My Thoughts on Social Media ROI

Lately I have been getting pulled into conversations with clients about how to measure their social media efforts. There are lots of differing opinions about WHAT to measure, what realistically CAN be measured and how to figure out whether the time and effort  of implementing a social media strategy is worth it.

As you might expect, I have some very clear ideas about all three topics.

The aim of this post is to try and shed a little light for other professionals confronting this issue as well as for clients considering extending their digital influence through social media. (I am going to assume, for the sake of this blog post, that everyone’s first step is to set some very clear goals and  understand what “success” will look like. A HUGE assumption, I know, but a necessary one in order to keep from bogging down this post.)

WHAT TO MEASURE– The obvious, but maybe not the most useful, metrics are Facebook fans, twitter followers, and blog/website traffic. “When we started, we had no Facebook presence and today we have 10,000 fans. So we’re doing great, right?” Maybe, maybe not. If those fans are not actually DOING something, who cares how many you have? So the question becomes, what was it that you wanted them to do in the first place? And what did YOU want to do when you got into this whole social media thing? Are you a restaurant trying to improve foot traffic on Monday and Tuesday nights? Are you a somewhat hard to understand service that requires the testimonials of customers in order to persuade their peers to give you a try? Are you trying to build awareness of who you are and what you do?

Whatever the answer is, I submit that the REAL value in these networks is not their size, but their quality. 500 motivated fans who can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to is much better than 5000 ones who joined your Facebook page and then never came back. This can be very hard to sell to the C-level, but the logic is unassailable. Magazine ads, radio spots, slick brochures, in-store appearances- none of them are held up to the same level of scrutiny nor do they always generate a lead or a sale in a straight line fashion. But which would you eliminate, if you had to? Is it as simple an answer as “the most expensive one?”

WHAT CAN BE MEASURED?– I revert back to the above answer in terms of hard numbers. But, of course, there are other things, too: newsletter sign ups, coupons downloaded and used, sentiment, e-mails forwarded, etc. But what are most people REALLY trying to figure out when they talk about measuring social media efforts? I think in the majority of cases it’s two things: 1) Am I selling more stuff and, 2) Have I increased mind share around my brand/product/company/service?

Both of these are valid questions, but it’s back to the influence thing. How can you determine at which point someone decided to pull the trigger and buy you? There is a big difference between causality and just a simple correlation. (I know nothing about math, but I know what I’m talking about here.) Yet people tend to look for causality because it’s easy: I did this over here which made that happen over there. Does that happen sometimes? Sure. But social media is not about causality in most cases. Like any other PR or Marketing effort, it is more about the steady drip-drip-drip of trying to earn mindshare and, hopefully, wallet share.

I don’t know about your life, but I know mine does not move in a straight line. And neither are decisions about whether to engage with your brand made in a straight line. Sales cycles can be long and influence comes from multiple, and often invisible, sources. As a customer, you might happen across something on the internet. A few days later, you hear a friend mention it. Maybe you see a blog post or tweet about it. Next thing you know, you find yourself on their Facebook page, which leads you to their website and BOOM!, you’re trying whatever that something was you first saw two weeks ago. The point for marketers and brands is, it can be a long and winding road involving multiple touch points. If you’re going to make social media a component of your brand’s identity, the only thing you CAN control is your authority. In other words, you need to be seen as solving problems honestly, repeatedly and well. So, did that sale come from social media? Hard to pinpoint the EXACT moment someone made up their mind,  but clearly it was one of many critical stops along they way to making a decision.

If someone tells me they can’t tell if their business is benefitting from social media, I think three things right off the bat:

1- They never set up a clear, measurable plan to get them from point A to point Z. If you don’t have a map, how will you know when you get there?

2- They’re too heavily focused on the numbers, i.e. Facebook fans, twitter followers, etc., instead of the opportunity those numbers represent, namely what can they DO for their fans and followers and what would they like for their fans to do for them? (Was JFK talking about social media at his inauguration?)

3- They did their homework and it became clear that the opinions and assumptions they had about their business were not shared by their customer base. In other words, the measurement data they got back made them take a hard look at themselves and they were not prepared to do that. Not a fun place to be.

A critical thing to remember in terms of social media activity is that MOST people do not actively participate on blogs, twitter or even on Facebook fan pages. Most internet users, and the percentages have been put as high as 80%, are “lurkers.” They read and  take in information from trusted sources, but they don’t feel comfortable or compelled to add their voice. But the messages are definitely getting through to them. So what’s your message? Are you constantly refining it? If you make people feel recognized, heard and understood,  you will have a connection for life. Social networking should just be an extension of what you’re already doing in real life.

Here’s an example: Well over a year ago, I had a nice salesman help me at a Banana Republic. I’ve been back to that same store a few times since then, but never saw that salesman again. Today, I stopped in there and there he was. The truth is, so much time had passed, I forgot about him. But he saw me, asked why I had stopped coming in (I hadn’t, we just kept missing each other) and if there was anything I needed. Just that simple act of recognizing me as a former customer and making me feel welcomed made me more inclined to buy something. But, how many times can he do that per day? Now think how many people you can connect with per day online, and the ROI calculation becomes easier.

So what’s the ROI of having a telephone number? What’s the ROI of a round of golf with a client? How about a dinner? Or the ROI of making someone feel heard?

Now multiply that by the Internet.

I want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This just in…

Today’s blog post is less about analysis more about some exciting company news.

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new website which better reflects who we are and what we do. Since the business launched in 2003, we have gone from being strictly a video production company creating both broadcast and corporate communications, to a full service social media consultancy and video production company.

Of course, back in 2003 there really was no such thing as social media. Facebook was still a year away from launching, podcasting was in its infancy and iTunes was only about two years old. Social media was e-mail back then. It boggles the mind to think of how quickly communications has changed in less than a decade.

We have also incorporated the blog right here on the website, so no more jumping from place to place. I even broke down and got some new head shots.

We recently got around to launching our Facebook fan page (I know, I know- what took us so long), so we hope you’ll become a fan. The idea is to use the fan page to share links that we hope pique your interest and get you thinking and talking.

We’re not done with the exciting news, but the next bombshell will be in a blog post in the not too distant future. In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you think of the new site. And stay tuned for some big news coming soon.

Thanks to all of our clients and friends for their support for the past 8 years. We would be nowhere without you.

New social networking communities

Social media is obviously a huge part of my life. I write about, it’s a big part of my day to day life, I talk about it ad nauseam and my consulting business is devoted to it. Nevertheless, I am fully aware that its uptake is not nearly as ubiquitous as some of us addicts might like to think. There are huge segments of the population, (dare I say the majority?) who wouldn’t know foursquare from Times Square, facebook from Redbook.

I make this blog post on my last day of a 6-day trip to Doha, Qatar. (Sorry, no picture to post. I know-lame!) I was curious to know what the social media scene was like here, especially since I am trying to evaluate how best to use SM on behalf of a new “green” client here in Gulf. Lo and behold, there was an Arab bloggers meeting here in Doha just yesterday called Mudawanat: All ABout Blogging. (Here’s one review of the event. Jeremiah Owyang spoke to the conference and writes about it here.) Unfortunately, I found out about it too late (shame on me), and would have been unable to attend in any event since I was a little busy finishing up some work. But it was encouraging to see that social media uptake is continuing to grow steadily everywhere you turn.

I know that my personal and professional lives have been immeasurably enriched because of social media/social networking and I am glad to have found a new community, if I make it back to Qatar someday soon.

What if somone says something bad?

Regular readers of this blog know that training young people to use social networking/social media effectively is something I am very passionate about. I also think that, used properly, it is an invaluable tool for admissions departments, alumni offices as well as a way for current students to chronicle student life.

There was an article in this morning’s NY Times (link)  focusing on the MIT Admissions Department’s embrace of social media by selecting student bloggers to write about what life is really like at the Cambridge geek factory. (And I say “geek” with love.) The powers-that-be at MIT have been able to get past the fear of “What if someone says something bad?” and given students, AND commenters it should be noted, an unedited forum to sell the school. Let’s face it- high school kids today know when they’re being BS’ed. Hell, my seven year old sees a commercial on TV and said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t really do that. This is just a commercial.” I honestly don’t think I was that savvy at 7, so imagine what kind of filters 17 and 18-year olds have.

But back to MIT bloggers: they are chosen by means of a contest that grades their writing samples. According to the Times article, once incoming students arrive on campus, “[T]he bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual ‘Meet the Bloggers’ session at Campus Preview Weekend.” One of the bloggers, for example,  wrote about her love of anime, something that would have little chance of making it into a slick brochure or marketing video. Yet a prospective student who was also loved anime saw the post and reacted, “I never would have guessed that people at MIT are interested in anime. Oh, well…+1 on my Why I should go to MIT list.”

STILL think current students are poor ambassadors for your school? My response to that is the same thing I say to companies who are unsure if they should let their employees blog, tweet or otherwise speak on behalf of the company. If you can’t trust your employees, you have a bigger problem than just deciding on your social media strategy. Further, if you have a sub-par product, maybe the key tenets of social media- transparency, openness, conversation and engagement- make you a poor candidate for a social media strategy. You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.

And in regard to the “what if someone says something bad?” fear, here’s an anecdote: One blogger complained about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing. The housing office requested that the admissions office remove the post, but they did not. Rather, they suggested that the housing office leave a comment or rebuttal on the blog. “Eventually, the system was changed.”

That, party people, is the essence of blogging, in particular, and social media, in general.


OK, so it’s Tuesday, but yesterday was a holiday. This is the fifth Blogmonday, the brainchild of Mark Story. The idea is to try and mention a couple of blogs that we we consider hidden gems, spread some link love, and help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

So today, I only have a couple of blogs with the caveat being that one of them provides constant food for very deep thought, so it counts as one-and-a-half blogs.

Conversation Agent is authored by the incredibly prolific and impossibly intelligent Valeria Maltoni. I cannot understand how some people can consistently generate such thought provoking, well-reasoned content on a daily basis. She never mails it in and it is a true must read. The focus tends to be on how customers and communities have changed marketing, communications and PR, but there is a lot more there, too. She’s just smart. And it’s fun to read what smart people write. Period.

My other pick is Inside Facebook. As I, and other marketers, turn to facebook more and more as a tactic in an overall social media strategy, this blog keeps you up to date on what’s happening at everyone’s favorite online hangout.

Check the mothership for more #blogmonday recommendations. That’s all from this county for now…

Secrets of Social Media Seminar

I will be speaking at the “Secrets of Social Media” seminar being held in Jacksonville, FL on Thursday, March 26. I will be sharing the stage with four wonderful speakers, all of whom bring a valuable perspective to social media and its myriad applications for your business.

Here’s the link for more information. Hope to see you there.

Something kind of cool happened last week that I wanted to share. The post I wrote about Tropicana’s decision to change back to its original “straw in the orange” logo generated a lot of traffic. Evidently, someone at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is among my readers and noticed my analysis. They  cited me and the blog on their weekly index. Who knew people would get so exorcised over an orange juice carton, huh?

Marketing in 2009

In our ongoing effort to share resources that focus directly on social media, we wanted to direct your attention to this free eBook offered on the terrific Conversation Agent blog by Valeria Maltoni.

Twelve social media professionals talk about what they see as the key imperatives and trends for 2009, and it’s well worth downloading and referring back to all year long.

It’s free, yet it offers invaluable insight and advice.

What are you waiting for?

Did I mention it was free?

Should corporations blog?

Instead of answering the question directly, let’s do a quick survey of some larger corporations in the space.

This incomplete list illustrates how each company takes a different approach to information, outreach and community building.

The GE Global Research blog is a peek into their industrial research labs and is targeted to the technology set. They have dozens of contributors so the content remains fresh and wide ranging, and they incorporate lots of video.

The Graco blog also has multiple contributors (always a good idea) and focuses primarily on parenting issues.

General Motors’ Fastlane blog is “a forum for GM executives to talk about GM’s current and future products and services.” GM has been in the space for some time, and their blog gets a lot of comments, particularly in the past day or two as the Big Three are all testifying on Capitol Hill in search of a bridge loan to keep them afloat.

Most social media consultants, and I include myself, will say that a corporate blogging no-no is to prattle on about your latest product or service. Instead, you should be attempting to build trust with your community and be a problem solver. These three companies attack this issue in different ways.

GE is speaking to a devoted and passionate audience of science and technology people. GE Research Labs does not really make consumer products so unless you’re planning on buying a multi-million dollar medical imaging machine or a pulsed detonation engine (I don’t know, either), I think they’re right to break this cardinal rule. Their blog is for those who wish to stay on top of new developments.

Graco has a wide range of baby products they sell such as playpens, car seats and strollers. The blog, however, shares experiences and offers advice to the common problems that affect all parents. They do have a channel about their products, but the number of entries there is far outnumbered by those in the “Parenting” or “Babies” channels.

GM’s blog, on the other hand, is essentially a series of press releases or talking points posted by execs of the company. To their credit, though, most of the posts receive a LOT of comments and GM seems to let the community say whatever might be on their minds, and things sometimes get a little chippy. I don’t think people are feeling too warm and fuzzy towards any of the Big 3 right now, and if you don’t believe me, check the comments section.

There are tons of other big companies out there blogging (Coke, Molson, Intel, P&G and Wells Fargo, to name a few. There a good list here if you’re interested in seeing what the other guy is doing). The purpose of this post is not to hit you with a laundry list of who’s doing what. The point is to get you, your company or your clients seriously thinking about getting involved in the space, spy on your competition, learn from their mistakes and maybe even find something out about these companies you may not have known.

One of these days, “new media” will stop being new. That day is growing ever closer.

Measuring the success of your online video strategy

As we all continue to refine our thinking about how “success” is measured in terms of your online video strategy, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind.

First, what IS your strategy. Too often I hear things like, “We need to get a video on our website,” or “We need to be on YouTube.” Maybe you do. But have you fully considered why? And exactly what the videos are meant to achieve?

I would agree with Forrester research analyst Jeremiah Owyang when he suggests that job one needs to be making your content embeddable and, consequently, more easily shared. As we have written before here, here and here, to  give up control is to gain control. I’m not trying to go all David Carradine, Kung Fu master on you, but think about it: people are sharing videos and talking about your company or product already. Naturally, you hope they’re saying positive things. And if they are, moving pictures beat words on a page any day of the week.

But while people are using your content however they wish, we need to stop thinking so much about the hit or click as the sole measurement of success. The conversations are happening. You may as well do all you can to try and lead them.

Too Lijit to quit?

We made a couple of housekeeping improvements to make the blog a bit more useful. TypePad, our blogging software, has added a few new fonts and features, among them they have made it possible for links to open in a separate window. Like most good bloggers, we provide lots of links in our posts, but this way you won't navigate away from us every time you click a link. We want to keep you around for as long as possible and we like anything that makes the layout prettier and more useful.

On that subject, thanks to our pal Jason Falls, the Social Media Explorer, who told us about Lijit, which does a couple of cool things rather well. Chief among them, it offers robust search within our blog. We have 100+ posts and trying to find what you're looking for can be a little tough. Another thing it does well is create what I would call a "trust tree." (They don't call it that, but they can steal it if they like it.) If you click on "Explore" you will see a matrix of other blogs in my network, the assumption being that if you're a fan of my blog, you might also like these other ones. Finally, there are little chicklets that represent all the places you can find me online so you can follow me on Twitter, friend me up on Facebook, see my history on LinkedIn or watch some videos we've produced on YouTube. Find their widget over on the right hand side, just beneath the "Email me" link.

I'm just getting started with it, but I think it is a cool little tool. Tell me what you think. Or better yet, tell Lijit what you think and install it on your blog if you like it. They make it pretty simple to do. Not a major overhaul, but we hope you like the changes.