Social media still difficult for marketers to quantify ROI

screenshot_1813Social media is taking up a bigger portion of marketing budgets, but few companies said they have been able to quantitatively measure its impact.   Despite the increasing investment in social media, it’s still difficult for marketers to quantify their return on investment. Only 15% of marketers in the study said they can show the impact of social media on their businesses using quantitative approaches, while 40% of marketers can only demonstrate the impact qualitatively. Nearly half of marketers said they haven’t been able to demonstrate the impact of social media spending on their business at all.

Justifying how ad dollars get spent is a constant concern for marketers, who face increased pressure to deliver on margins and show results. Marketing spending typically generates more than 8% of company revenue, according to the Duke study. Marketing budgets are expected to increase more than 5% this year.

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Then there is social media “engagement” numbers and “conversations”  which just aren’t living up to expectations. A recent article on VentureBeat focused on Facebook’s dwindling organic reach and paltry commenting and sharing activity, citing some research from Forrester that says that engagement is pretty abysmal overall for big brands.

Social Is All About Providing Access.

Forget all about Facebook or Twitter or any specific “social network” for a minute and think about what social means in practice. To most of us who are marketing and communication types, the idea of being “social” with our customers means bringing them closer to the company and giving them better, more streamlined access to two things:

1. The information and people they need to create a strong, positive buying experience with a company.

2. Other customers or community members that can relate to their buying needs.

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We’re trying to reduce friction in communication, raise the level of trust between our customers and our organization, and reward our community, advocates, and customers with an experience that surpasses their expectations.

Let’s Get Our Expectations Straight.

Here’s what brass tack thinking says about social media…” I think we have to do to reset our perspective about “social” and its role in business. Consider it my mini-manifesto for the moment.

1. We need to realize that customer experience is multi-dimensional. The purchase experience needs to be as customer-friendly as possible. The customer service experience needs to be responsive, friendly and timely. And the community experience needs to be accessible and personal. Those are all different moments, but they’re all helped by having a more social philosophy in place for how we do what we do.

2. We must stop assuming that customers’ relationships need to be with our brand in order to have value. It’s entirely possible that while they may not want a “relationship” with the brand that makes their steak sauce, they might very well appreciate a community of backyard grilling enthusiasts for which the company serves as a sort of connectors. Customers can have relationships that are around our brand without being with our brand, and yet our organization is still serving a critical and unique role.

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3. Even if our customers don’t want a “relationship” with us in terms of having extended conversations or personal interactions on a regular basis about toothpaste, they do still appreciate clear communication, accessible and friendly help, and a peek behind the curtain to see the culture of that company and what they care about. Those are unequivocally “social” behaviors that may or may not have anything functional to do with a mainstream social network, ever.

4. We must stop the navel-gazing “content” machine that assumes that our customers want Vine videos about dental floss because that’s what we’re charged with selling. Content only works when you’re willing to create something that’s useful for your customer and relevant to your company without your product ever appearing in the discussion. Why this is so hard for us to get our heads around I’m not so sure, but I know that there is a dearth of really interesting media and material out there that doesn’t just smack of a glorified advertisement or product placement. We have to stop bandwagon jumping and creating painfully mediocre “stuff” just to say we’re “content marketing”. And we wonder why no one ‘engages’? Please.

5. The benchmarks for social success must stop being about clicks and activity. We created this monster ourselves by glomming onto the idea that our fans, followers, and “likes” somehow equate something more significant than “hey, yeah I’ve heard of that company and mostly like what they create at this microscopic moment in time.”

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6. The benchmarks for social success must start being holistically embedded in our customer success measurements. If we behave in a more personal, accessible way in everything we do, do people buy more? Do they buy more often? Do they recommend and refer us? Do they advocate on our behalf? Do they otherwise indicate that they like us, whether they “comment” or not? Do they stick with us even if we raise our prices, hit a production glitch, or make a mistake? Are they happy and do they care if we go away tomorrow?

7. We must honor the idea that ‘engagement’ comes in many forms, most much more subtle and nuanced than what we can accurately observe on a Facebook page. Our goal is to connect with our customers and serve them better than anyone else. And depending on their personality, age, interests and profile coupled with the nature of our business, community, and the complexity of our customers’ buying process and influences, our successful integration of social behavior may or may not be observed on an online social network.

8. We must realize that true ‘social success’ is significantly more determined by how well we’ve shaped our culture and operations to be good to our customers, rewarding for our employees, and capable of creating great products and services.

9. If the only benchmark for worth in business strategy is what “works” for the top 50 global brands, there is an entire international marketplace of everyone but those businesses that has been doing it wrong for over a century. Our obsession with blue-chip case studies as a blueprint must end.

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10. We have to accept that no, business has not always been social. It’s been industrially-driven, process-driven, efficiency-driven, and it’s been successful that way. But expectations have shifted, our consumer culture is changing, our values are being shaped differently than they once were. Social business is a concept that is helping us return to the idea of a company driven by customer experience and community.

11. Finally, we must believe that, in order to accomplish that kind of shift in the way we work, we must be willing to look deeper than at one or two social networks du jour in order to engineer and realize that change. The kind of change that is seen over a pattern of years, not months.

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