Social Media ROI: It’s Not One Size Fits All

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I wasn’t always a social media marketer.

In my past life, I was a reporter and editor for magazines and newspapers. Yes, like so many now-marketers, I was a journalist.

And if you know anything about journalists, you know that we really, really don’t like when we don’t know things. The whole job of a journalist is to know and explain things in a way that makes sense.

‘What’s the ROI?’

But when I first came to social media marketing, there wasn’t much that made sense. I had no idea what a KPI was (that’s key performance indicator, if you’re anything like me). I didn’t know my CTR from my PPC.


Image from the always-smart blog.

But the thing that drove me the craziest was this ROI question. “What’s the ROI of social media?”

No one had ever asked me the ROI of my job before. Like, ever. Was I actually supposed to be able to tell someone the answer to that question? I didn’t even know what the answer would look like. Was it a decimal? A percentage? A fraction?

What's the ROI of social media?

So how DO you figure out ROI?

So like any good journalist, I eventually decided to research the crap out of this ROI question until I beat it into submission.

That led to some depressing Google searches…

social media ROI google search

With even more depressing search results. There’s no shortage of articles that will tell you why trying to figure out social media ROI is a futile quest, or that there’s no real way to measure social media at all.

And then I hit upon the problem, neatly summed up in this chart from a report about how brands measure social media by The Altimeter Group.

how brands measure social media by The Altimeter Group

It’s not one size fits all

Do you see what I see? The biggest challenge for brands trying to measure social media is the “inability to tie social media to business outcomes.” So big that a whopping 56% of the brands surveyed said they had trouble with it.

We don’t know what we want from social media, so we’re trying to simplify it by making it one size fits all. Just fill in the blank with this mythical “social media ROI” and then you won’t have to worry about it anymore. No wonder only 30% of brands surveyed consider themselves “effective” at connecting social media to revenue.

Having a business goal — your brand’s own personal, non-cookie-cutter business goal that may be different from everyone else’s — to attach social media to is the only way to measure it. And we’re skipping that step.

You think the fact that we don’t know how to tie social media to real business outcomes has anything to do with those other challenges in that chart? Seems likely.

    • Lack of analytics expertise: Even the best analytics expert can’t make data make sense when you don’t know what you’re looking for or why you’re measuring it.
    • Poor tools: Tools are only as good as their owners. And when social media isn’t viewed in the context of real business goals, tools are likely going to hurt more than they help. The insights they provide won’t make sense.
    • Inconsistent analytical approaches and unreliable data: If I don’t know what I’m measuring or why, I’m probably not going to be very consistent about it, and I’m not going to feel very confident about the outcome.

Measure when you know what you want

Luckily, there are plenty of real business goals that social media can help a brand achieve. Increased brand exposure, more traffic to a website or physical location, better marketplace insights, development of brand advocates, improved organic search traffic, new business partnerships, reduced marketing expenses and increased sales are just some of the many goals a brand might focus on.

And once you know what you want out of social media, the path to ROI becomes clear.

Want to measure increased brand exposure? Keep an eye on your brand mentions and sentiment per reporting period.

More interested in traffic? Get beyond likes and followers and use Google Analytics to determine exactly how much traffic social media is bringing you.

Only care about sales? Create some goals and focus on how many conversions social media is bringing you.

2 Responses to “Social Media ROI: It’s Not One Size Fits All”

  1. Social media is the Y2K of the current generation. Companies aren’t sure what they need but everyone says they need “it”. The only ROI is for consultants that hype the “it”.

    • RavenCourtney

      I agree that some companies sign up for social media services without knowing exactly what they want out of them, but I do think some measurement is possible – perhaps not perfect ROI, but enough to prove social media’s worth.