I wasn't going to do it. I wasn't going to post on ROI, because it's a saturated subject right now that I think needs time to marinate. But I cannot, CANNOT get past a niggling issue of mine that keeps getting missed. So I'm going to concentrate my perspective here.
You cannot calculate a return on anything unless you know whether or not your goals - and your definitions of both Return and Investment - are the right ones.
As a marketer or a communicator, you may determine that you want to drive traffic to your site, increase subscriptions to your newsletter, get people to blog about you. We've often measured success in marketing based on eyeballs. Awareness. These things are measurable. But sometimes they're based in our own corporate egos.
Is that what makes your customers do business with you? Do you know for sure that those 25 blog post mentions are moving them closer to you? Is it enough to increase their affinity to your brand, or is a sale the only metric that "really counts"? What about the journey toward that sale? Does that have value?
And have you asked your customers these questions?
I'm not talking about a sterile survey. I'm not talking about a misappropriated focus group (sorry, Frank Martin - I'm talking about those that are ill conceived). I'm talking about rolling up your sleeves and digging in with your customers, on a one-on-one basis. Giving them mechanisms to tell you, and listening to them. It's time consuming. It's difficult. It's subjective. And it's irreplaceable.
Finding the right goal - the one that actually allows you to map success - is the only thing that matters. You can put up all the fan pages or Twitter accounts or blog posts or "viral" (cough) videos you want. But if the only reaction to that is a momentary, fleeting attention span based in superficial curiosity that does nothing to bring that customer one step closer to buying from you, it's wasted. Yes I said it. Wasted.
Relationships require nurturing. Your goals must be based on this notion, and the "Return" that you're calculating based on your "Investment" needs to be about your customers' ideas about what moves the needle for them. Not yours.
(Incidentally, if you're going to try and tell me that we have to report on these misguided metrics because that's the way that we've always done it, or because that's the "reality" of the way the corner office sees it, then you haven't been reading about why I think social media is as much about education and culture change as it is execution. It's time we quit using our flawed notion of relevant metrics as a scapegoat and started changing the game to reflect the way it's actually played.)
True return for any communication effort - whether social media related or otherwise - had better have its roots in the natural progression of relationships and the tendency for humans to make their decisions based on personal feelings of trust, affection, loyalty. If you haven't figured out what that means to customers in their own words, then throw all the darts at the board you like, and go ahead and measure where and how often they hit. Graph them, craft reports, make PowerPoints.
The darts will still miss. And the true ROI will continue to elude you.
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