March 4, 2012

Rachel Strella

Social Media ROI: It's Gray Matter

When we consult with clients for the first time, many of them ask, “What’s going to be my ROI with social media?”

It’s nearly impossible to cover the topic of ROI in one conversation or one blog, so we’re going to attempt to tackle it in a series of blogs of the next week. 

In this first part, we’ll discuss the difference in traditional vs. social media marketing, the power of Word of Mouth (WOM), and explain why social media ROI is such a fuzzy topic.  Later in the week, we’ll highlight what some of the experts have to say as well as the importance of measuring social media efforts.  The series will wrap next week with ROI as we see it – including how to position your business to achieve measurable goals and a look at what some of our clients have experienced. 

Let’s start with a big disclaimer. Social media is not magic. It’s not a silver bullet, a cure for a broken business, another advertising channel, a membership to an exclusive club and it’s certainly not a one-way ticket to immediate profits.  Social media is a form of communication; a platform for building relationships. And, like most relationships, it takes time, effort, and energy. 

How is social media different from traditional marketing? 

First, social media doesn’t receive a separate distinction or category. If I had a marketing pie, social media would not have its own slice. When used optimally, social media is combined with the other slices of the pie. Those other slices include functions like public relations, advertising, and direct marketing. Put simply: social media does not effectively exist in a vacuum. It should be integrated with your current efforts to enhance your overall marketing presence. 

In a recent conversion with a colleague, we discussed the two different marketing mindsets. The first: a company decides to invest money on an advertising campaign. Once the money is gone, the campaign is done. If the business has more customers at the end of the campaign than when it started, the marketing efforts have usually paid off.  The second mindset: a company decides to invest time into relationship-building. The business offers value by giving its audience solutions to challenges and problems. The result: the audience is naturally attracted to value and soon begins to know, like and trust the business and thus decides to inquire about its products and services. 

Until social media evolved, the latter was likely done via networking, referrals, and WOM.  Social media simply takes this a step further and includes an online component. This is powerful because we now have the opportunity to reach more people in less time while still enhancing our existing relationships. Here’s another way to look at it:  leads come from WOM, WOM is social, social media is social, so leads can also come from social media.  

So, where are businesses going wrong?  They are viewing social media in the first mindset! Social media is not an advertising campaign. It’s not a one-way channel that starts and stops with hopes that there are new customers at your doorstep at the end of the run. Social media is a way to build the relationships that establish trust and enable people to feel comfortable investing in a business. 

Another layer of complexity is that the lead sources from social media area difficult to pinpoint and is not always tied to one thing; it’s not black and white.  Rather, it’s a combination of things that ultimately supply the lead; it’s a gray area.  Executives don’t like gray and are hesitant to invest time or money into ‘gray.’ But this gray is no different than the second mindset. Or is it? 

What do you think? 



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