, supplementing their phone bank and other customer service activities. For the sales team, Social Media presents yet another source of red-hot leads to be contacted—prospects that have expressed interest in their firm’s products or services and can be followed up on in real time. For marketers, social media may play a role in the department’s content marketing strategy, enabling them to disseminate awesome content to a large base of customers and prospects at minimal cost. And for a PR department, social media represents a unique way to broadcast company press and news releases to the press and public in a continuous feedback loop.

But as a direct marketer by trade, I must admit that I have a difficult time accepting that any activity run by the marketing department can avoid the inevitable ROI discussion. Sure, most ROI calculations I’ve seen in run-of-the-mill PowerPoints are 50 percent math 50 percent BS … I should know because I’ve made quite a few of them in my day! But that being said, I do think we’ll eventually get there. And I’m not alone: A recent study published by Mediabistro demonstrated that 64 percent of executives believe that social marketing will eventually produce a legitimate return on investment for their firms.

In many ways, this lack of clarity is a result of Social Media still being in its infancy to a large extent, and regarding ROI we’ve still got a ways to go. So what do I think the answer will ultimately be? I’m not completely sure, but let me leave you with this.

Because Social Media is being used by different departments with different budgets for different things, when evaluating social media a firm needs to grasp a firm understanding of how Social Media is being used within the organization. For each department, success will need to be measured and tracked differently based on performance metrics that are relevant to stakeholders in each of those departments. Sales teams, for example, should use metrics relevant to salespeople, such as number of leads generated, conversion rate on those leads and so on. Customer service departments, not surprisingly, operate on entirely different systems and, therefore, need to evaluate Social Media according to an entirely differ set of KPIs. Ultimately, each department’s success measurements for social media need to be based on their specific goals and metrics.

Okay, I’m out of space so I’ll leave it there for now. Have you tried to work out KPIs or perform ROI calculations for your Social Media program? If so, I’d love to see what you’ve come up with, so let me know in your comments.

—Rio

Author: Rio Longacre

Who’s Your Data? is a blog that aims to disseminate thought-provoking tips and techniques involving the use of data and database marketing to direct marketing professionals. Why should you care? Because implementing data best practices has been shown to lift response rates, improve analytics and enhance overall customer experience. Reader participation is encouraged!

Rio Longacre is a Sales & Marketing Professional with more than 10 years of experience in the direct marketing trenches. He has worked closely with businesses across many different vertical markets, helping them effectively leverage the use of data, personalization technologies and tracking platforms. Longacre is currently employed as a Managing Consultant, Marketing, Sales & Service Consulting at Capgemini Consulting, a premier management consulting firm. He is based in the company's New York City office, which is located in Midtown Manhattan. He has also previously worked as an online media buyer and digital marketing strategist.

Email Longacre below, or you can follow him on Twitter at @RioLongacre. Any opinions expressed are his own.

2 thoughts on “Social Media and ROI: Strange Bedfellows, or a Match Made in Heaven?”

  1. Facebook doesn’t just make money on selling ads, they sell the browsing history of all their users, on a supposedly double-blind basis, providing age and gender demographics. This is the largest data set of users in the world, and users don’t even know they are being tracked.

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