Social Media : ROI or RIP, yes, but by measuring what?

The question still pops up: what is the ROI of Social Media? It gives me slight nausea, tingling toes and a mighty nagging headache. Because the question is so wrong. What is the ROI of the internet? Of TV? Of electricity? Of reading a book? Meeting someone at a network event?  Gary Vaynerchuk  puts it even more direct and in context: – What is the ROI of your mother?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in the New Age full Zen attitude of some die-hard social media ninja’s that murmur esoteric kabala citations and mellow truths à la it’s about the value of relationships: we all agree that is way too vague.

The question is wrong – The question should be: How will Social Media contribute my brand in achieving X. And X does not have to be sales by default and definition. It can be sales –absolutely- , but also shift of perception, education, creating conversation, gathering consumer input and insights, delivering costumer service, offering correct information within context, a call to action, shift of tone of voice, etc etc …

The starting point is wrong – Doing Social Media, and then start to wonder what the ROI will be, is a path to certain disaster.  The starting point should be linked to the direct DNA and core of your business, and to your business strategy: What is it you want to achieve: Sell more? Educate? Shift perception? Build alliances to influence? Interact with a fan base? If your social media endeavors do not mirror or contribute to your business strategy, there is no point in measuring your ROI: there will be none.  

The set-up is wrong – If you talk about social media, and social media teams, you are on the verge of an abyss of failure… social media should never stand by itself, nor be operated by an isolated team. It should be part of an overall business, marketing, communications and connections strategy. If Social Media is not woven throughout your marketing and communications organization, it is doomed to fail. Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) wrote an excellent book on Social Media ROI where he sketches the importance of weaving your social media strategy within the larger organizational and business strategy.

The expectations are wrong – Often, expectations are that within weeks thousands of fans will deliver the miracle that will save the quarterly results. Because, social goes viral, for free, and will double the business, no?. *deep sigh* Social Media is an interactive way of communicating that builds its return on investment in the middle to long run.  It’s not a miracle medicine to satisfy your shareholders.

The metrics are wrong – If you try to shift perception, measuring reach and eyeballs will simply not do the trick. However, in the media industry, the standard set up of measurement highlights GRP’s, touch points, eyeballs, and connection points.  To measure the ROI, we will have to walk the dog back by the tail, and provide measurement that measures what we intended to achieve: Did we change the perception? Did we sell more? Are people using or sharing our content? Does our engagement index go up? Did we move people to our event? One-size-fits-all data sets will simply fall short of measuring.

Social media is still great – But to give it full credit, it will require more work in defining exactly what we want it to do… and where it fits in our business strategy, and to accept that it is – by default- meant to be interactive.  

Fast Company phrases it nicely: “If you get bored with Social Media, it’s because you are trying to get more value than you create”.

Social Media– The Darwin Doom: Evolve, invest… or die.

It is happening. Campaigns with a heavy social media component, start driving a lot of traction. From The Hunger Games, Twilight, Star Wars, and the British Imperial War Museum to a growing number of brands; it looks like social media can claim a growing part of driving the needle.  But what most are forgetting while looking at the award winning entrees or the mind boggling engagement figures is something disturbingly simple: it is not magic. It is hard work.

Social media success, and its golden unicorn “going viral”, is not based on luck, on a throw of the dice, or on a beneficial line up of some obscure stars and planetary constellations. It is based on careful planning, iron metrics, dazzling creativity, and a perfect understanding of the sociologic –and technical semantics of the social web.

It requires hybrid people capable to find seamless interaction between on- and offline components of a campaign, it requires access to influencers and amplifiers who can give the initiative enough boost to give it enough velocity. It requires specialized analytical brains to sift through data, and to translate these figures into actionable intelligence.  It requires people ahead of the curve.

Success does not happen overnight, it’s not based on luck. As with most pieces of a business, success is directly linked to skill, empowerment and passion.  Brands and agencies capable of harnessing the best talent, and setting up a suitable multi-lingual cross border operational structure see their initial investment returned in tangible results.  It starts with investment, it ends with the harvest. As every farmer knows: What you do not sow, you cannot reap

All too often, the wishful thinking is that social media can be bolted on as an afterthought. Reality is that it is a hard fought métier, requiring deep empathetic skills, innovative thinking and an uncanny ability to spot the right touch points within the target audience.

Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder)wrote all you’ll ever need to know on the possibilities to drive real ROI through social media in his book Social Media ROI. But before the cash machines will spit mountains of 4 digit bills, before sales will skyrock, before reputations will turn around… investments will have to be made in the very bone structures of brands and agencies. Going to war without modifying your army profoundly, without new weapon systems, without strategic experts that have inside knowledge on how the other side operates, you’re in for a certain Waterloo.

The first prize is a fancy car (well, a hybrid one with limited impact on the environment that is), the second prize is a set of steak knives. The third prize is simple: you’re out of business.  Darwin was right: evolve, or die…

 

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