For the last 10 years, the topic of ROI in social media has sort of been a running gag. On one side, social media specialists were fighting for a deeper measurement equation (action A + action B do not necessarily drive to a result C, but to many other consequences). In a sense, they inherited the burden of what all advertisers had not been able to prove in a whole century: the impact of communications in general on sales.
On the other hand, direct marketers were sophisticatedly demonstrating why social media was at best a gimmick for cool kids, and at worst, a waste of time.
Simplifying social media measurement generates consensus, business... but it's wrong.
Yes, social media specialists still have a problem explaining the tangible impact of actions to their clients. Even if facts-proven case studies can a posteriori demonstrate the usefulness of a good social media framework, there's a problem to put a figure before the value chain and another figure at the end.
As marketing is integrating all specialties in a "digital first" model, it's a Pandora box for simplistic models. Basically, before Facebook advertising, marketers had to split what they were doing in content strategy and what they were investing in media buy. Whereas now, things seem easier to explain: as media-buy and content to feed Facebook pages or Facebook ads are on the same equation, the justification to invest is obvious - you get what you invest.
A lot of stakeholders seem pleased; direct marketers own a tangible figure, media-buyers justify their salaries and social media specialists are finally busy working on other topics.
But this is just absurd and wrong.
Automation is killing real ROI.
As Dao Nguyen (Buzzfeed) recently explained:
"Every piece of content is judged by itself. Did it reach an audience? Were people interested in it? What was the best way of it getting there through sharing? So that's why we use social as a metric."
This very clear statement goes totally against the current market trend. As all measurement models should be tailor-made to what a brand has to say and to who it has to say it, there's a tendency for homogeneity. Good sense would forbid brands to invest all their money in a one-stop social network shop. Yet, 92% of brand marketers plan to spend the majority of their social media marketing budget on Facebook during the holiday shopping season.
At this game, if Facebook is a big winner, brands are the big losers.
The reason lies in the summary of a brilliant L2 report, comparing community size vs. engagement:
It's a paradoxical fact: brands are going to invest massively in the platform where ROI might be the lowest ever in terms of engagement.
The Facebook long-term affair: time to think beyond immediate results.
Marketers have been discussing for the last couple of months about the end of "free" organic reach. Facebook created a system that Don Corleone would love: you make clients less numerous and you impose the business owners you racket to pay to get your clients back.
I haven't met a client in the last six months who was happy with this matter; big Fortune 500 as well as small business owners. For the latters, the issue is so bad that they're now going back to good old direct marketing, with a twist of in-store digital activation. Good news, but the change is a bit brutal for them. For big brands, millions are less of an issue as it's now part of a balance between investing in display banners or Facebook reach. And unsurprisingly, Facebook is no longer in the business of social media, but in the industry of media.
The big issue might rise in the next 2 years - the goal is not to justify if buying Facebook is better than investing in banners or other media offers. The objective is to convert and generate sales. As salesmen are keener to understand "social", they might quickly realize that if you don't grab emails, mobile phones, digital identities beyond a Facebook avatar, the millions that have been invested are random. Have you recently visited Kit-Kat Facebook page? On a 23 million fan-base, there are only a few hundred likes here and there, despite a great attempt to go bold from a creative perspective. It's not because what the brand does is bad - it's actually very good.
But the consumers' attention is simply no longer there.
Will Facebook evolve and bring value back to brands that want to go social? Or will it enter the business of connectivity?