Can you measure the return on investment (ROI) for social media?

Or, more to the point, is there a fully comprehensive way of measuring ROI for social media?

Well, the conclusion that a room full of marketing, social media and PR professionals, as well as a panel consisting of people from a leading digital agency (@robin1966), retail organisation (@HN_Manchester), major sports brand (@AaronLavery), a digital research and analytics agency (@needleinsights) and a shy and retiring @johnrobb77 was ‘No’.

More to the point though, does this actually matter? In my opinion, the answer again is ‘No’.

#thefeed2 panel and audience

ROI of social media

The question of ROI of social media activity is brought up over and over again because, unlike some other marketing tools, it is measurable in some, but not all, aspects. If a marketing tool can accurately be analysed with results linked to it directly (e.g. email marketing), or alternatively if it is widely conceded that accurately measuring ROI is impossible (e.g. motorway billboard), then it will often fly under the ROI radar. Social media doesn’t have this luxury and is very much on the radar. Because elements of it are measurable (number of followers, number of RT, referred traffic – NOT Klout, which is as useful as a random number generator), people are of the opinion that we, as social media professionals, should be able to allocate a pounds and pence value of social media activity.

Social media ambassadors

Rather than finding this elusive reporting technique that offers a solution, I actually believe that social media will break free from the constraints imposed on it by the ROI debate through the education of wider audiences about the true nature and benefits of social media. We need to remember that as a medium social media is widely used, but is still relatively young and widely misunderstood. Your typical internet surfer skims along the surface of online content, barely engaging with brands. Social media, on the other hand, gives brands and content providers the opportunity to distribute content to a deeper degree. Their content is qualified through being shared amongst friends and like-minded audiences along with the opportunity to foster longterm relationships. Do I have a quantifiable scale to illustrate this? No. Sometimes you have to make informed assumptions though. Would I take a safe gamble that an integrated social media strategy will pay dividends? 9 times out of 10, yes.

The way forward

The organisations that benefit the most from social media will be those that fully embrace and integrate it into their marketing strategies. Too many conversations relate to social media in isolation, when it should be integrated as an element of the marketing mix. It is crazy to do otherwise. You can have the best car stereo on the planet, but if you don’t fit it into a car, it’s as useful as…well, Klout (not very). Still we are seeing social media strategies being put into play that are not being integrated into wider marketing strategies, and as a result are working at a fraction of their potential. To be successful, the same amount of care that goes into brand consistency should be applied to ensure that every marketing message has a consideration for social media potential. In many cases a cultural shift will be required within an organisation to properly accommodate truly effective social media strategy, and SMEs will be able to make this shift more easily than larger corporations but, regardless of the fact that the benefits can’t be accurately forecast, if done properly I’d bet my pay cheque that it would offer a good return on investment of time and resources.

And if all else fails, just get Hello There Cupcakes to make you some social media and QR code cupcakes to take your mind off things. Nom nom nom!

Here are the associated tweets for The Feed 2 event.

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One thought on “Can you measure the return on investment (ROI) for social media?

  1. The bottom line is that potential gain can only ever be guesstimate, much like an opportunity cost. Expenditure on social media will never conform to cost/benefit metrics (please, let;s none of us EVER use the appalling phrase ‘Buzz Metrics’ that the poor unfortunate on the panel made a fool of himself by using on Monday). For forty years I’ve been using networking opportunities to bring potential gain to my business activities; social media simply adds functionality to networking, it doesn’t add a qualitative layer. In that sense it is a simple strand of integrated work. Benefits are usually transient and rely on novelty rather than having longevity and depth. I stand by what i said at the debate; there is no ROI from social media (in a traditional sense), and attempts to model and quantify are simply the pursuit of a fools errand.


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