With all the talk about social media, it’s not surprising that everyone wants to put a number on it – who wouldn’t want to know the precise ROI of using social media. Of course, we do too; after all it’s a major part of what we do here – broadcasting our client’s community engagement works over the available social media networks. And we’d love to be able to spout definitive numbers to them about the “results” of those campaigns. But wanting and having our two different things. Whether it’s because the use of social media is still relatively new or because it just can’t really be measured in the same sense as other advertising efforts, it is still very difficult to quantify, beyond the basic “an impression is an impression is an impression”. But, just because you cannot put a number on it does not mean it isn’t valuable and doesn’t reap benefits. One of the most insightful pieces we’re read recently came from Erica Swallow on Mashable, where she was talking about a presentation by Hal Thomas of BFG Communications on social media ROI. It’s worth a read: http://mashable.com/2011/11/15/social-media-roi-measure/.
The key points are pretty simple:
1) Social media isn’t the final destination, it is merely the vehicle to get you there. That final destination is different for each company and every campaign. She uses the example Thomas offers in which he likens social media to handing out a business card. You hand it out – it represents potential, just like a Facebook fan or a Twitter follower. That is far from the end of it; in fact, it’s really just the beginning.
2) Social media conversations may have different impacts for different departments of a company. The point is to “listen” very carefully to those conversations and see how they apply to each department. Sure, that makes sense. If you’re listening and can apply those conversations to what you’re doing, across your various departments, then you are taking the lessons learned and translating them into meaningful results. There’s your ROI.
3) Social media metrics are media agnostic. Well, of course they are. Like an ad, a billboard a radio spot the key question with social media is not just how many impressions you get, or how many “likes” or “followers” you have, but what do you do with that information.
Bottom line seems to be that the use of social media is an opportunity for a conversation with your customers and, like any conversation, the key to its value is how well you are listening.