Stop Trying to Measure Social Media ROI

“Social media isn’t viable for business.”
“Facebook ads don’t encourage CTR.”
“Social media is so fragmented that there’s no way to use it effectively to generate ROI.”

Most traditional thought leaders agree with the above statements. The basic misconceptions about social are rooted in the previous 50+ years of marketing absolutes that suggest advertising is the primary part of the branding process—which makes advertising the centerpiece of a marketing arsenal. While this may have been true earlier in this decade, social has fundamentally changed the marketing mix to the point that any previous metrics must be reevaluated or dismissed completely.

A Little Bit About Social

In an effort to be concise, I’ll draw from only one of the most popular social platforms: Twitter. But I won’t make John Madden statements like, “social is important” and “engagement on social is real” to prove my point. Consider the numbers below regarding social engagement—the information speaks for itself:

Twitter Numbers: 2011 (hint: it’s gone up since then)


  • 3 years, 2 months and 1 day: The time it took from the first Tweet to the billionth Tweet.
  • 1 week: The time it now takes for users to send a billion Tweets.
  • 50 million: The average number of Tweets people sent per day, one year ago.
  • 140 million: The average number of Tweets people sent per day, in the last month.
  • 177 million: Tweets sent on March 11, 2011.
  • 456: Tweets per second (TPS) when Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009 (a record at the time).
  • 6,939: Current TPS record, set 4 seconds after midnight in Japan on New Year’s Day.


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  • 572,000: Number of new accounts created on March 12, 2011.
  • 460,000: Average number of new accounts per day over the last month.
  • 182%: Increase in number of mobile users over the past year.

Example from 2012: #debate2012

  • The first presidential debate generated 10.3 million Tweets in 90 minutes – a political-event record.
  • Big Bird was Big – 17K Tweets per minute for “Big Bird” and 10K Tweets per minute for “PBS.”
  • Twitter is growing – Total Tweets for all four debates in 2008 was about 500K. Within one hour after the debate began, there were over 1.48 Million Tweets.

Social is a lost cause for marketers? Please.

Social Media QuestionsThe Problem Question

At the onset of any marketing research class, the instructor emphasizes the importance of the “problem question.” This is the foundation for all research, in that the question dictates the whole purpose of the research being conducted. If this question is incorrect, then the whole project is compromised. In social, the basic problem question revolves around, “How can I earn ROI from social?” SEO and PPC campaigns are measured in the success of SERP results and CTR. It would be natural to ask the same thing of social. Time is money, and we don’t have to Tweet if it doesn’t result in a conversion. While I understand this train of thought, I disagree with it.

One of the founders of Slingshot SEO, Kevin Bailey, sends out an email every week called Fix Marketing Friday. On September 7th, his email contained a video from Simon Sinek which emphasized the “why,” not the “what” in marketing. In the video, Simeon said that if a company can communicate the reason they’re in business, then that emotional/personal message resonates more with the consumer than if a simple ad were sent out. The difference?

Consider this:

My name is Joseph Parker, and I’m a Search Media Networker and marketing professional. At Slingshot SEO, we’re tested and challenged every day. The benefit of every customer considering Slingshot SEO as a marketing provider rests in the fact that there are 100 more who, like me, will do the same.

Compared to:

I work at Slingshot SEO which is a leading SEO and Inbound Marketing Service provider.

While these are simple examples, the first is personal and doesn’t center on the sales aspect of the interaction. Both are true, but the first is personal. Which will resonate most with a customer?

The Proper Use of Social

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a project with several of my co-workers which will attempt to answer this question. “What is the value of a Tweet?” required us to adjust that question based on our immediate conclusion. The study will be the result. Until it’s complete, here’s a preview: Social is about BRANDING, not ROI.

Too simple? Not really. Social is fragmented. The Conversion Funnel was created to compensate for the fragmented system, but marketers still must ask how they can reach a user at the first stages, what users are thinking, and how marketers can attract them. For the first time in marketing history, it’s possible to say that the consumer gives all of the answers through social media. If an inbound marketer can measure the conversations online regarding a need, and analyze the experience of those interactions with a brand or service, then can they can start to see their overall influence. At that point, the battle is half over and the fragments can be formed into a full picture.

Can we measure that and meet the customer where they are? YES.

Considering this information, can we say that social is ineffective? The answer is a resounding NO.

Stay tuned. My team (Danielle Look, Cameron Hail, and Cassie Gray) and I will be finishing this project very soon. Then we can go into detail. Until then, consider revaluating your problem question as it pertains to social media. You may just find the answers you seek.

Comments: 2

  • Christian says:

    I disagree. You don’t stop trying to measure something just because it’s difficult to measure. You look for better ways.

    Brand building has been used as an excuse to waste advertising/marketing budgets for at least half a century. But if you’re building a brand without expecting a return on that investment, you’re doing that wrong, too.

    • Joseph Parker says:

      Thanks for your comment Christian. If I gave the impression that I have no interest in measuring results I apologize. My main point is that a marketer cannot apply PPC (or any paid advertisement campaign) expectations to social (such expectations are invalid anyway given multi-touch principles). I did my best to phrase the “protests” at the beginning of the article in such a way as to focus on the expectations generated from paid campaigns. Conversion through brand building is not measured per quarter; it is a long-term investment. Social is about relationship building. If a marketer can build top-of-mind awareness through online relationships then the sales generated from said awareness will rise out of loyalty and recall, both of which are the goal of every marketer. So yes, measuring success is essential. Hope this helps. Thanks again for the comment!

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