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I was scheduled to participate in a panel on Social Media and ROI at the #sxswi conference this week. My schedule being what it is, I couldn’t be in two places at once and had to make the painful decision last week of cancelling my trip to Austin altogether. As much as I was looking forward to finally making it to Sx and being on this panel, priorities are priorities. Muchas gracias to the panel’s organizers for having invited me to participate. In spite of what I am about to say here, I am very grateful to them.

Anyway. After days of reading tweet after tweet about how wonderful and fun SxSWi was, how much of a blast everyone was having, seeing pictures of some of my favorite people meeting up and smiling big for the camera, it was with a heavy heart that I logged into Tweetdeck for the #sxsmroi session Monday afternoon, in the hopes of at least being there from a distance. My expectations:  A great discussion, a professional discussion, an intelligent discussion about ROI and Social Media. After all, it’s 2012, right? This should be a mature topic. I released the book last year, the various presentations I put together on the subject have made their way around the globe, my blog posts have been read and read again, shared, retweeted and whatnot. ROI when it comes to social media is devastatingly simple to understand. Right?

I guess not. What I found myself confronted with instead of the intelligent session I expected was… a complete disaster.  I knew we were in trouble when I started seeing eager tweets about ROI being tied to “Return on Efficiency” less than 3 minutes from its start.

Let me give you a taste of some of the brilliant “insights” retweeted from this unfortunate session:

What’s the ROI of NOT engaging in SM? 

Asking if there is ROI for Social Media is like asking if there is an ROI of the telephone or a pencil.

If social is done well it builds trust. if done really well, it is true trust. then 2-way convo: speed and reach. 

There is an answer for CFO – if social has done well, it builds trust.

Seems like the new question is “What’s the ROI on coming up with a formula for ROI?

That’s right: The same nonsense social media “gurus” were selling on their blogs and all up and down the social media “speaking circuit” back in 2008, when social media started being integrated into business models.

So… 2008 goes by.

2009 goes by.

2010 goes by.

2011 goes by.

We are now in 2012. How is it that the same bullshit is still being spewed as “insight” on a #sxswi panel on ROI? How does this happen?

I know I couldn’t be there so I bear some of the responsibility, but I have to ask: Where are the professionals? Surely, we can find 5 people for a panel on Social Media and ROI who know what the hell they are talking about, right? I don’t even mean “experts.” I mean just normal professionals with a fair fluency on the subject, who can speak intelligently about what it is, how it is calculated, and even offer concrete examples to illustrate how companies are determining the ROI of key activities and channels on a specific timeline.

Just 5 or 6 people. That’s all.

No? Too hard? Really?

What happens if I get hit by a car tomorrow? Nobody can handle this topic? I don’t buy that. Where are the professionals? Sound off. Please, for the love of puppies, raise your hands and step forward. This crap needs to stop. Now. Today. And I can’t be the one carrying this flag. (Unless by some miracle, my book finally starts making its way to every single desk in Corporate America, which would be fine too. #NotHappening)

Back to more of the session’s brilliant “insights” on ROI and Social media. Brace yourselves for the worst because it is coming:

Social doesn’t always need to be quantified. Its not a spreadsheet metric only – trust, relationships, advocacy. 

Social extends beyond traditional ROI and you can’t quantify it on a spreadsheet.

You can’t put love and trust into a chart. Why? Because love and trust defies logical reasoning.

Because we lied and told people digital was measurable.

How do you put trust and love into a spreadsheet? silence 

Measuring digital is different because we’re the first generation doing it. 

We’re getting so granular with SM and trying to label it with a quantifiable ROI, that we’re missing the overall impact of it.

You don’t measure activity, you measure results. 

The minute we standardize in #smroi, we will fail.

Innovation is miles ahead of where we are in terms of measuring ROI.

Don’t spend all of your money trying to measure social ROI.

There’s no ROI for measuring ROI – it’s just too difficult

Just because I can measure something doesn’t mean I should.

That was what was being retweeted from a #sxswi panel on ROI. Maybe it should have been called “beating around the bush of #smROI for the fourth year in a row.”

It isn’t surprising then that about twenty minutes into the session, a lot of the back-channel chatter started looking a lot like this:

Did I really just hear someone at #sxsmroi say a lot of data when trying to quantify social ROI is unnecessary? …On to another session…

This panel could benefit by examples of ROI measurement. Some people in this room probably have to report that. #SxSMROI

I am shocked that the #SocialMediaROI panel at #SXSW isn’t giving people the real “How To Measure SM ROI” they came for. #sxsmroi

Have to wonder who the #sxsmroi panel is talking to. Definitely not business owners or people who sign the checks.

I think I’m glad I’m not at #sxsmroi because it’s not a ROI panel. Maybe call it SM Value or SM Efficiency panel, but it’s not a ROI panel.

Sorry #sxsmroi panel, you can’t send people out of the room w message that social isn’t measurable. It is and it’s critical

Disappointing panel at #SXSMROI same song & dance we’ve been hearing for years.

People walking out. You really think they were going to magically tell you how to measure SM ROI? #sxsmroi

In a nutshell.

In case you think that my having been there would have made a difference, think again. I wouldn’t have endured 45 minutes of that. Though I have never walked off during a panel at any conference anywhere, be assured that I would have pulled off my mic and walked out of this one. I would much rather meet up with people outside the session and answer their ROI questions directly (my purpose for attending events like this) than endure almost an hour of complete and utter bullshit that has no place at a conference the scale of #sxswi.

No offense to the couple of pros who were on the panel and whose comments were either not retweeted at all or simply not mentioned in this post. A few solitary bits of general, elementary ROI wisdom did find their way through the barrage of bullshit, but not nearly enough and certainly not driven by either adequate vigor or accompanied by concrete examples. So understand that I am not taking a blowtorch to the entire panel but rather to the balance of its outcome.

Here’s what really disappoints me: A full complement of professionals (with or without me) shouldn’t be that difficult to come up with right?  There shouldn’t have been a single dumbass comment retweeted from this session. Not one. So I ask again: Where are the professionals?

I am appalled.

As for those of you who walked away from that panel thinking it was wonderful, that Social Media ROI is a myth, channel-optional or even elastic enough to mean Return on Engagement, Return on Efficiency or Return on Conversation, do yourselves a favor: Search for every post containing the term ROI (or R.O.I.) on this blog and start there. Once you start to get what #smROI actually is and isn’t, feel free to spend $10 or $15 on the #smROI book (link below). That’s all you need to get started. The rest will come naturally once you start applying what you’ve learned here to the real world.

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Here it is. A whole book on how to make social media work from a business standpoint. ROI is covered, along with a lot of process elements that tie back to it. If your favorite social business “expert” doesn’t seem to get this stuff yet, don’t feel bad about sending them a copy. Knowledge is never a bad gift.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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A few months ago, I shared with you the 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook fan (or like, tweet, share, follower, etc.). If you missed it, check it out here. This week, I bring you a little more on that topic.

Above (click on the image) is a short video that touches on many of the same topics:

– The $ value of a fan (or follower, subscriber, etc.) is based on transactions, either from that individual or from someone whose transaction behavior they can be shown to have influenced.

– These transactions are usually reflected in one of three ways: Net new transactions (new/recently acquired customer), increased buy-rate/frequency (existing customer starts buying more often), and increased yield (existing customer starts spending more, on average, per transaction).

– The $ value of a fan is therefore variable.

– The value of a fan changes from fan to fan.

– The value of a fan changes from company to company (or brand to brand).

– The value of a fan often changes over time. (Insight: This change is what your social media activities are supposed to be influencing.)

– Social media activity that is expressly intended to be connected to actual ROI should, as a principal aim, focus on increasing the $ value of the brand’s fans, followers and subscribers – either by converting them into new transacting customers, increasing their yield and/or buy rate, and/or having the same effect on peers within their circle of influence.

The video also brings up the danger of cookie-cutter equations or “values” for fans and followers, and the danger of mistaking costs for value (media equivalency equations).

If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

Production notes: The video was shot in London in July of 2011. I dug it out of the vault just for you guys. The background noise is a little high. Sorry.

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As always, if you want to dive a little deeper into this and other social media program / social business topics, pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson) at your local boostore (or just order it online through Amazon, B&N, etc.)

The book is a must-have for any manager or executive involved, directly or not with the development, integration, management and measurement of social media activities in their organizations.

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click image to watch video

Too bad I can’t record every conversation I have about performance measurement and analysis, especially as they relate to social media and social business, and post them here. Granted, we’ve had some pretty solid ones on the #measuremob podcast (see archive here), but this time around, the discussion is a) accompanied by some video (which is nice) and b) not between people who fundamentally agree with each other.

In episode 83 of the Beer Diplomacy podcast, I discuss the differences between web metrics and business metrics with Marshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics (Mc Graw Hill).

What you will get out of this discussion:

– The limitations of looking solely to web/social metrics to determine the effectiveness of social media campaigns and programs.

– Why web/social metrics are merely intermediate data that help connect the dots between digital activity and measurable business outcomes.

– What measurable business outcomes are, vs. web/social metrics.

– How to think about business measurement when it comes to the effectiveness of social media.

– R.O.I. is not calculated in “likes” and “follows”.  It is calculated in hard dollars (or pounds or euros or yens – the same currency used in the investment part of the return-on-investment equation, in other words).

– The measurement biopsy: A simple method that any business – no matter how small or technologically-challenged – can use to test the R.O.I. of each and every marketing channel it invests in, social, digital, analog, and otherwise. This can be done as a one-time test or to monitor the effectiveness of activities and channels over time.

If clicking on the image above doesn’t take you to the video, go ahead and click here.

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And as always, if you want to learn more about how to…

 – properly build a social media program for your company

– develop a social business practice for your organization

– integrate social media across all relevant departments

– establish a social business structure for your department

– manage and integrate social media activity within an organization

– coordinate social activities with outside agencies and marketing partners

– connect social communications activity to business outcomes

– properly report your metrics and analysis to the CEO, CFO and other executives

– avoid traps and hurdles common to social media / social business in the first 2-3 years of integration

… then make sure you grab a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Activities in Your Organization (Que/Pearson) – the definitive social business guidebook for managers and executives.

Click here for the smroi.net site (where you can download a chapter for free and choose where you want to buy it).

Click here to buy the book straight from Amazon.com

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If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding the intricacies of social media R.O.I., chances are that…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

I know. Coming from me, the guy who literally wrote the book on “Social Media R.O.I.” this might seem like a strange thing to say. But hear me out. It will all make sense in a few minutes.

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem is that the question can’t be answered as asked: Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. The social space is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

You’ve been asking the wrong question.

2. To get the right answer, ask the right question.

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

To ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. Here’s an example:

What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011?

That is a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media. Here are a few more:

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up equations mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used) x engagement

Huh?!

Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing. Their aim is to confuse and extract legal tender from unsuspecting clients, nothing more. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

In case you missed it earlier, don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure. Stop here. Take it all in. Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper and work it out.

Once you grasp this, try something bigger. If you want to measure the ROI of specific activities across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the relationship between the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes a detail. ROI is ROI, regardless of the channel or the technology or the platform.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model and determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, take your ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving these outcomes, and each particular type of activity within their scope, then add them all up. Can measuring all of that be complex? You bet. Does it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources.

If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

This is pretty key. Don’t just measure a bunch of crap after the fact to see if any metrics jumped during the last measurement period. Think about what you will want to measure ahead of time, what metrics you will be looking to influence. Think more along the lines of business-relevant metrics than social media metrics like “likes” and “follows,” which don’t really tell you a whole lot.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Repeat after me: Not all social media activity needs to drive ROI.

Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs. Don’t force them into that box.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” function or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors:

1. The manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective.

2. The degree to which specific social media activity helped drive that objective.

In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

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By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a simple framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs in partnership with digital agencies or all on their own. Check it out at www.smroi.net, or look for it at fine bookstores everywhere.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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