3 Reasons You Can’t Measure Social Marketing ROI

By Jan 31, 2014

“Social media ROI” is a fallacy doomed by our inherent need to quantify everything around us—even human behavior, conceptions, and goodwill.

Let’s put it this way: if you see a young man help an older widow across the street, feelings of altruism might conjure up inside of you, right? Is that measurable? Is there a “feel-good” metric? How about an independent benchmark?

The answer, of course, is no. So if you’re trying to estimate ROI figures using traditional calculations, you’ve already missed the most basic, rudimentary principle of social media: It’s about personal engagement, not mass-media messaging.

1. You’re not getting clients as a direct result of your social media efforts

Social media efforts generally don’t lead directly to qualified prospects or business. For example, people simply don’t hire lawyers from Facebook, and they don’t think you work for a particularly special firm just because you’re on Twitter.

Social media augments your firm’s reputation and visibility on the web. It’s nothing more and it’s nothing less. It should consume no more that 10% of your time for that reason, but not that reason only. Consider this: the more time you spend on social media, the more enabling the opportunities will be to commit cardinal social media mistakes, like typos, or on the more serious side, an inadvertently controversial, offending, or self-serving commentary or message, all of which can sink whatever popularity you’ve worked hard to achieve in an instant. Is spending extra time on social media worth that risk?

2: You cannot measure your success on social media

How do you measure the success produced by your social media engagement efforts? Hold on to your seat for this one – you don’t. Isn’t that a relief?

The reason being is somewhat intuitive: you cannot measure human behavior and perception on the kind of individual, personal paradigm you would need to in order to quantify the value of interaction with social media. A “like” isn’t actually worth anything of any economic value or benefit to your firm or partners. There’s no incremental income derived from a comment, a retweet, or an endorsement on LinkedIn.

When I’m reviewing program ratings for my broadcast television spot purchases, I’m looking at aggregated data – thousands and thousands of households reporting to a media data analytics firm – which tells me exactly how one television program can be measured decisively against whatever other television program is playing on any given network. It’s a function of how many people are watching television at the time and what, specifically, they are watching. The cost of a 30-second spot on one show on one affiliated channel is drastically different from another based on these highly-detailed, intricate figures. There’s a limit to the options that a family or household can engage in, creating comparative value between options – a key component to tracking and measurement.

Imagine trying to apply the same methodology to find out if the Facebook Pages post you released has garnered more of the user’s attention than the post above or below it in the News Feed. It’s impossible, and yet it would be the only true way to find out what users who see your posts think of them.

3. Your users don’t care about your firm.

Remember, social media isn’t a platform for you to generate client leads, so stop trying by promoting your firm. Instead, focus on updates and posts that are more “human.” I know a lawyer that works hard on his Facebook page. He’s always doing something new—writing blog posts, filming videos, posting about the events he attends. And it’s mind-numbingly boring.

Though he posts frequently, he rarely captures a “like” or “comment”, because he’s focused on personal promotion – generating a “return” in the form of someone hiring him—rather than on giving his followers something they might genuinely be interested in. One day there were fourteen of the same exact messages published back to back in the same minute, one on top of the other in my feed. It was obviously a glitch attributed to a mass-update program like HootSuite.

So, what’s the point of having a social media profile at all? Approach this activity only as a way to build an interactive consensus and dialogue, broaden client and community awareness about you or your firm, and reinforce your brand and online presence. Then, measure your success simply by the genuine interactions you receive from your posts and nothing else.

Focus your posts on building goodwill, not building business. Focus on producing light-hearted, feel-good news snippits and stories. Post about employees who volunteer or community events you’re not involved in. Help spread PSA messages, and comment and share interesting community or local or national news. Connect with users by publishing opinions and messages on issues that are timely, personal, and cared about.

You can’t measure any financial return on your investment of time, and in some cases, money, in you or your firm’s social media activities, but you can at least acquire a sense in the sentiment and feedback of those you engage.

Tom Copeland is the marketing director at the law offices of Craig Goldenfarb, a West Palm Beach-based personal injury firm.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    I can’t say I agree with this article at all. In your reason #3, you said “He’s always doing something new—writing blog posts, filming videos, posting about the events he attends. And it’s mind-numbingly boring.”

    The problem isn’t that “users don’t care about your firm.” The problem is that this person’s content “is mind-numbingly boring.” You said it yourself! This person is simply churning out content that his/her readers don’t want.

    Push out content they DO want – that easily fixes your point #3.

    • Tom

      Hi David, thanks for the comment. I thin your premises is wrong. People don’t “want” content on social media from brands at all. They simply tolerate it. How? Well, take Axe for example. Axe puts out a video about an over-the-top handsome guy that says funny things. The video goes viral, and people subscribe. They didn’t subscribe they buy or use Axe products, nor did they subscribe because they want to learn more about Axe. My only point is that if Axe marketing directors are smart, and we know they are, they aren’t producing the videos to sell deodorant. They are doing it to simply entertain an audience.

      • tracibrowne

        I have to disagree. I think that people do want content from brands on social media. What they don’t want are a bunch of ads. I’ve done business with companies I first discovered on social media because of the content they shared. I valued the content and it showed me a bit more about the company and showed me they understood me and my needs. From there the relationship started to grow, eventually turning into dollars spend by me, or me referring a peer to them.

        The reverse is also true. I’ve received business and referrals form people I met via social media. Did it happen because of one particular post. absolutely not. It took months, sometimes years of investing in that relationship that started online in Social Media.

        Can I attribute that business solely to social media, no I cannot. Nor can anyone attribute business one to any single marketing effort (at least vary rarely can they in B2B). That’s why we weight our efforts when determining ROI. Can I tell you how much money social media saved me from traditional advertising. Probably. And savings is part of the ROI equation.

        Does the butcher near me get more business from me because he post recipes on his website on Facebook page. You better believe he does. Recipes are content.

        Can you measure the ROI of helping someone across the street or buying a client a drink at a trade show? Perhaps not, but that action does indeed have a value.

        • Tom

          Hi Tracie, thanks for the comment. But let’s dissect something you said, so that I can really drive my point home. You say you think that people do want contet from brands on social media. But the most common reason people go on social media is to see that their FRIENDS are doing, not what brands are doing. Is there room for divergence from that statement? Of course. But in the aggregate, for people aged 25-54 who are on social media, I think we can make a true statement: people use social media to primarily keep up with their friends, not brands. So my thesis remains. Stop trying to spend so much time influencing people on social media, and stop trying to derive an “ROI” on the value of your content and efforts.
          Thanks for the discussion!

  • Scott Palmer

    I agree. Social Marketing can be used to augment your media. Hover, I believe that advertisers focus inordinate amounts of time and energy on Social platforms without definitive reasons other than “everybody else is doing it” or “my agency thinks it’s a good idea”. Not saying don’t use, I’m saying don’t neglect the tried & true: direct mail, outbound sales calls, trade shows, print etc.,
    Scott Palmer

  • https://twitter.com/c_guasch Clara Guasch

    I agree with your view, Tom, thanks for the article! Would you say that the impossibility of measuring success applies to other areas as well? I’m thinking of good content. It is clear to me that companies should invest on having good content on their websites, presentations, leaflets etc. And there’s no point really in asking for measurable ROI, because it is extremely difficult (and expensive) to measure what exactly good content brings to the company in terms of money. I’d love to hear your view (or anyone else’s) on this.
    Thank you very much!