Measuring Social Media ROI Isn't that Easy

Is measuring return on investment (ROI) an outdated concept when it comes to social media? I'm starting to believe it might be. After all, ROI implies that something has a tangible and measurable result that justifies the effort. What if something is so necessary that measuring it is a waste of time? Could that be where we are headed with social media?

As some of us become more socially savvy, we are beginning to incorporate social tools into everything we do. Much of it is only remotely related to marketing. For example, this week I was researching a topic online when I stumbled onto a tweet that reminded me of a business acquaintance I had recently spoken with. In one quick click, I shared the tweet with my connection and went on working. I found some great answers, a few new ideas, and some food for thought. Later that week, I received a friendly email from that connection, thanking me for the business lead. 

I run across those kind of leads all the time and I frequently forward them on without a thought. So what would I measure if I wanted to -- How helpful the research was, how positively it influenced my connection, or how much time I spent searching? Would any of these measurements convince me to stop using online discussions as a resource or to stop sharing what I found? No, because I would want someone to do the same for me and once in a while, they do.

This week, an EOK member shared one of my videos with his connection, and that resulted in a new connection for me and some cool Twitter inquiries to follow. I was tickled to know someone thought enough to share a link to my presentation. But how would one measure my "tickle?" Probably the same way I would measure the instant gratification I enjoyed when I spontaneously connected with a CEO I blogged about. Any measurement couldn't possibly reflect the value of that encounter, but it was game-changing.

We don't measure the ROI of phone calls, handshakes, or board meetings, so why are we so intent on justifying social media? It is time to stop trying to assign social media to a specific department or task. Social media is a tool to communicate, to learn, to grow, to connect... in ways that were not previously possible. It should be used freely, whenever it adds value and by whoever needs it.

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Comment by Christopher Coyne on September 1, 2012 at 4:43pm

ROI is often treated as such a dirty word, particularly for people in my line of work -- "soft" skills have become increasingly difficult to assign ROI.  Sure, it can be done - but it almost feels like a way to simply justify education that everyone needs at some point or another.  Social media, in my opinion, belongs in this category as well.  Great thoughts Kathi - thx for sharing! 

Comment by Michael Erwin on August 29, 2012 at 1:50pm

Very well said Kathi!  Not sure how it took me 2 weeks to see this.  Clients ask me, "Should I be on twitter?" (or facebook or linkedin or google+).  I think you helped me with the formation of a one sentence answer - "Should you communicate?"

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