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Posts Tagged ‘measurement’

You can actually do the work, or you can fake it and try to make an easy buck. It doesn’t matter what industry or profession you’re in. Athletes cheat. Accountant cut corners. Political consultants adjust poll numbers. Teachers hire surrogates to take their certifications for them. And yes, social media gurus make up magic equations that promise to measure everything from ROI to the value of a like.

We are surrounded by people who have chosen to make bullshit their vehicle of “success.”

Why? Because it’s easier than doing the work. Because it’s a faster path to revenue. Because for every executive or fan or client who sees bullshit or bad science for what they are, there are two or three who won’t know any better and will gladly pay for the next “big” thing.

Selling bullshit isn’t any different from selling anything else: at its core, it’s just a numbers game. You don’t have to sell to everyone. You won’t. You just have to sell to enough people who don’t know better and you will make a living. If you care more about positive cash flow than your reputation, about your next bonus or potential book deal than professional responsibility, about appearing to build value than actually providing any, then you can do pretty well selling complete crap.

Welcome to the world of gurus, of cult leaders, of chief tribe strategists.

About once or twice a year, I run into an example of social media bullshit that I find worthy of sharing with you on this blog. Sometimes, it’s a egregious money-making scheme whose sole intent is to prey on desperate, gullible, underemployed would-be “consultants” looking for an easy in to the “social media expert” space. Sometimes, it’s just bad science – a lousy equation or even a poorly conceived (insert acronym here) “calculator” whose authors didn’t really take the time to test and submit to any kind of legitimate peer review. Assumptions were made. Corners were cut. The whole thing was rushed.

I want to stress that not all social media gurus and self-professed digital experts are out to rip you off or sneak a sordid scheme past your bullshit detector. Many are just scam artists, but many are not. Sometimes, bad science just happens. Bad math, silly equations, erroneous reporting and made-up acronyms don’t get chucked into the FAIL pile because their author didn’t really know any better. Because they didn’t take the time to really put their own work to the test. They weren’t diligent with the proofing and peer review part of their experiment. Whether it’s laziness, incompetence, distraction, convenience or denial is for you to decide. All I know is that regardless of intent or reason, bad math is still bad math, and bad science is still bad science, and none of that ads net positive outcomes for those of us trying to make things work better in the social business space.

Today’s example illustrates how easily this sort of thing can happen. And before I get into the meat of it, let me just say that this post is in no way meant to be a bashing of Dan Zarrella. I’m sure he is very knowledgeable and supremely competent in a number of areas. I don’t know Dan. We’ve never worked on a project together. I have no idea who he is or what he does other than that he works for HubSpot. So what I am sharing here today isn’t meant as an attack on his character or competence or on whatever HubSpot is selling with this VOAL “model.” I just want to show you how easily business measurement nonsense can become “legitimized” by leveraging and combining personal brands, trusted publishing channels, market confusion, and the absence of a legitimate academic peer review process in the publishing of mathematical and measurement models anymore.

So before some of you jump on me for criticizing your best bud, stop. Breathe. Get some perspective. I’m not trying to hurt Dan or Hubspot. I am doing what someone around them should have done before this equation was published. This isn’t me bitching or making noise because I like the attention. This is me explaining something important and making sure that unsuspecting executives and decision-makers don’t fall for the latest flavor of bad social business measurement “science.” We’re never going to get out of this vicious cycle of “hey look at me, I invented a whole new social media equation” bullshit unless we have these kinds of discussions. We need to have them, even when they aren’t pleasant.

This industry is in desperate need of a serious dose of reality.  And if that sometimes comes with a swift kick to the balls, then sorry but that’s just what needs to happen.

An overview of the VOAL Equation:

This week, Dan Zarrella published a piece in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “How To Calculate The Value of a Like.” In it, he attempts to loosely equate the value of a like (VOAL) to ROI, then offers the following equation to calculate this so-called “value”:

The beauty of an equation like this is that virtually no one is going to take the time to try and make sense of it. Most marketing execs looking for a simple and easy way to calculate the ROI of their activities in digital channels will simply assume that the person behind the mathematical model is qualified and smart and competent. In fact, this was one of the argument provided by Dan on twitter yesterday when I questioned the equation.

For sport, we could dig into the equation itself. We could look at all of its components and determine whether they can be thrown into a bucket together, and through the alchemy of selective math, be twisted and bent into a legitimate measure of the value of a like. here’s how it breaks down:

L (Total Likes): The total number of audience members connected to your social media account. On Facebook, these are Likes of your page, and on Twitter, these are followers.

UpM (Unlikes-per-Month): The average number of fans who “unlike” your social network account each month. On Facebook, this is an “unlike,” and on Twitter, this is an “unfollow.”

LpD (Links-per-Day): The average number of times you’re posting links, and potentially converting links driven from your social media account. On Facebook, this is the number of posts you’re making, per day, that lead to a page on your website. On Twitter, this is the number of times, per day, you’re Tweeting these kinds of links.

C (Average Clicks): The average number of clicks on the links to your site you’re posting on your social media accounts.

CR (Conversion Rate): The average conversion rate of your website, from visit to sale or visit to lead. This can be an overall average, but for increased accuracy, use the conversion rate measured from traffic coming from the social network you’re calculating.

ACV (Average Conversion Value): The average value of each “conversion.” In this context, a “conversion” is the action you’ve used to measure CR for. It could be average sale price or average lead value. For increased accuracy, use the average conversion value of traffic coming from the specific social network.

If you went through the process of actually making sense of the equation, you would realize fairly quickly that because the ACV is a subjective value that can be pretty much anything you want it to be, the math can be bent to deliver any kind of “value” you want it to. You might also notice that for whatever reason, “unlikes” are measured monthly but likes are measured along an indeterminate timeline. You might also be driven to ask yourself why LpD (links per day) even needs to be part of this equation or why it is multiplied by 30 (days per month) when the clicks and likes are not.

Let me pause here. The point is that, already, the logic behind equation is already a mess.

What is wrong with this VOAL “model” (first sweep):

1. Its bits and pieces don’t make a whole lot of sense.  We have “total likes” up against “average clicks.” If we have total likes, why not also have total clicks? As an aside, what does one even have to do with the other? (Which brings me to item number 2…)

2. The relationship between the bits and pieces doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why are we multiplying net likes by links per day x30, then again by clicks divided by likes, then again by the conversion rate, and then again by (an admittedly subjective) conversion value? That’s a lot of multiplication. A x B x C x D  = LV? Really? That’s the model?

3. The cost of any of these activities is not taken into account anywhere. Tip: It’s hard to calculate the value of anything without factoring the cost somewhere in the equation. That’s a problem.

4. C = Average Clicks. Okay. Per day? Per month? Per day x 30? What am I even plugging into the equation? Not clear.

5. In what currency is the “value” of a like measured? Is this value a monthly value? An average value? An average monthly value? Is it even a $ value? Not clear. (Again.) What about offline transactions? What about transactions that can’t be measured by a last-click-attribution model? Are they divorced from the “value” of a like?

6. I see no metric for shares or comments. Another major oversight given the importance of sharing and commenting in regards to attention and propensity to click on a link or consider a purchase.

What else is wrong with this VOAL “model” (second pass, caffeinated this time):

For what little time we just wasted on this pointless exercise, we haven’t even touched on the more relevant aspects of why this equation fails to deliver a mathematical solution to the question of like value. Seven of them in particular:

1. A Facebook fan’s value (now called a like) is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition. I bring this up because measuring the value of a like without taking into account the cost of that like makes the process null and void.

Also, give some thought to the difference between page likes (fans) and update/content (likes). What likes are we measuring again? Oh wait… here it is:

L (Total Likes): The total number of audience members connected to your social media account. On Facebook, these are Likes of your page, and on Twitter, these are followers.

So… the equation doesn’t measure those daily “little” likes. The ones that are attached to content and updates. To measure that kind of engagement on a Facebook page, the equation instead looks at clicks on posted links. But for some reason, it looks at average clicks, not net clicks.

????…

(Why? Your guess is as good as mine.)

No details on whether those are average daily clicks or average monthly clicks either. Could they be average hourly clicks x 24 x 30 x 12? No idea.

2. Since “likes” really stand for fans of a page, let’s talk about that: A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits). A like/fan is worth absolutely $0 unless that individual actually purchases something. Let’s start there.

If your intent is to measure fans/likes to transaction dollars attributable to your Facebook page, no need for a complicated VOAL equation. Save yourself the trouble and just measure inbound traffic from Facebook against online sales $. It will only speak to a last-click attribution model (a pretty limited way to measure the impact of a channel on sales if you ask me) but at least it will be much easier to measure and far more accurate than a bullshit equation that makes no sense at all. Then just divide your online sales from Facebook links by the number of fans/likes on your page, and voila. Done. It’s still a crap way to measure the average “value” of your Facebook fans/likes, but at least your math won’t be wrong.

3. Determining the average value of a fan may be interesting as a baseline for other measurements, but give some thought to the fact that each Facebook fan’s value is unique. One fan may engage with your content in a measurable way 300x per month but never spend a penny on your products. Another may engage with your content only on occasion but spend $3K per month on your products. Averaging your fans “value” won’t only give you a false sense of the relationship between likes and transactions, it will also obscure genuine lead generation and customer relationship development opportunities in a space that begs to be social. What’s the value to your business of averaging out net lead generation values again? None. If this is what you spend your time on, you might as well stop wasting your time on social channels.

4. A Facebook fan’s value is also likely to be very elastic. Some customers just have erratic purchasing habits. They might spend $3K with you one month and not buy from you again for a year. Depending on the size of your community and your type of business, this elasticity’s effect on that equation will drive you nuts and won’t help you make sense of what is going on with your Facebook strategy.

5. There is little correlation between a Facebook like and an actual transaction in the real world. (Maybe I should have started with that.)

6. Likes can be bought and/or manufactured, and often are, rendering this kind of equation (even if it made any sense at all) completely worthless. If you have no idea how many fake followers/fans/likes you have and try to measure VOAL you’re basically screwed. Have fun with that.

7. Once again, what about offline transactions? (What about any and all transaction behaviors that don’t neatly fall into a last-click-attribution model, for that matter?) The equation seems to completely ignore the relationship between Facebook fans/likes and offline sales. For most businesses, that’s going to be a tough pill to swallow.

And since I haven’t yet mentioned proxy sales structures (distribution channels, like Ford dealerships vs Ford’s brand pages, or Best Buy vs. HP for instance), maybe this is a good time to bring them up, because this “model” doesn’t address that either. At all. If I ask my local VW dealer to measure his page’s likes against his monthly car sales using Zarrella’s VOAL & digital conversion model, somebody is going to walk out of that discussion with serious hypertension, and a social media manager somewhere is going to be out of a job.

(If you still need convincing, click here for a more in depth discussion.)

Bad Math in Action: Try the VOAL Equation for yourself.

If you can’t make heads or tails of Zarrella’s equation or my explanation, don’t worry. He has built a nice little website for you where you can just fill in the blanks and go see how it works for yourself. Here it is: www.valueofalike.com. Try it. I plugged in several of my clients’ numbers and according to the tool, the average value of their fans/likes seems to hover around $73,736.25.

Yes, you read that right: According to the site’s math, every additional 14 fans/likes I bring to their respective pages amounts to over $1,000,000.00 in value/potential revenue. (Over how long, nobody knows, though evidently, the average fan-customer spending $25/month with them has an lifespan of about 245 years.) My clients will be thrilled to hear all about that. Maybe I should start charging more for my services.

In the meantime, check your numbers against the math and see if you get more accurate results than I did. Maybe I did it wrong. I’ve been known to be wrong before, so it’s possible. Or maybe the calculator is off somehow. That’s possible too. Or am I just missing something? Was I supposed to move a decimal point over at some point?  I’ll try to do this using the long form of the equation later, just to see if I can make it work. Or maybe not. I don’t really care anymore. This whole thing is so stupid, pointless and overly complicated that it’s giving me a genuine headache.

We get it. It doesn’t work. Now what?

Let me share four final things with you and we can all get back to work:

1. If all you are looking to do is determine the average value of a fan/like in the context of a last-click attribution model (linking a transaction to the last link someone clicked on to get to your site before pressing “buy”), then just add up sales $ resulting from inbound traffic from Facebook and divide that by the number of fans/likes on your page. That will tell you the average value of a fan/like – which is to say it won’t really tell you a whole lot but at least you’ll be done in under a minute instead of spending ten minutes filling the blanks of Zarrella’s VOAL equation, and then another week trying to figure out why your numbers look so weird. Bonus: It will be just as useless, but it’ll be so quick that you’ll have more time to get back to doing real work.

Also, if you want to measure the ROI of your Facebook activity, you’ll have to work a little harder at it, but item 3 on this list ought to give you a few simple guidelines that will get you on the right track. What’s nice about it is that my example focuses mostly on linking offline (brick and mortar) transactions to channel activity, and that’s actually harder than linking digital activity to digital transactions. So have fun with it and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

2. Because Zarrella’s article was published via the Harvard Business Review’s blog, scores of people won’t think to question it. The fact that he works for Hubspot (a reputable company) makes the equation seem that much more legitimate. And because it looks complicated as hell, who is going to take the time to figure out if it actually works (or how)? Nobody.

In other words, the assumption of competence on the part of the author (a) the perceived complexity of the equation itself (b) and the assumption of an editorial review process on the side of the publisher (c) will combine to ease readers into assuming that the contents of that article are solid. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Too many assumptions, not enough fact-checking. Again.

Shame on HBR for not making sure that what they publish has been verified, by the way. It isn’t the first time something like this has slipped through their editorial review process (assuming there even is one). Remember this gem?

Tip: Next time someone tells you they’ve invented a metric, run. Seriously. Turn around and start hoofing it.

3. I spent a little time explaining to Dan on Twitter how to actually measure the value of channels as they relate to actual sales, so you might want to check that out. (Feel free to skip the initial petty bickering and scroll straight to the process I outline in the example.) There are two versions of that exchange for you to pick from:

Rick Stillwell’s capture (go say hello) and Paul Shapiro’s capture (both unfortunately miss a few of our wittier exchanges, but that’s okay. The process part of it is far more important.) That method can be replicated by small and mid-sized businesses with little to no access to social media management tools like Radian 6, by the way. It takes a little work, but it’s simple. And yes, simple works. if you need more details on it, I talk about it in Social Media ROI.

4. Dan and HubSpot: Let me extend the following invitation. If you are serious about building a channel and fan/follower measurement model that actually works online and offline and will bring value to organizations you work with, I will gladly help. I can show you how to do this and how not to do it too. Get in touch if you want to. Or don’t. Totally your call.

For everyone else, also check out this piece by Zachary Chastain on Thought Labs. He gets to the point a lot faster than I do, and with far less bite. And also Sean Golliher’s brilliant piece, which outlines further problems with Zarrella’s VOAL model.

And if you’ve noticed that my writing has been scarce here lately, it’s because I have been writing about digital command centers and real-time social business intelligence over on the Tickr blog. No worries, I’m still here, but I have to split my time between both blogs right now. New project with exciting developments coming very soon, so stay tuned. (And go check it out.)

Until next time, have a great day. 🙂

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Not to take advantage of bad science to sell books, but since I go over real measurement methodology vs. bogus social media “measurement” in  Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization, it’s worth a mention. If you are tired of bullshit and just want straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space, pick up a copy. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. You can read a free chapter and decide for yourself if it’s worth the money (go to smroi.net).

And if English isn’t your first language, you can even get it in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.

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

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Yesterday, the above infographic popped up on my radar (thanks, V. Harris). At first, I thought “here we go again: another crap social media ROI infographic.” But then I took a closer look and I got it. It’s actually not bad. Well… up to a point.

Part 1 – Showing that basic business literacy is still lacking in the digital marketing space:

Verdict: Good.

Here’s what this part of the infographic tells us:

1. Marketers still mistake metrics like net followers/fans, web traffic, and social mentions (all essentially reach metrics) for ROI. Less than 30% of them consider sales to be an element of ROI. Still.

2. 73% of CEOs think marketers don’t understand basic business terminology and objectives.

3. Is it any surprise that CEOs think that marketers are essentially dumbasses and that social business is bullshit?

If that part of the infographic doesn’t perfectly illustrate the urgent need for an infusion of actual competence on every level of the social business management scale, I don’t know what does. This situation is absurd.

The silver lining: Over 70% of marketers still haven’t read my book, so we still have a lot of potential sales there.

Okay, all kidding aside, the fact that over 70% of marketers still qualify followers and fans as a measure of ROI is… shocking. Seriously. Web traffic? Social mentions? Here’s a fix: Send these people back to school. It’s almost 2013. We should be over this by now. Anyone who still thinks that way needs an intervention. It might have been acceptable in 2008, but not anymore.

Part 2 – Showing some financial outcomes that can be tied back to social media activity (and budgets):

Verdict: Good.

Here, we see examples of social media activity having a direct impact on sales. The cool thing about it is that if you go back and look at how much that social media activity cost (man hours, technology, etc.), you can assign a specific cost to it. If you have the gain figures and the cost figures, you can calculate ROI.

Thumbs-up. More of that, please.

Part 3 – “Last Touch Conversions” and the problem with last-click attribution models:

Verdict: Last click attribution is too limited a model to illustrate the full impact of social media activity on sales.

Here’s where the infographic runs into a wall. We’ve talked about this: It isn’t so much that last click attribution is wrong in assuming a cause and effect relationship between clicking on a link and making a purchase. Clearly, there’s a strong connection there. There’s intent, if anything, and that’s important, so we need to track that and put numbers to it. But focusing too much (or at all) on last click attribution is a lot like looking at consumer behaviors through a simple, robotic, kind of binary lens that only accounts for a very small fraction of the customer journey. It completely ignores the dozen (if not hundreds) of other triggers that led a consumer to eventually click on that link and decide to make a purchase.

Last click attribution doesn’t take into account the full scope of discovery (that is to say, how a consumer found out about the brand and/or product). It doesn’t take into account the impact of advertising, marketing, PR, media exposure and word-of-mouth recommendations. It doesn’t take into account the months, weeks, days or hours of research done by the consumer before clicking on that link. In other words, the entire decision process that takes place before a purchase (discovery, research, preference and validation) is excluded from the last click attribution model. Months of social interactions: gone. Customer service experiences: gone. We’re down to attributing a transaction to the very last thing a consumer did before pulling out a credit card. That’s a lot like a military unit attributing a victory in battle to the last bullet fired. Focusing only on the final few minutes of a long and complex customer journey is terribly-short-sighted, and that sort of methodology (and mentality) drags us into a ditch of assumptions as to cause and effect that generally leads to poor consumer insights and ultimately investments in the wrong types of activities.

Last click attribution is easy, sure, but since when does easy trump smart or relevant? The truth is that it’s a lazy mode of thinking. That’s right, I said it: It’s lazy.

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how Ohtootay helps companies move beyond last click attribution (and last touch conversions) to map how consumers actually behave – that is to say how they shop. It’s a good start. We need more of that kind of thinking and more of that kind of insightful application of technology. The objective for businesses and marketing teams has always been this: to understand consumer behaviors and how to affect them in a way that leads them to notice, want, buy and ultimately recommend products. Last click attribution doesn’t do that. It’s a snapshot of the final step in a long transaction funnel. That’s all. You want to measure ROI? You want to know what’s working? You want to fine-tune the way your traditional marketing, social channel activity, customer service, product design, packaging, retail experience and competitive landscape work together (or don’t)? Great. Then you’re going to have to work a little harder to figure out how all the pieces fit, and how to make them fit even better.

Personally, I think that’s half the fun of the marketing profession: figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and why, solving those kinds of problems, fine-tuning and then fine-tuning some more… That’s what marketing is about: making it work. Understanding how to move all of those needles so your company or product team gets what they want, and your customers do too. Do it right and everyone walks away happy. That’s the goal. Happy customers, happy product managers, happy investors, job creation on the back end… That’s the big picture, one piece of the daisy chain at a time.

So a word of caution: If you’re not into asking questions, doing research, or caring enough to bust your ass to do real work, hard work – sometimes tedious work – to kick ass, maybe you shouldn’t be in the marketing business. There’s a reason why 73% of CEOs think that marketers lack business credibility. It’s because of laziness and apathy. Every marketing pro who still hasn’t learned how to explain the relationship between ROI and social media contributes to that credibility problem. Every marketing pro who still uses last click attribution as their go-to metric to gauge the effectiveness of a social channel contributes to that credibility problem. Every marketing pro who isn’t working in concert (hell, in tandem) with a product group and a sales department contributes to that problem.

Give that some thought. And if that isn’t enough to give you pause, maybe this will: If you work in marketing, 73% of CEOs right now can’t figure out why they’re paying you. And you know what? They’re looking for someone better.

Fix that.

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

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

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The 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook ‘fan’

A question that routinely comes up in social media circles is what is the value of a Facebook fan? (The question also applies to the value of a Twitter follower, Youtube subscriber, email recipient, etc.)

Invariably, whenever the question is asked, some mathematical savant – typically a self-professed digital alchemist – produces a proprietary algorithm that has somehow arrived at answer along the lines of $1.07 (Source: WSJ) or $3.60 (source: Vitrue) or even $136.38 (source: Syncapse), and so begins the race to answer this now quasi-hallowed question of the new digital age. The lure: He who can convince companies that he can calculate the value of a Facebook fan might have a shot at selling them on the notion that fan the more fans they acquire, the more value they generate for their business. (You can imagine the appeal of answering the “what is the ROI” question by explaining to a company that 10,000 net new fans per month x $136.38 = a $1,363,800 value. At a mere $75,000 per month, that’s a bargain, right?

All that is fine and good, except for one thing: Assigning an arbitrary (one might say “cookie-cutter”) value to Facebook fans in general, averaged out over the ENTIRE breadth of the business spectrum, is complete and utter BS.

To illustrate why that is, I give you the 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook fan:

Rule #1: A Facebook fan’s value is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition.

Many of my friends in the agency world still cling, for example, to the notion that estimated media value or EAV (estimated advertising value), somehow transmutes the cost of reaching x potential customers into the value of these potential customers once reached. Following a media equivalency philosophy, it can be deduced that if the cost of reaching 1,000,000 people is generally $x and you only paid $y, the “value” of your campaign is still $x.

A hypothetical social media agency-client discussion regarding EAV: “Using social media, we generated 1,000,000 impressions that we converted into followers last quarter. At $1.03 per impression/acquired fan, the total cost of the campaign was $1,030,000. The average cost of an impression through traditional media being $3.97, the estimated media value of your campaign was $3,970,000.”

Next thing you know, the client believes 2 things: The first, that the value of each Facebook ‘fan’ is either ($3.97 – $1.03) = $2.94 or simply $3.97 (depending on the agency). The second, that the ROI of the campaign is ($3,970,000 – $1,030,000) = $2,940,000.

So you see what has happened here: Through a common little industry sleight of hand, a cost A vs. cost B comparison has magically produced an arbitrary “value” for something that actually has no tangible value yet. In case you were particularly observant, you may also have noticed how easily some of the authors of the posts I linked to in the intro mixed up costand value. Ooops. So much for expert analysis.

A word about why cost and value cannot be substituted for one another when applied to fans, followers and customers: Cost may be intimately connected to value when you are buying the family car, but the same logic does not apply to customers as a) you don’t really buy them outright, b) they don’t depreciate the way a car does, and c) they tend to generate revenue over time, far in excess (you hope) of what it cost to earn their business.

Even with the cost of acquiring a fan now determined, why has the value of that fan not yet been ascertained? Rule #2 will answer that question.

Rule #2: A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits).

Illustrated, the value of a fan can be calculated thus:

 a)      Direct Value: If a Facebook fan spent $76 on your products and services last month, her value was $76 for that month. If a Facebook fan spent €5697 on your products or services last month, his value was €5697 for the month.

The value of a fan/transacting customer is based on the value of their transaction. It is NOT based on the cost of having acquired them.

Example:

– Cost of acquiring Rick Spazzyfoot as a Facebook fan: €4.08

– Amount Rick Spazzyfoot has spent on our products and services since becoming a fan five months ago: €879.52

Which of the above two € figures represents the value of that fan to the company?

(If you answered €4.08, you answered wrong. Try again.)

 b)     Indirect value: If a fan seems to be influencing other people in his or her network to become transacting customers (or increase their buy rate or yield), then you can factor that value in as well for those specific time-frames. Because measurement tools are not yet sophisticated enough to a) properly measure influence and b) accurately tie it to specific transactions, I wouldn’t agonize over this point a whole lot. As long as you understand the value of word-of-mouth, positive recommendations and the relative influence that community members exert on each other, you will hold some valuable insights into your business ecosystem. Don’t lose sleep trying to calculate them just yet. Too soon.

The point being this: Until a Facebook ‘fan’ has transacted with you (or influenced a transaction), the monetary value of that fan is precisely zero.

One could even say that if each fan cost you, say, an average of $1.03 to acquire, the value of a fan before he or she has been converted into a transacting customer is actually -$1.03.

That’s right: A significant portion of your Facebook fans might actually put you in the negative. Something to think about when someone asks you to calculate the “value” of your “community,” especially if you purchased rather than earned a significant portion of your fans and followers (it happens more than you realize).

Rule #3: Each Facebook fan’s value is unique.

Every fan brings his or her unique individual value to the table. One fan may spend an average of €89 per month with your company. Another fan might spend an average of $3.79 per month with your company. Another yet may spend an average of ₤1,295 per month with your company. Is it reasonable to ignore this simple fact and instead assign them an arbitrary “value” based on an equation thought up by some guy you read about on the interwebs?

Three points:

1. The lifestyles, needs, tastes, budgets, purchasing habits, cultural differences, online engagement patterns and degree of emotional investment in your brand of each ‘fan’ may be completely different. These, compounded, lead to a wide range of behaviors in your fans. These behaviors dictate their value to you as a company.

2.  Many of your fans may only do business with you only on occasion. Because of this, you have to factor in the possibility that a significant percentage of your fans’ value may fluctuate in terms of activity rather than spend. How many of your fans are not regular customers? How many do business with you each day vs. each month? How many do business with you once a quarter vs. once every three years? Are you figuring your on/off customer-fans into your value equation?

 3. Lastly, we come to the final type of Facebook fan: The one that doesn’t fall into the transacting customer category.  They might remain “fans” without ever converting into customers. Do you know what percentage of your fans right now falls into this non-transacting category? Do you really think that their value is $3.97 or $139.73 or whatever amount an agency, guru or consulting firm arbitrarily assigned to them? No. They clicked a button and left. Their value, until proven otherwise, is zero.

 With this kind of fan/customer diversity within your company ecosystem, you come to realize that arbitrary values like “the value of a Facebook fan is $x” can’t be applied to the real world.

Rule #4: A Facebook fan’s value is likely to be elastic.

Because the value of a Facebook fan is a result of specific purchasing habits (and impact on others’ purchasing habits), a fan’s value is likely to be elastic over time. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it simply means “flexible.” As in: the value of a Facebook fan will change. It will fluctuate. It will not always be the same from measurement period to measurement period.

Let me illustrate: A Facebook fan might spend $76 on your products and services one month and $36 the following month. This means that her “value” was $76 one month and $36 the following month. If next month, she spends $290, $290 will become her “value” for that month.

Because transaction behaviors change, the value of a fan is also likely to change.

You can average this out over time (the fan’s value might average out to $97/month over the course of a year, for example), or just total her value per month, quarter, or year, depending on your reporting requirements. That is entirely up to you.

Example 1: “Based on her transactions, the value of Jane Jones, a fan since 2007, was $2,398.91 in 2010. Thanks to our fan engagement (digital customer development) program, Jane’s value increased to $2,911.02 in 2011.”

Example 2: Chris Pringle’s average monthly value in Q2 of 2011 was $290.76. His average monthly value in Q3 of 2012 was $476.21. He is one of 17,636 fans we managed to shift from a basic package to a premium package via our Facebook campaign.”

Note: In order to figure this stuff out, you are going to have to either get creative with the way your CRM solution interacts with your Facebook analytics suite or wait until Social CRM solutions get a little more robust. Some are getting close.

Examples of exceptions (where fan value may be somewhat inelastic):

 – You are a bank and a fan’s only transaction with you is a fixed monthly payment.

– You are a cable company and a fan’s only transaction with you is a monthly cable bill.

– You are a publisher and a fan’s only transaction with you is an annual magazine subscription.

– Your fans don’t transact with you. They clicked a button and left. If their value was $0 a month ago, it is still $0 this month.

If your business charges for a monthly service that tends to not fluctuate a whole lot, chances are that the value of each of your fans will remain rather constant. This compared to a Starbucks, a Target or an H&M.

Rule #5: A Facebook fan’s value varies from brand to brand and from product to product.

If a fan/customer’s value can fluctuate from month to month and that value can vary wildly from individual to individual within the same brand or product umbrella, imagine how much it can vary from brand to brand, and from product to product.

Compare, for example, the average value of a fan/customer for Coca Colaand the average value of a fan/customer for BMW. (Hypothetically of course, since I don’t have access to either company’s sales or CRM data.) What you may find is that a fan’s annual value for Coca Cola might average,say, $1,620 per year, while a fan’s annual value for BMW might average $42,000. Why? Because the products are entirely different. One costs less than $3 per unit and requires no maintenance. The other can cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit and requires maintenance, repairs, not to mention the occasional upgrade.

Moreover, a single strong recommendation from a fan can yield an enormous return for BMW, while a single recommendation from a fan will yield a comparatively smaller return for Coca Cola.

You can see how the notion that the “value” of a Facebook fan can be calculated absent the context of purchasing habits, brand affiliations, fluctuations in buying power, market forces and shifts in interests and even value perceptions is bunk. Unless of course you find yourself being asked to transform cost into value. Less work. Easier to sell.

So why does this happen?  Tune in next week for Part 2 of this post, in which we will talk about why so many “social media gurus,” digital agencies and “industry analysts” still seem to be having trouble with something that should be pretty simple.

I hope this helped. From now on, if anyone seems confused about the topic of fan/follower/subscriber “value,” point them to this post.

Cheers,

Olivier

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If you haven’t already, check out Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Lots of vital advice in there for anyone working with social media in a business environment. Makes a great gift to employees, bosses, contractors and clients too. You can even read a free chapter here: smroi.net

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We’re going to talk about a few things today: The relationship between ad spend and sales, the importance of focusing on the right metrics in order to make smart budget decisions, the problem with using impressions as a unit of campaign success, and how easily die-hard habits can trip us up.

Hat tip to Chris Young for pointing me to this story in Business Insider. Pay attention to how the story begins:

Reality appears to have finally arrived at Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest marketer, whose $10 billion annual ad budget has hurt the company’s margins.

P&G said it would lay off 1,600 staffers, including marketers, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. More interestingly, CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G’s ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its sales.

Read it again.

The piece de resistance in that little insight dinner you just treated yourself to isn’t the part about P&G’s $10B ad budget or that P&G is the world’s largest marketer. It isn’t even that it shrank its workforce by 1,600 (which is really unfortunate) and it isn’t even that Jim Edwards chose to characterize P&G CEO Robert McDonald’s fork in the road moment as an awakening. No, the really interesting thing in this story is this:

CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G’s ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its sales.

That’s right: Ad budgets vs. sales. The company’s $10B investment in advertising & marketing vs. return on investment measured in… wait for it: sales.

Finally. Not likes, not followers, not retweets or follows or shares.

Sales.

But hang on… we aren’t out of the woods yet.

1. Advertising vs. Sales: In search of symbiotic balance.

On a call with Wall Street analysts, Mr. McDonald illustrated the relationship between spend and revenue by explaining how P&G’s  advertising budgets are determined in relation to sales numbers:

As we’ve said historically, the 9% to 11% range [for advertising as a percentage of sales] has been what we have spent. Actually, I believe that over time, we will see the increase in the cost of advertising moderate. There are just so many different media available today and we’re quickly moving more and more of our businesses into digital. And in that space, there are lots of different avenues available.

So far so good, right? Here we find that advertising spend roughly amounts to 10% of sales revenue. This is an important point as it illustrates three important insights:

1. Advertising and sales are not independent of each other. They are in fact intimately connected. (If not, your company has a problem.)

2. The former (advertising) is meant to influence the latter (sales). We know this. That is generally advertising’s purpose.

3. There exists for every company a sweet spot in regards to the ratio of ad/marketing spend vs. the sales revenue it helps generate. Companies that measure the impact of advertising on their sales have a 100% better chance of finding it than companies that don’t.

If there’s a concrete lesson here, it is this: Not tying your advertising and marketing dollars to sales is a lot like landing a 747 with a blindfold on. Actually… it’s harder. A 747 has elaborate navigation systems and can pretty much fly and land by itself. Your business can’t really do that. So… if you think that landing a 747 blindfolded is a bad idea, not measuring the impact that your ad spend has on sales is an even worse one.

The difficulty is that with a $10B ad budget like P&G’s – that encompasses thousands of campaigns in a broad range of markets – identifying what works and what doesn’t requires some measure of diligence, accountability (and competence) from every campaign and product manager across the organization. 1,600 staffers on P&G’s payroll lost their jobs over this simple point.

Here’s the warning shot fired by Mr. McDonald across the bow of every single professional in a marketing management role today: It doesn’t take a whole lot of skill or savvy to spend a company’s money. Anyone can gamble a budget on a campaign or an ad buy and cruise by, quarter after quarter, by virtue of the fact that they generated impressions or dialed up brand mentions. It used to be that the guy with the biggest chunk of money to spend was the most powerful guy in the room. Well… that simply isn’t good enough anymore. Accountability might just have been called back to the table.

As every CEO on the planet watches and learns from P&G’s course direction this year, expect this sort of organizational adjustment to become far more commonplace. Not the laying off, mind you: The focus on real results and accountability.

One can hope.

2. Ad spend and the new media landscape.

Under Mr. McDonald’s stewardship, P&G’s ad budgets are reported to have grown by 24% in the last two years. The theory behind the increase was probably pretty simple: Spend more, sell more. And to be fair, it isn’t entirely without merit.

The same theory was put into practice this month in Florida by the Mitt Romney Campaign and its allies. In an effort to decimate his principal opponent (Newt Gingrich) in the GOP’s Florida primary, the Romney camp took no chances: According to a study by Politico, the Romney campaign and its super PAC allies outspent Gingrich by a ratio of almost 5 to 1. (Ad spend breakdown: $15.3 million for Romney and Restore Our Future vs. about $3.4 million for Gingrich and Winning Our Future.)

The result: 12,768 ads supporting Mitt Romney. Only 210 ads supporting Newt Gingrich. (Sources: USA Today; Wesleyan Media Project)

The outcome: A 14-point lead for Romney going into the Florida primary. (The 14-point lead held to the end of the contest: Romney ended up with 46% of the vote vs. Gingrich’s 32%.)

The first lesson here is this: In a world of traditional media, ad spend does matter. If you are willing to erode your margins or if you have money to burn, spend more, sell more can still work pretty well, at least in short intense bursts.

The second lesson, however is this: The world has evolved. More importantly, the media landscape has evolved. That kind of wholesale ad spend is quickly losing its appeal for the folks footing the bill. Reach can be achieved at much lower costs now. Compare traditional media buys vs. the cost of engagement via social networks, for instance and you will see a radically different set of numbers.

Another aspect of the old vs. new media discussion is that we are learning that the stickiness of a message varies from channel to channel. There is mounting evidence that content shared by trusted and like-minded peers holds more power than the exact same content simply blasted over traditional media outlets. This raises a question about the validity of “impressions” as a relevant (see neutral) unit of measure (or KPI) for campaign success, at least moving forward. Not only do impressions only measure reach (rather than consumer behavior – like actually buying stuff rather than just watching an ad), it is now clear that impressions are not created equal. The notion that an impression via a television spot bears the same weight as an impression resulting from a trusted peer sharing the same spot on Facebook, for instance finds itself on increasingly shaky ground.

Is this another nail in the coffin of traditional media measurement? Maybe. (Hopefully.) Why am I even bringing this up? You will find out in a few minutes.

Back to the main vein of our discussion: Political campaigns and the business world would do well to catch up to the times unless they want to continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) on bandwidths which may no longer provide the most bang for their buck. P&G’s Robert McDonald appears to have come to this realization.

Here he is again in the same call to Wall Street analysts:

I believe that over time, we will see the increase in the cost of advertising moderate. There are just so many different media available today and we’re quickly moving more and more of our businesses into digital. And in that space, there are lots of different avenues available.

In the digital space, with things like Facebook and Google and others, we find that the return on investment of the advertising, when properly designed, when the big idea is there, can be much more efficient.

There.

This is a radical change of perspective from a CEO who increased ad spend by 24% in just two years. Why the sudden change of heart? What happened? Three things:

1. A 24% increase in ad spend resulted in just 6% growth in sales for the same period. The numbers don’t lie: Spend more, sell more no longer works the way it used to twenty years ago. Not with the advent of the social web. Not in the new media landscape. The two year experiment was worth a shot but it failed. No sense continuing on the wrong path. As any good CEO would, Mr. McDonald looked at the facts, assessed the damage, and made a course correction. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

2. Communications channels have changed. The technologies have changed. Consumers and their expectations have changed. Search, mobile, location, social networks, community management and advertainment have pushed the old ad spend models a few feet closer to the edge of the big pit of irrelevance. Marketing has been fundamentally altered in the last few years. With a richer media mix today than ever before, and with a brand new palette of far more cost-effective (and stickier) options than traditional media, P&G finds itself in a position to adapt and explore new possibilities and models. That has to be exciting for Mr. McDonald and his team.

3. One of P&G’s experiments with new media was pretty successful already. Remember Old Spice? That was them. Mr. McDonald surely took a closer look at the little phenom and saw in it a template for a smarter, more effective hybrid model of traditional advertising, consumer engagement and potentially viral, WOM-driven advertainment. Case in point:

One example is our Old Spice campaign, where we had 1.8 billion free impressions and there are many other examples I can cite from all over the world. So while there may be pressure on advertising, particularly in the United States, for example, during the year of a presidential election, there are mitigating factors like the plethora of media available.

And here we come to another fork in the road. Remember that thing about impressions I brought up earlier? We’re getting to it.

3. Relevant success metrics vs. everything else.

We know that advertising’s purpose – at least for consumer products companies – is ultimately to drive sales.

We also know that one of the principal reasons why P&G CEO Robert McDonald is now shifting his attention (and budgets) away from traditional advertising models to a more diverse model of traditional and interactive/social types of media was brought about by the realization that more ad spend did not have the desired impact on sales.

It  stands to reason then that the principal success metric for P&G’s investment in advertising should be sales: The campaigns which most effectively drive sales win. Following the same logic, the campaigns which manage to most effectively drive sales while minimizing costs will be even bigger wins. Right?

Imagine you’re a CEO. Looking back on two key campaigns in the last year, you are asked to choose which one was most effective at selling one of your top products. Here they are:

Campaign A (Traditional advertising) – Cost: $2,000,000. Revenue: $20,000,000.

Campaign B (Social Media program) – Cost: $50,000. Revenue: $20,000,000.

Both campaigns resulted in the same volume of sales for the product but one cost 40 times less than the other. Which one was the most effective? That one. Campaign B. Same result at a fraction of the cost.

So the ultimate yard stick of success for a campaign is twofold: 1. The campaign drove (and grew) sales. 2. The campaign also minimized costs.

Now read Mr. McDonald’s words again:

One example is our Old Spice campaign, where we had 1.8 billion free impressions and there are many other examples I can cite from all over the world. So while there may be pressure on advertising, particularly in the United States, for example, during the year of a presidential election, there are mitigating factors like the plethora of media available.

Alas, when pressed to illustrate a key success metric for P&G’s Old Spice campaign, Mr. McDonald didn’t refer to increases in product sales or the relative cost of shifting a portion of his media spend to social channels. Instead, he introduced a completely different metric: Impressions.

Doh! How did this happen? How did we go from Mr. McDonald “waking up” to the connection between ad spend and sales back to “impressions?” Where did that even come from? *sigh* We were doing so well.

Let’s go over this again:

1. Impressions are an intermediate metric. They measure reach. Eyeballs, if you will. They don’t take into account kind of important things like conversions to sales, for instance.

If a campaign is clever and entertaining but ineffective at prompting consumers to buy a product, it will still be shared via social networks. It might even “go viral” and enjoy 1.8 billion impressions, likes and shares. But free or not, those 1.8 billion impressions could result in exactly $0 in net new sales.

Impressions are not transactions. Sharing content isn’t buying. It’s just sharing. Be very careful not to stop there, even on a call to Wall Street analysts. Stick to numbers that matter: Spend and sales. Close the loop. No matter how good the intermediate numbers look, remember to track the impact of your campaigns all the way to their ultimate goal: Driving sales of a product.

2. Those 1.8 billion impressions were not free. Not by a long shot. The amplification effect of social networks and viral sharing may have been free, but the campaign itself wasn’t. The strategists and creatives who designed, built and managed the campaign didn’t work for free. The actors, production staff and editors who put the spots together didn’t work for free. There were production costs involved. Digital folks wrote code and built apps and websites to make the content not only work online but spread properly to gain its initial momentum. A small army of talented and very well trained professionals made those 1.8 billion impressions possible, then nurtured that process.

Not to mention that the Old Spice campaign had major traditional media components. The campaign included ad spend for TV, print and web. The social components (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) were just one part of a greater whole. The two reinforced one another very well, but… we are a far cry from 1.8 billion “free” impressions.

Now you see how easily focusing on the wrong success metrics can lead companies astray. In three seconds flat, we were right back where we started: Instead of focusing on driving sales we shifted to driving impressions.

Note that as soon as the conversation shifted back to the old media notion that “impressions” also serve as a success metric for marketing activity, bad assumptions immediately entered the picture:

1. The assumption that 1.8 billion impressions necessarily impact sales.

2. The assumption that impressions are free because they take place on social networks.

That is how fragile business focus is these days: The introduction of just one bad metric can shift your perspective enough to send you and your media spend into the ditch in a matter of seconds. With hundreds of potential success metrics and digital statistics being thrown at decision makers all day long, it is easy to lose sight of what matters, of what works and what doesn’t.

In case you’ve lost track as well, here’s a reminder:

CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G’s ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its sales.

The article does not say CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G’s ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its likes. … or followers. … or shares. … or retweets. … or impressions.

It says sales and there’s a good reason for that.

One last illustration to bring it home: Remember our two examples from earlier?

Campaign A (Traditional advertising) – Cost: $2,000,000. Revenue: $20,000,000.

Campaign B (Social Media program 1) – Cost: $50,000. Revenue: $20,000,000.

Now let’s add a third campaign:

Campaign C (Social Media program 2) – Cost: $50,000. Impressions: 100,000,000 (estimated) Revenue: unknown.

Let me ask you something: Given the choice, which of these three campaigns would you rather be responsible for come reporting time? Which one would you feel most comfortable presenting to Mr. McDonald? Which one would you want to stake your career on?

Here’s to keeping your eye on the ball.

Cheers,

Olivier

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

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Maybe I should just republish this post every day for the next ten years (or however long it takes for content bloggers, social media “gurus” and marketing authors/speakers to get this).

With a little repetition – and surely with enough time – even the dumbest and most obtuse of them will eventually get it.

Maybe.

As annoying and curious as it was, back in 2009, when so many so-called “experts” and “gurus” couldn’t figure out how to explain, much less determine the ROI of anything relating to social media, it is inexcusable today, less than a month from 2012. We’ve talked about this topic how many times? I and others have presented on the topic in how many countries? On how many continents? For how many years now? How many times has this simple business 101 topic been explained and explained and explained? Even if somehow, some social media “experts” have managed to miss the presentations, the conversations, the podcasts, the interviews, the decks on slideshare and the blog posts, there’s a book now that spends 300 pages on the topic. At the very least, they should have heard a rumor that the “question” had been answered. Right? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

What else can we do? Take out full page ads in the New York Times? Take over Mashable for a month? Buy a banner ad on Klout’s home page? What will it take for the asshats pretending to be experts to stop talking about ROI as if it were some arcane mythical metric?

Seriously, you have to be either completely disconnected from the channels you claim to be an expert participant in, or purposely avoiding this stuff to still get it wrong. Is social media ROI to be the the clitoris of the “guru” world then? Will some so-called “experts” really live out their lives without ever finding it? If so, isn’t that a sign that perhaps they need to go try their hands at being experts in another field?

It makes you wonder about these people’s qualifications, doesn’t it? What makes them experts again? A few hundred blog posts and some keynote presentations? A “personal brand?” A lot of followers? Is that all it takes now?

Here’s a simple litmus test for you: Experts know their shit. A self-professed expert who doesn’t know his shit is just a windbag. If you don’t want to be categorized as the latter, immerse yourself in the field you aim to be an expert in. Commit to it for years and years and years. Writing a few blog posts about something doesn’t make you an expert in it, no matter how hard you want to believe it does.

Utterly ignorant nonsense: The battle-cry of new religion of digital windbags?

First, this gem from @CopyBlogger‘s CFO, Mr. Sean Jackson. (A few of my favorite quotes from that post):

“Marketing ROI has become so important that no one questions its validity, but the truth is, marketing will never produce an ROI. […]  The problem for marketing professionals is that marketing activity is not an investment. An investment is an asset that you purchase and place on your Balance Sheet. Like an office building or a computer system. It’s something you could sell later if you didn’t need it any more. Marketing is an expense, and goes on the Profit & Loss statement.”

WHAT?! Are you kidding me?!

And yet in the same interview, Mr. Jackson continues with this:

“Sales generate revenue. Marketing generates profits.”

WHAT?! Sure, it sounds pretty, but how does that work, exactly? How do you calculate profits if… Oh, never mind…

“Marketing, including social media marketing, is about efficiency. Marketing is a process of decreasing the time, money, and resources required to communicate with customers and make it easy for them to buy products and services. The more efficient your marketing is, the more profit you make. That’s what you want to optimize for. By defining marketing as a function of profits, you create a new perception within your organization about the value of marketing.”

Since Sean is a CFO, I have to assume that he knows how to calculate profit on a balance sheet. … The very balance sheet as the one on which Marketing is nothing but “an expense”?

Look, if marketing can’t produce ROI, then it can’t generate a profit. A profit is a function of ROI. Profit is the very manifestation of the expectation of ROI: You invest in something, use it, and hope it generates enough revenue to cover your investment and other operational costs, and… wait for it… turn a profit.

This is Business 101 stuff. Seriously, it is. Little kids running lemonade stands know this.

If you are going to claim that marketing is about profits, then you have to concede that marketing plays a part in cutting costs or generating revenue. Once you realize that, ROI becomes obviously relevant to marketing spend. Marketing does generate ROI, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. And yet, shit like this gets published. (Yes, shit.)

Example #2: David Meerman Scott’s piece entitled “Social Media ROI Hypocrisy.”

The post’s elegant tag-line:

“New research – published here for the first time – proves that executives who demand that Social Media ROI be calculated are hypocrites.”

Nice. Here’s more:

“It’s ridiculous that executives require marketers to calculate ROI (Return on Investment) on one form of real-time communications: Social media like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Yet they happily pay for other real-time communications devices for employees like Blackberrys, iPhones, and iPads without a proven ROI.”

And my favorite:

“My recommendation to you when faced with executives who demand that you prove social media ROI is to point out the hypocrisy by asking them to show you the ROI of their Blackberry.”

Here’s my recommendation to you: Don’t answer an executive who asks you about ROI with “what’s the ROI of your blackberry?”

Why? Because it’s rude, unprofessional, and it only serves to prove two things: 1. You’re an asshole, and 2. you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Here’s a better way: If an executive bothered to ask you a question that matters to his or her business, answer it. If you can’t, recommend someone who can. It’s the least you can do. The idea being to help the client, not show him how much of a smug smartass you are.

Speaking of questions: Either answer them or go home.

I have heard it suggested that many corporate executives use the ROI “question” as an excuse to object to social media spend. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Corporate execs have very busy schedules. Believe it or not, they don’t waste their time listening to your sales pitches knowing, before they walk into the room, that they are going to turn you down. Do you really think they sit around all day hoping someone will come in to talk to them about social media just so they can use their favorite “ROI objection” trick on them? They have companies to run. Either  produce a way to help them do that or stop wasting their time.

Here’s a double dose of reality for you: When corporate executives ask you about ROI with respect to social media, they are motivated by 2 things:

1. They want to know how social media spend will benefit them so they can justify the expense. Understanding the potential value of an investment is pretty basic business practice, and a sound one. What did you expect? A blank check and a 5-year consulting contract just because you spoke at Blogworld and your Klout score is awesome? What world do you live in?

2. They want to know if you know your shit or if you are just another windbag blogger “guru” with no business management acumen. They get pitched by two dozen bullshit social media experts per week. This is their test. Either pass it or fuck off.

Four final thoughts:

1. When business executives take the time to meet with you, reward their time investment by not being an asshole. (i.e. Not asking them about the ROI of their blackberry is a good start.) Answer their questions. That’s why you’re there in the first place.

2. If you don’t know how to answer an executive’s ROI questions, guess what: You aren’t qualified to advise them on the matter. Sorry. Admit it and carry on.

3. Whether or not you believe that ROI is a relevant topic of discussion when it comes to integrating social dynamics and platforms into a business doesn’t matter. You are mistaking a philosophical discussion with a practical one. Explain the principles first. Answer their questions. Help them get through that first phase (justification). Once the ROI question has been laid out and everyone gets it, THEN discuss with them the positive intangibles of building a more social company (see #6 below). They are testing your knowledge, not your religion. Stop evangelizing and start getting down to brass tacks.

4. If the same executives aren’t measuring the ROI of other things (like advertising campaigns, product development, websites, or even marketing in general,) show them how. It’s a hell of a lot more valuable than calling them hypocrites for not having done it until now. Be a positive agent of change, not just another smug asshole trying to weasel his way onto their payroll.

Doing something a lot teaches you how things work and don’t work. So do more. Talk less. You want to advise companies on how ROI fits into the social media world? Learn how to connect spend to outcomes (results). Once you grasp that the way a baker grasps the baking of bread, then you’ll be qualified to advise companies and other professionals on the matter. Not before. This isn’t theory. It isn’t about opinions. It’s practical everyday business knowledge. You either have it or you don’t.

Moving on…

The rest of this post won’t make you an expert, but it will at least give you the basics.

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?

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?

If you are still stuck on this, you have probably 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 likesfollowers, 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.

Having said that, you still need to understand these mechanisms in order to make good business decisions, so learn them.

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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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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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