I've been asked my thoughts on companies measuring social media efforts many times. In fact, I've gone through the process of justifying the effort and definitely have a strong opinion. If you're a marketing manager wanting to jump into social media, but your superiors are hesitant to give budget for the effort, you really need to think out how to position the medium.
I don't think you can put a dollar figure on social media to prove ROI. You'll have a hard time showing what the revenue increases were from your blogging or other social media efforts. The medium has not advanced far enough for that. I also don't think that the medium is wide-spread enough that you can justify ROI with only subscriber count and number of comments. Many senior executives wouldn't know what an RSS subscriber even means.
With that said, I think this is a very viable form of corporate marketing and there are a number of ways the medium can be sold up the chain and measured throughout the year:
- Don't Isolate Social Media: Position social media as a component of your overall marketing plan. If you engage in print advertising, you're used to making the case that print advertising is a branding component that is used to support your overall marketing messaging. Like social media, the ROI from print advertising is very hard to measure. Social Media should be one medium you're using among many in your communication with your audience and customers.
- Sales Tool: When is the last time you created a brochure and were asked to measure the ROI from that effort? You created the brochure to support the overall success of a product or service. The brochure helped to position and describe your product development effort. Blogging as a social media medium could be considered along the same lines. With every piece of content we create for our company blog, we make sure our sales people are aware they can share that content with interested customers. It essentially becomes a unique and innovative tool they can use to spread the word. As long as you're providing useful content for your audience, they'll appreciate your effort and most likely visit again.
- Feedback: We're also finding success in using blogging as a method for gathering customer feedback through surveys, new product ideas and product feedback forms. Social media is supposed to be a conversation, correct? Well, treat it as such and allow your audience to participate in the future of your products. We've already received valuable feedback that rivals that of an individual order placed.
- Promote Realistic Expectations: I think many marketers who are into social media and blogging are a bit misguided as to the affect blogging will have on marketing efforts. In the marketing blog community, you can start a blog, link out to 50 other bloggers in your first week and pick up traffic and subscribers that are fun to measure. Not all niches have that opportunity. Many communities lack a large enough niche in which to socialize. What then? I encourage people in less sociable niches not to pump the benefits of thousands of subscribers, millions of page views, or hundreds of comments. It could take years to develop that following in some online communities as the medium matures. Focus less on expected statistics and more on how social media will be integrated with the rest of your product marketing efforts.
- Multipurpose Content: As a small business marketing manager, it's always music to my ears when someone says that we can use content we've created for multiple purposes. If you're blogging, you should be creating valuable content. Have you thought about using portions of that content for an eNewsletter creation or the beginning of a white paper? Make sure you have a plan to have multiple purposes for your efforts.
- Go Find Your Customer: One easy case I was able to make for blogging was the ability for our company to more easily go meet our audience where they begin most online searches that lead to our website - Google. Most of our website traffic originates on Google so it only makes sense for us to continue our efforts to get in their search results. Blogging platforms are very solid ways to optimize content for search engines - especially if you're updating often and using the right methods.
- Stats: I know, I know - stats are important. I just didn't want them to be the focus of this post because not all social media efforts should be measured with analytics. Believe me, I do follow our stats, but I pay more attention to subscribers, comments, and from where the visits originate. These are important statistics to gauge how well your audience is receiving your content.
In two years, I'll guarantee that there will be measurements in place that prove ROI from businesses engaging in social media. This method of conversing with your audience is growing by the day. But right now we need to focus on social media as a tool in our marketing toolbox that supports all the other tools we're using in our marketing plans.
I'm supposed to tag some people to also contribute to this conversation, but there are so many people I'd like to hear from that I don't know where I'd begin. For starters I'd like to see what Marty, Matt, Pat and Stoney have to say. But, if you have opinions and want to chime in, please do - and send me the link to your post and I'll add it this one.
By Patrick Schaber