Transform Social ROI From Myth Into Reality

Here’s a question I still get way too often: “What’s the ROI of social media?” It’s usually a B2B marketer that’s doing the asking, someone seemingly resigned to spending valuable time and resources on social media without really understanding why. Or it’s a marketer that totally gets the value of investing in the company blog, Twitter profile and LinkedIn groups but still needs help convincing their “old-school” CMO or CFO that investing in social media is worth it.

Aren’t we marketers now experts at calculating the return on all our online marketing initiatives? Why is social media such a tough nut to crack?

Whatever the case, let’s look at why, 10 years after the founding of LinkedIn and eight years after the inaugural tweet, this question persists.

Why Is the ROI of Social Media So Hard to Determine?

In my experience working with B2B marketers, I’ve come across a number of reasons:

  • Trying to value a “Like” or follow or share. If this is what you’re trying to do, then it’s no wonder you’re having difficulty figuring out Social ROI. Better to measure those results you can easily put a value on: impressions, clicks, downloads, signups, etc.
  • Social media and CRM tools don’t make it easy. Most social media tools are designed for social listening and publishing for B2C companies, not B2B. Plus, ever wanted to add a lead from social media to when the only information you have is a Twitter handle (i.e., no email address)? Good luck!
  • Attribution is still a problem. Almost without fail, when a lead is generated via social media someone on the sales team says they already have that prospect in their pipeline — never mind that it hasn’t been touched in 18 months. Bottom line: social media often doesn’t get credit even when it works.
  • Not knowing the details. Most marketers know their key metrics — email open rate, cost per click and leads per month — like the back of their hand. But which content was shared most, what prospects are following on Twitter or LinkedIn or the percentage of website traffic coming from social media? Not so much.
  • Lumping all social media together. Not all social media efforts are the same. Advertising on a social network is different than social selling, which is different than building and leveraging your social media channels. Which one do you want to use for your Social ROI calculation?

When’s the Right Time to Measure Social ROI?

Another big issue is that many social media initiatives are still in the investment stage. Said another way, most B2B companies are still building out their social media presence and aren’t yet ready to reap the rewards and show a positive Social ROI.

For example, suppose you just launched your company blog. Is now the time to ask about ROI? Of course not. Instead, you need to at least have a sense of how many leads you hope to generate from your blog, how long it will take and what resources you’ll need to invest to get there. The same goes for building out Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels.

Realizing Social ROI

With that said, here are three things you can do now to start realizing Social ROI.

1. Think like the marketer you are

Launch and manage social media like any other marketing campaign. That means be specific when thinking about which social media initiatives you’re doing, the outcomes and goals you’re trying to achieve, how you’ll measure success and over what period of time. Don’t lump all social media together. Remember: social marketing is different than social advertising and social sales.

2. Have the right tools to track and measure social media

The basic tools you’ll need are a link shortener (e.g., for posting and tracking content, dedicated landing pages to capture social media leads and website analytics to measure traffic coming from social channels. Take the time to set these tools up and build them into your processes. Do it right and you’ll also worry less about social media getting the credit it deserves.

3. Focus on social activities that are generating returns

Resist the temptation to put a value on things such as likes, followers, and social sharing, which mostly measure progress. Instead, keep the ROI discussion to those social media initiatives that are generating meaningful impressions, clicks, signups, etc. For example, website traffic generated by social media, clicks coming via Twitter and LinkedIn and downloads from social advertising campaigns.

What results are you seeing from your social media initiatives? Are you still mostly in the investing stage or starting to reap rewards and generate social ROI? Feel free to share your comments.

Interested in finding out how other marketers are engaging on social media? Download the social insights report: How Top Marketers at Mid-Size Companies Engage on Twitter

(Note: This article first appeared on CMSWire)