Does social media get a hall pass from the marketing ROI demands?

Where’s my ROI?

Forget for a moment that most organizations are using social media the wrong way. Why are so many businesses reluctant to use social media at all? Executives will say that social media’s return on investment (ROI) isn’t proven, but the reason for the perceived challenges in measuring social media activity may be that it can’t be measured like other types of “marketing” — because social media is actually a mix between marketing, public relations, and customer service. Should we also be asking “What’s the ROI on customer service?”

A recent study by Satmetrix shows a whopping 75 percent of B2B companies do not measure or quantify social media anyway. ROI definitely isn’t going to be evident if there’s no tracking in place — which for many businesses there apparently isn’t. So, let’s start by understanding that many of the organizations that claim social media isn’t measurable haven’t tried to measure it in the first place.

But the net effect of social media participation can be difficult to quantify, even for companies that clearly get value from it. And in a world of online marketing where measurability and accountability have become two of the medium’s hallmark advantages over traditional media, those who lump social media in with other forms of online marketing deem those challenges in measuring ROI unacceptable.

However, as social media guru and best-selling author Gary Vaynerchuk put it to the Infusioncon 2012 crowd: “Asking ‘What is the ROI of social media?'” is like asking “What is the ROI of your mother?” How do you definitively quantify the value of personal connections, relationships, appreciation, and service?

And this brings us back to the first point — that the vast majority of organizations are using social media wrong in the first place, by treating the tool like another form of “push” marketing (as a broadcast platform) rather than as a tool for engaging with their audiences, soliciting opinions, and showing support and appreciation.

This isn’t an argument against tracking social media in every way that makes sense. Organizations need to make every attempt to tie social media activity back to business value. But the fact that the measurable value may only tell part of the story — and that the value of direct, personal communications with prospects and customers can be immeasurable — is what some successful organizations successful in social media are ok with.

image credit: lazurite

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