Proving value in social media is much akin to doing the same in public relations. This is precisely why so many CEOs and CMOs are hesitant to commit dollars to efforts there. When the bottom line determines every decision, much of what a company or brand should do winds up on the wrong side of the ledger.
Should we spend more money on the more eco-friendly heating and cooling system? On recycled paper? On diversity training? On dental or optical coverage for employees? Yeah, you should. But none of those are a given because when it comes to running a business, bigger margins trump bigger heart every time.
So it makes sense then that companies spending money on social media are also hoping to provide sufficient measurement for success. Several good companies exist that attempt to generate metrics to please the bottom-liners. We have profiled Radian6, Collective Intellect and Cymfony here. Our hope is to look at several others, including standouts Nielsen BuzzMetrics, K.D. Paine and Associates, BuzzLogic and more in the coming weeks. If you’re looking for evidence of social media Return on Investment (ROI), you’ll do good to start with one or more of any of these folks.
But I would like to offer a philosophical consideration to CEOs and CMOs out there. Yes, it’s a bit of a pie-in-the-sky view, but gets to the heart of one reason companies should participate in social media in the first place.
Perhaps we shouldn’t measure social media ROI in the first place.
The reason? The core reason social media programs are successful is because they’re about people, not money. Look at the social media buzz words â€“ community, conversation, dialog, sharing â€“ all of them are people-centric, consumer-centric. Social media isn’t about sales. It isn’t about market share. It isn’t about profit margins. It’s not company or brand-centric.
John Iwata of IBM, on the May 5 edition of “For Immediate Release” public relations podcast, told Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson that a business’s activity in social media should start with an ROI focus that looks at the “I” instead of the “R.” He said:
“Some might obsess with the ‘R’ but I would ask them to first begin with the ‘I.’ What is the cost of the methods and technologies? What is the big ‘I’ with new media? I would start there. That, in fact, it is pervasive and is becoming a global and historic phenomenon because the ‘I’ is virtually not there. It is essentially free and available to all. It is very cheap to adopt these things. If there is an investment, it is on management attention and time to make sure these things are done and adopted thoughtfully and strategically.”
The cost is little. Tearing away the layers of corporate red tape and legal approvals to permit your employees (your communications staff for starters, but everyone in an ideal scenario) to comment on blogs, answer questions in forums and message boards and proudly wear the badge of your company in their online lives costs nothing more than the bravery to do so and the time needed to ensure strategic thinking lies at the foundation of the outreach.
A lot of what consumers find disconcerting about messages from brands and corporations is the ulterior motive of profits. By diving into social media with the proper attitude â€“ that it’s for the consumer, not the bottom line and that it’s about the investment, not the return â€“ brands will overcome consumer skepticism and be accepted into the community to engage in conversations and connect to consumers on levels never before thought possible. And with that, the bottom line, and return, will take care of itself.