Social Media ROI: Soft Metrics Versus Solid Metrics

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ROI Brand Loyalty

When it comes to social media ROI, it’s no secret that most marketers use soft metrics — or vanity metrics — to measure success.

In fact, according to research by the Association of National Advertisers,

80% of US client-side marketers measured the effectiveness of their social content, with social media metrics such as “likes” the most common.

Things like Advocacy, Sales and ROI fell to the bottom of the measurement pile; a damn shame.

And it’s not just social media seeing this lack of know-how. In May of this year, Contently polled content marketers and found that soft metrics were used to measure content marketing efforts (rather than conversion metrics).

So why is there such a wide gap between soft and solid metrics when it comes to measuring ROI?

social media ROI

Shiny Object Syndrome

I think many marketers — and plenty of non-marketers — got into the social space because they saw it as a chance to open up new revenue streams. I get that.

But the big talkers and big dreamers did just that: They talked about the shiny objects and the big dreams (“thousands of likes for you!”), but had a harder time putting into practice the things they told tall tales about (actual results).

In fact, there are many “big wigs” out there helping small agencies launch their social careers when they themselves have never actually worked with a corporate client, or proved a solid return on investment.

I won’t name names, but many of us in the industry know who they are.

It’s oh-so-easy to write a post about “10 Ways To Get More Facebook Likes TODAY” and a lot (LOT) harder to help your clients achieve a solid ROI on their social media efforts.

If It’s All About Size, You’re Doing It WRONG

SMM is not about size

One of the biggest things amateurs don’t understand about vanity metrics and community size is that super-sized online communities can actually hurt your brand when it comes to influence.

A consumer behavior study performed by TechnoratiMedia showed that,

When it comes to community size, 54 percent of consumers agree that the smaller the community the greater the influence.

So for all of those social media “experts” out there claiming to get you hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, fans, followers and the like, WE’RE CALLING YOUR BLUFF (AND FLUFF).

Like so many other things in life, it’s less about size and more about heart:

  • How many community members are active?
  • How many engage in conversation?
  • How many give positive reviews, sentiment, or feedback?
  • How many give REAL insights into what your brand can do better?
  • How many are recommending your products and services to others?
  • [See more about Advocacy below]

Soft Metrics VS Solid Metrics

I won’t go into too much detail here, because we have a four-part series and an eBook on differentiating the two, along with several ways to measure for both hard and soft metrics.

But here’s a quick and dirty cheat sheet you can bookmark, pin, or use when you’re comparing some soft and solid metrics:

SMM soft vs solid metric examples

[Click on image for full-size view]

It’s my opinion that marketers should be using a mixture of both hard and soft metrics to make any sort of real impact for clients.

An Important Note About Advocacy

I put Advocacy under branding since marketing professionals rank Advocacy as a top goal for branding.

However, with stats like:

Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.

Brand advocates are 70% more likely to be seen as a good source of information by people around them.

90% of advocates write something positive about their purchasing experience.

Offers shared by trusted advocates convert at 4-10x higher rate than offers sent by brands.

A 12% increase in Brand Advocacy, on average, generates a 2x increase in revenue growth rate plus boosts market share.


it seems that Advocacy can almost be a solid metric (of course, depending on conversions). In any case it’s a highly potent soft metric that marketers should be focusing on.

There’s Room For Growth

Am I saying fluff marketers who measure only vanity and soft metrics should be banished from the social sphere? No.

But I do believe that the next wave of social media marketing will only carry those who can successfully use both soft and solid metrics with their clients.

I do believe those showing no real, tangible results will get left behind.

And yeah, I think that’s a GOOD thing.

In an effort to get more executives and companies believing in the power of social media, we need to graduate from amateur and basic and start showing how important social media is to consumerism.

And only by measuring the impact of Sales, Advocacy and a solid ROI can we start to do that.

Do you AGREE? Let me know in the comments section below!


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Brooke B. Sellas is an award-winning Customer Marketing Strategist and the CEO & Founder of B Squared Media. Her book, Conversations That Connect has been recognized nationally and is required reading for a Customer Experience class at NSU. Brooke's influence in digital marketing is not just about her accomplishments but also about her unwavering commitment to elevating the industry standard of digital customer experience and customer marketing.
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Category: Conversions, , , ,
Tags: advocacy, Return on Investment, Sales, Strategy
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7 Comments. Leave new

  • I agree. Vanity metrics serve a purpose, but if you completely focus on building a community around those, you’ll completely lose sight of your goal which should be converting. That’s the whole point of marketing anyway, isn’t it? Focus on the right audience and quality over quantity and the important numbers will work themselves out.

    • Hi, Josh! And glad you agree. And I agree with you as well, converting should be one of the overarching goals in marketing. Sadly, too many focus on size and vanity (probably because they’re unsure how to go about getting actual conversions). It’s not easy, but it has to be the focus if you want real results!

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your wisdom today. :-)

  • Love this Brooke!
    I believe firmly that at the end of the day the only metric that matters is how much money did I help my client make.
    While Likes, comments, followers, and other vanity metrics are a great way to grow your sphere of influence they don’t pay the bills. In order to pay the bills marketers and their clients should be more focused on the end goal which is conversions, sales and increased revenue.

    • Thank you so much, Chad! I agree with you (and know the c-suite does, too!). The bottom line is that you have to be able to tie your social media efforts to business goals. Without doing that, what’s the point??
      Glad we’re on the same page and THANK YOU for being a super sharer! :-)

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