Looking past ROI for social media

In today’s challenging times, as marketers we’re being called to task on nearly every decision we make.  Whether it’s accounting for every line item on the marketing budget or justifying any new marketing programs - it’s all about hard results and ROI.   But what if you have limited ability to measure return on investment?  Do you scrap the program and only seek out programs that are quantifiable?

According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2009 Social Media Marketing & PR benchmark study, many marketers may, to their detriment, be doing just that when it comes to social media.   Social media marketing – defined as “the practice of facilitating a dialogue and sharing content between companies, influencers, prospects and customers, using various online platforms including blogs, professional and social networks, video and photo sharing, wikis, forums, and related Web 2.0 technologies” -  is a prime example of a program that can be extremely difficult to measure results quantitatively.

According to this benchmark study, the inability to measure ROI is the second most significant barrier to social media adoption (said 43% of respondents), behind the lack of knowledgeable staff (said 46% of respondents).   So how do we as marketers get past this?

Let’s start by viewing social media more like PR than direct marketing given the difficulty in measuring hard-number returns.  Then, let’s all consider Marketing Sherpa’s assertion when it comes to social media and ROI:  marketers need to look to measure the value of the conversations and resulting relationships qualitatively, and not focus on sheer quantitative statistics like traffic, hits, etc.   In other words, don’t get stuck on ROI and miss the point of various social media tactics for the sake of measurability.  Some of the most effective social media programs – like blogs, user reviews, forums and discussion groups – are the least measurable.

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