All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Can social marketers catch the "ROI leprechaun"?

Can social marketers catch the “ROI leprechaun”?

3 min read

Digital Technology

This post is by Ben Whitford, contributing editor for SmartBrief on Social Media.

For social marketers, return on investment can be a touchy subject; it’s the first question on the lips of many executives when talk turns to social media, and it’s usually tough to come up with a satisfying response. As Edelman Digital Senior Vice President Steve Rubel noted at TWTRCON, many marketers are secretly praying for the arrival of the “Twitter leprechaun,” the mythical critter that will be able to offer, in lieu of a pot of gold, a coherent explanation of how best to measure social-media success.

Sadly, the leprechaun didn’t put in an appearance at TWTRCON, but attendees got the next best thing: social-media chiefs from some of America’s biggest brands mulling the meaning of ROI for their companies. Here are four things that major-league social marketers say it’s best to avoid when thinking about social-media payback:

1. Don’t fall into the follower trap.

One thing everyone agreed on: ROI isn’t just a question of counting up your followers. It’s only “valid followers” — those who are genuinely reading your tweets and engaging with your brand — that really matter, said Marla Erwin, Whole Foods Market’s interactive-media director. That’s tough to measure directly, Erwin added, so it’s better to focus on retweets, which offer a true gauge of your campaign’s relevance and reception. “If people are retweeting your tweets, not only are they really engaged with what you’re saying, but they’re spreading the word. I can’t think of anything more valuable than that,” Erwin said.

2. Don’t obsess about your brand’s buzz.

The buzz surrounding your brand is a means to an end, not a goal in its own right, said CEO Doug Ulman. While LiveStrong has millions of social-media followers, Ulman said, its real power comes from the countless anonymous and unbranded bloggers and tweeters who amplify its message. As grass-roots supporters take over, LiveStrong tends to fade into the background — but its core message and its calls to action gain traction and social currency that matter far more than the campaign’s brand recognition.

3. Don’t forget social media’s hidden benefits.

Companies that develop effective social strategies are usually able to squelch online criticism before it erupts into a fully fledged social-media firestorm, said Joshua Karpf, digital communications chief at PepsiCo. It’s impossible to measure the value of preventing a hypothetical social-media PR disaster, Karpf noted, but it’s vital that everyone in your company understands that the best social strategies are defensive as well as offensive. “You need to be able to articulate within your organization the reputational risk you’d take by not doing this,” Karpf said.

4. Don’t expect instant returns.

Sometimes payback can be a long time coming — but when it does, you’ll be glad you made the investment. Newell Rubbermaid’s Graco brand spent years developing a social community for parents, said Newell e-business chief Bert DuMars, but reaped the rewards after a major product recall when community members helped amplify Graco’s reassurances and provided credible parent-to-parent information about the products concerned. “By day three, we didn’t have to reach out any more — the community was doing it for us,” he said. “The ROI was huge just on those three days.”

What does ROI mean to you? Can it ever truly be measured, and does it mean the same thing for different campaigns or different brands? And in the absence of quantifiable data, what’s the best way to communicate social media’s potential to C-suite skeptics?

Image credit, adventtr via iStock