Assessing the ROI on Your Social Media Efforts

Thoughts on ROI for Social Media Efforts

I wrote the cover story for SIPA’s November Hotline newsletter on ROI for social media efforts. What should you expect and what parameters should you use? It’s a question that will continue into 2012 and beyond. How do we know we’re spending the right amount of time on places like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? We know from our own lives how addictive these sites can be.

“[What is the ROI on your social media] is almost like a loaded question,” said Rachel Yeomans, marketing director for Astek Consulting. “What do I get back mostly depends on what you want out of it. New customers? Sell product, buy books, or just good public relations and branding. You’re not going on trying to make money directly. Only retailers try that and it isn’t really for that. It’s more for creating that trust. ‘Buy this’–people are turned off by that. Funny, you almost have to redefine ROI.”

I heard consultant and author Joe Kutchera speak recently in a webinar on marketing to Hispanics. He is more concerned with actual engagement and involvement than numbers and clicks, which makes sense. “A lot of people get caught up with how many [Facebook] friends do I have,” Kutchera said. “But what’s the percentage of your friends who are actually engaged? If you have a million friends and hardly anyone is responding, then that’s not good. But if you have 1,000 friends and half are responding, then you are getting good returns.”

Ed Coburn, publishing director at Harvard Health Publications, made an interesting point about how we classify our social media efforts. Perhaps they should be looked at as more in the public relations realm than direct marketing, he said. This also makes sense. As Yeoman pointed out, you’re not really trying to get people to directly buy through social media. You’re building your reputation, becoming part of the conversation—perhaps even a go-to place on some issues—getting your name into the right circles of thought leadership, if I may borrow from Google plus.

“We have long incurred time and expense creating and distributing press releases, developing and managing media relationships, and been comfortable with the reality that we couldn’t directly cost-justify it,” said Coburn. “I think it’s tremendously important.”

Dan Brown, who spent 28 years at United Communications Group and now runs Xponential Publishing Consultants in Washington, D.C., agrees with the assessment of social media more as leading to something than as a direct buy-this strategy. So that has to enter into how you quantify your efforts. “Social media is exclusively a lead-generation tactic, and involves multiple steps,” he said.

I ended the Hotline article by referring to a recent profile of Jill Abramson by Ken Auletta in the New Yorker magazine. What I found interesting is that Abramson is struggling with the same issues as specialized publishers when it comes to social media. “Should the Times create online news programs? Should the Times work more closely with Twitter and Facebook? Should the Times publish e-books?” she asks. (The Hotline article goes into greater detail on everything.)

On one hand, it’s comforting to know that the New York Times is grappling with the same issues as you and I. On the other hand, if they can’t figure it out—with all the resources at their disposal—then that’s a little on the uncomfortable side. “You [do this because you] want to stand out as a leader,” said Yeomans. That’s probably the best proof theorem for niche publications. It makes me think of Henry Fonda’s famous speech in The Grapes of Wrath: “…I’ll be all around in the dark, I’ll be everywhere, wherever you can look…I’ll be there, too.” Social media isn’t nearly that dramatic but it does require much of that try-to-be-everywhere persona.


Social media will be high on the agenda at
next week’s Marketing Conference in Miami.

Sessions, roundtables and networking will deal
with many of these same issues.
There’s still time to join what will be the
biggest audience for this Conference in years.
SIPA’s 28th Annual Marketing Conference
in Miami Beach, Dec. 7-9.

But you need to act fast.
Check the agenda and sign up now!

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