I may as well have put, “Lions and Tigers and Bears – OH, MY” as the title. It’s a safe bet that’s what most people think when they start talking about a return on investment (ROI) for their social media efforts.
It’s kinda like the Wicked Witch of the West has sent her Flying Monkeys after you … AHHHH!
It’s going to be okay. Consider me your Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow all wrapped up into one. Together, we can make it to OZ, where the Wizard (still me) has the answers to some of your ROI questions.
Admittedly I’m not a numbers person, so I must have been up for a serious challenge the day I decided to base my honors thesis work around proving an ROI for brands and their communities on Facebook.
Let me be clear: The ROI was a soft ROI; my hypothesis looked at building a large and loyal community based on conversation – or better stated – if relationships could be formed through online conversation.
The answer was, of course, yes. But to pass my thesis I had to prove it with steadfast metrics.
Hard Metrics vs Soft Metrics
I think it’s imperative to understand what “hard” and “soft” mean as a social media strategist. Soft benefits can be just as important as direct benefits, even though they don’t necessarily add to the bottom line.
Let’s break it down:
A soft benefit or soft ROI may encompass intangible things, such as:
- Brand sentiment
- Brand awareness
- Fans & Follower counts (some people may disagree with me here, but I’ll explain why this is “soft” down below)
- Customer experience & satisfaction
- Competitive advantage
Whereas a direct benefit or hard ROI would be gauged by adding to the bottom line, like:
- Sales dollarsBottom-line savings (i.e.: save time or money using SM for market research)
- Time savings (i.e.: customer service efficiency through SMM)
- Addition of any other tangible assets
Most of the companies out there are looking for a direct benefit of their social media efforts, while most of us (social media marketers) can agree we’ve got ways to track our soft returns with social media.
In my opinion, this is where the disconnect on ROI is taking place.
It’s your job to show why both indirect and direct benefits are important. It’s also your job to deliver – ON BOTH.
Fans and Followers are one of the biggest ways I see social media “experts” prove they’re doing well.
Here’s my problem with that: if those Fans and Followers aren’t active on your Page, and worse, they’re not buying what you’re selling, there really isn’t a soft OR hard return.
ROI Should Be Tied To Goals
Furthermore, ROI should be directly tied to your social media goals.
If your “expert” hasn’t asked you what your goals are, both hard and soft, I’d start shopping for someone else. And I’d do it quickly.
With the clients we serve, I’ve seen three major goals emerging:
- Brand Awareness
- Brand Loyalty
- Direct Sales
Being that it takes time to explain each one clearly, I’ll break each one down into a separate blog post (parts Two, Three, and Four).
Each post will give you examples of how to measure each Goal and its related return on investment.
Come on, Dorothy, don’t be scared! I’ve got a nice paved, yellow brick road for you to follow all the way to your ROI “ah-ha” moment.
Next up, Brand Awareness and ways to track the soft benefits associated with this goal.
See you in the social sphere!
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I couldn’t agree more with your post and what Mallie said above. If you are always just talking with your fans and not bringing in any business you need to look deeper. Especially if you bought your fans- now you are in the negative. Social Media has such a positive impact on business when done correctly!
Well, Judy, I hate to say it but there’s a group of us who aren’t feeling particularly sorry for those “marketers” who thought it would be okay to give their fan count a boost by buying fans. It really makes it hard for the real social professionals to do their job … I guess we can all be glad karma is here to set them straight!
Thanks for your comment. 🙂
I’m just glad to see a social business professional being open and honest and stating, without fear, that ROI is important. Yes, relationships and engagement help steer ROI, but without some return on investment you’re no longer doing business. You’re simply chatting. Chatting doesn’t pay the bills.
Agreed, Mallie! Thank you for your comment. I know it’s not easy to track ROI – especially when we’re talking direct sales, but it’s imperative social professionals learn how to do this for their clients. Otherwise I fear they’re just adding to the C-Level execs saying that social media is all hype!
ROI is, after all is said and done, the metric that counts. But understanding that there are both hard and soft ROI positions is important. When I begin a SMM conversation with prospects the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude generally hits me between the eyes before I can even finish explaining what SMM is. The jump to hard ROI and ignoring the soft version is, for me, the hardest thing to get clients to stop doing!
I know what you mean, Kerry. The direct sales ROI is very difficult to measure, especially when you don’t have the right tools to make the measurements in the first place! It takes time, and more importantly MONEY, to measure the dollar-to-dollar correlation on most direct sales strategies. The problem is most companies think social media is “free” or they pay cheap prices for a package from an “expert” and then can’t figure out why it’s so difficult to show a true ROI. Sigh ….
We’ll discuss that direct ROI in an upcoming blog post (with both paid and FREE ways to measure it). Stay tuned … and thanks for your insight! 🙂
I absolutely agree Brooke! It is a definite challenge to convince some clients that the number of followers they have is not the most important thing they should be checking everyday! Mallie makes a great point as well. Without ROI, you have no business just chatting 🙂
Thanks for your input, Jen! If it weren’t challenging – EVERYONE would claim to be a social media “expert” … oh … wait. (haha)
Great article Brooke. Love how you tied in the Wizard of Oz. Made the scary topic of ROI more fun to read! I get the question a lot and I do think it is hard to show. But Mallie is right, conversation or chatting, doesn’t pay the bills. We have got to show them the money! Can’t wait to ready parts II, III, IV and V!
Little known fact: I LOVE the Wizard of Oz. 😉
Thanks so much for commenting, Heather! I’m excited about the upcoming posts as well. Please let me know if you have anything to add … or disagree … or do things differently. That’s what this blog is for – real talk from real social media professionals.
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I’m glad that you characterized both “soft” AND “hard” ROI. Because we should have ample measures of both.
“Hard” is a measurable benefit to satisfy the “right now” needs of the small (or not-so-small) biz owner: sales, conversions, lather-rinse-repeat.
But “Soft” IS a benefit. If a reader is engaging and communicating, whether they have become a buyer or not they are adding value to your space, and vice versa. “Soft” engagement can be put in the category of “not yet” a hard return on investment… but thinkin’ about it. Meanwhile, let’s keep the conversation going.
With paying customers helping us to keep the fire stoked, and others gathering near the flame but not yet getting their s’mores… we have a TRUE community with peoples in various stages.
If the campaign is measured in terms of solely one or the other of the two camps, someone will be left out and our biz suffers without even knowing it.
Thanks again for the post, Brooke! See you in Part Two!
Hiya, Kurt! Glad to see you took your reading lessons seriously. 😉
Agree with you SO MUCH. And love that you understand how soft is important (and related to hard). My particular clients (public, B2B brands) are more interested in hard, although I’m slowly but surely showing them how soft benefits help us grow and are tremendously important to a healthy community. It’s all cyclical and it’s all in how well you understand how each metric fits in with your own goals and objectives.
The savvy peeps — like you — get it and make it look so easy! The not-so-savvy peeps will keep touting friends and followers as the only measure for “success.”
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