From Great Barbers to Baristas: Measuring the ROI of Community

“What’s the ROI of social media?”

It’s the loaded question that executives get to ask when they don’t want to stick their necks out to try something that might just change their business (if they do it right). At the end of they day they have to justify making the investment in time, money and manpower, so being able to get a quick and quantifiable answer to the ROI question when creating and engaging customers in online communities becomes an obsession for many of them.

Now, I’m not going to go the Gary Vaynerchuk route and ask: “what’s the ROI of your mother?” He tells a very funny story about saying that very answer to a corporate executive who kept hounding him on the ROI question, but Gary was not meaning to make a crack at actually mother with that answer. Rather he soug to hammer home the point that measuring valuable relationships can’t always be done in a sterile and statistical corporate manner because results can be misleading. Often the impact of certain actions and the care shown in the short term do not yield an immediate payout, rather they shape the entire course of an earned relationship over the long.

To illustrate this further I want you to think about barbers and baristas.

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You ever have a really great barber or hair stylist? Someone who hit the right balance of making you look good, caring enough to remember stuff about you, and knowing when to be chatty and when to let you enjoy the shampoo? Your repeat and dedicated business to that salon is a certainty. You make appointments, tell your friends to go there, and will wait if they are booked. Some people even go so far as to not allow other stylists to even touch their hair!

What happens when that barber leaves?

Something about the business changes. Sure we may still go there if the barber went out of state or quit the business, but if they moved to the shop across town, guess where I’m getting my haircut from now on?

Now let’s talk about baristas.

Ever walk into your favorite coffee shop and the girl or guy behind the counter knows what you want and has it ready by the time reach the register? How does t customer experience make you feel? If you’re anything like me then you feel important to that business, valued as a customer and grateful that the barista has taken the time to notice what you like.

If it’s the choice between that coffee shop or the one upstairs in the mall, chances are you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Now back to corporate communities and the ROI of social media. What if big companies could create that same feeling for their own customers? There are easy ways to do it with the tools we have available online. From profiles on the corporate website to targeted Facebook thank yous and gifts. Businesses will find that by caring about their customers enough to spend a little money on making sure they feel cared for and important can insure that people will continue to buy from them despite competition from other businesses online. The ROI of social media then is building real relationships that outlast temporary gimmicks or offers.

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