Is this social media thing paying off?

Is this social media thing paying off?

Measuring the return on investment (ROI) on social media is a tricky endeavour when selling ideas instead of products.

Retailers and service providers have it relatively easy when it comes to proving the value of digital marketing – do some social media stuff, add all the digital tracking you can, see if sales increase. Rinse, repeat.

Where it gets infinitely more complex is when you are selling ideas, not products.

Did your social media campaign reduce drunk driving? Encourage recycling? Convince people pipelines are still necessary? Buttress your company’s reputation during a crisis? Position your organization or industry as employers of choice?

That’s where it gets dicey.


In a recent study by Smart Insights, only 48 per cent of marketers said they see a return on investment using social media and a further one-third of respondents couldn’t say if they saw a return at all.

That is bad. Very bad. Why do it at all if you’re not demonstrably helping the business?

“Good question” says Ted Flitton, a reputation management specialist and communications strategist who teaches at Mount Royal University.

Flitton says many companies don’t know how to measure and don’t set out goals in the first place.

“Are people at all interested in what you’re doing?” he says. “Obviously your engagements, your retweets, your likes, your followers, all of that stuff, that’s one sign. That simply means that your content is resonating.”

Content consumption is only the tip of the iceberg. You need to know if you are changing hearts, minds, and behaviours.

“If you are in the ideas business, you might want to move someone who ‘hates’ your company along a continuum to posting once a week with a lot less venom,” says Flitton. “Or you might convince the person to acknowledge they now understand a point of view that might have been written in a particular blog.”

“Whenever you can see movement of an audience member along that continuum – hopefully going in the direction you want them to – then I think that’s a good measurement, but it’s not always easy to tell. Sometimes it takes time.”

In other words, good old fashioned opinion polling, research and tracking sentiment will tell you if you are being persuasive or not.

Flitton says you also have to set out your goals clearly in the beginning. “You don’t just crank out content. You’ve got to realize what you are trying to achieve” and then determine if you achieved it.

Essentially that means quantifying your audience’s opinions, then doing a bunch of social media stuff, then quantifying opinions again. i.e. They disagreed with us before, we said a bunch of stuff on social, now they disagree less.

Flitton says helpfulness is the new business currency: “Companies, non-profit organizations, really need to understand who are my people and what are their needs? What are their concerns? What problems can I help them solve?”

Karen Richards, a word-of-mouth marketing strategist and instructor at Mount Royal University, says measuring ROI for social media also has to be qualitative.

She advocates picking a few key measurements, rather than generating reams of data. Create a target list of influencers, individuals or groups and at the end of the year assess how many of those you have established a relationship with.

“In my opinion, it is about building a relationship and becoming a part of a community rather than selling something,” says Richards. “It’s sort of in the realm of influencer marketing. Relationships make your potential reach much larger.”

Kristin Johnson, director of communications for Sprout Social, says social is a channel for B2B markets that can significantly influence both brand awareness and perception. The value of social is demonstrated by growth in awareness, sustainable consideration and customer loyalty.

“The more you can use social to position your brand or association as an expert and a resource, the more opportunity you’ll create to connect with an audience that cares about challenges, innovation and offerings in your industry.”

Johnson says social provides a space for people to engage in conversation with your brand and share their opinions and experiences. This elevates your presence and enabling you to pinpoint the messaging that best resonates for your brand.

“Keeping a close eye on these conversations is imperative in understanding when to pivot and how to continuously evolve your strategy.” ­

ROI is a very precise financial term that has been misappropriated by management and marketers to describe their desire to benefit from social media marketing. The fact is, it’s all about winning friends and influencing people, just like Dale Carnegie wrote back in 1936.

The difference is, now you can measure that.

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