Dead Unicorn - the Horrible Truth About Social Media ROI

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Every time someone asks, “what’s the ROI of social media?” A unicorn dies. So sayeth Scott Stratten, author of Unmarketing.

He’s right.

“What’s the ROI of social media?” First of all, it’s too broad a question. “What’s the ROI of high speed internet?” “What’s the ROI of our cash register?” “What’s the ROI of executive perks?” Are all similarly difficult to answer. All these things are, like it or not, the underpinnings of business as usual.

Unless you’re an Amish woodworker, you need high speed internet. If you sell things at a retail outlet, you need a cash register. And if you have a gaggle of executives, you need to provide them some level of perks on par with their peers or they’ll bolt for one of those companies. Finally, if you have customers, they’re probably talking about you in social media.

Social media is fast becoming THE fundamental communication channel for your customers. Is your plan to pretend it doesn’t exist because it is presently difficult to measure? Your competitors are certainly hoping you will.

Social media is market intelligence As I said before, if you have customers, they’re talking bout you in social spaces. They used to do it anyway, it was called the coffee shop, the farmer’s co-op or the local tavern. You need to understand and be prepared to engage your customer in meaningful conversations in social spaces. Today, it’s Facebook and Twitter. Deal with it.

If you must measure the sentiment around your brand, you can start with SocialMention or Google Alerts. They’re free and can help you take the temperature of your brand’s buzz. Do this before you drop a briefcase full of cash one of the big listening packages.

Social media is story-telling A Twitter account is free. A Facebook page for your business is free. A YouTube account is free. However, they are, as friend Tom Buchheim says, “free like a puppy.” You need to be prepared to tell your story in these channels.

Please note, the following is not your story, “be my friend and get some occasional discounts.” That’s boring. That’s a loyalty program.

“I’m in my office.” Also not a story. In fact, that’s not even interesting as a statement.

“Our founder, Phineas Q. Widget, III, created the first prototype for WidgeCo during a 72-hour Mt. Dew-fueled bender in his garage. He started two fires and collapsed in a heap of ecstasy when he first saw it function properly.” That’s a story. Your customer can identify with that. Turn your brand into a serial novel and people will see you as a friend instead of just a commodity.

Social media can help you stretch your advertising dollar Social networks know a ton about their users. Web sites have this uncanny way of harvesting data about their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams as well as pictures of what they’re having for dinner.

Instead of placing an ad in the local paper might be seen by some of the people who might possibly be slightly interested in what you’re selling, you can place a Facebook Ad that is served only to men from age 18-24 who have “liked” the band Mastodon and the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

Now that’s some serious targeting.

Hop to it, the metrics will come Just as people lagged in seeing the value of the Web and email as business technologies (ever work at a company where not all employees had email accounts?), so do they lag on social media. Just as metrics evolved with those technologies, so will they evolve with social.

That said, there are already lots of things you can measure with social media. Tracking codes on links that are specific purchasing calls-to-action can be easily consumed by web analytics packages. There, you’ve got some ROI. Just be careful. Don’t go all Kenny Tarmac and turn your Facebook page into some kind of full-court press hard-sell smarm-a-palooza. Remember you’re telling a story, not selling.

Facebook gives you some great measures of how many people are engaging with your page, all the way down to what kind of content is most viral. Check out Facebook’s insights immediately, if not sooner.

YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn all have some sort of reporting that you can combine with some clever web analytics work to paint a picture of your progress.

So don’t use the lack of hyper-sophisticated ROI black boxes for social media as an excuse to ignore social media. Get out there and tell your story, your customer is waiting. 

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