Social Media: To ROI or not to ROI, that is the Question

This week on Windmill Networking, I wrote about how to measure and earn ROI for social media-fueled Dollar-signs
content marketing campaigns.

Unfortunately, before you even get started, your campaign can get lost in the corporate approval quagmire: one, because securing any or more investment for social media can sometimes be tricky, and two, the whole thing may be viewed as risky, since it may take the company out of its comfort zone of tried-and-true marketing tactics.

The more general topic of ROI for social media is a hot one, and there are a range of opinions.

On Windmill Networking, Neal Schaffer said, in his article, There's No Such Thing as Social Media ROI; It's Called Business ROI:

Social media, like your website and internal IT technology, becomes part of your company’s infrastructure over time. It’s not a question of having a robust social presence just like you need a robust website: You simply must have them.

On Occam's Razor, Avinash Kaushik said, in his post Best Social Media Metrics:

You don't participate in social media to only drive business outcomes. I cannot stress that enough. If that is your primary objective you are going to suck at it

Problogger Media CFO Sean Jackson made some excellent points in the article: There is No ROI in Social Media Marketing:

The truth is, marketing will never produce an ROI… marketing activity is not an investment.. An investment is an asset that you purchase and place on your Balance Sheet….Marketing is an expense, and goes on the Profit & Loss statement.

People who use the term ROI see marketing as something to buy…But smart companies see marketing as an integral part of doing business — a necessity no less important than the company email system, their computers, or their office lease.

The questions about using social media to support marketing – how to justify, fund it and ideally earn and prove returns – reminds me of the more general topic of marketing tech. I wrote about this back in 2009: Don't Underestimate the Soft benefits of Social Media.

I have spent many years, introducing marketing technologies; I might be showing my age, but we faced similar questions when trying to get sales teams to adopt CRM in the early 90s, or organizations to buy Lotus Notes in the 90s; these were infrastructure plays too, but we found that it was just good business to propose pilots that had strong business cases, usually tied to some quantifiable business result.

Similarly, while I agree that social media investments are fundamental, not all costs are fixed, and some can be tied to campaigns like marketing; these should promise a return.

Also, taking an ROI-driven apporach can help justify the spend and sell in projects for smaller organizations that are cutting their teeth on social media and may have tighter budgets, or others that are the later adopters.

Suffice it to say, it is just good business sense and corporate politics (if you unfortunately need to engage in politics) to make sure that your efforts deliver on some kind of projected return; this gives you credibility to get more funding, and may make it easier to get support for campaigns that dleiver soft vs. hard ROI results.

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