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Posts Tagged ‘ROI’

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Why I stopped blogging:

My last post here is dated February 25th. I wish I could say that was the last time I was genuinely interested enough to write and share something pertinent with you guys about brand management or marketing strategy or social business, but that isn’t true. If you scroll back through my posts for 2013 and the second half of 2012, you will probably notice that I was already kind of losing interest in blogging for the sake of blogging. Truth is, sometimes, even someone as outspoken as me just doesn’t have anything really all that pertinent to write about on a blog like this one, and though the discipline to carry on writing “content” day after day anyway is admirable in many ways, I found the exercise pretty much mired in futility.

A friend of mine in the industry told me about a year ago that I needed to publish something on this blog at least 3-5 times per week. He was pretty adamant about it, and I suppose he should know. He has 10x the readership and the twitter followers. He has published 10x more books than I have (I only have the one), he gets paid a shit-ton more than I do to spend half as much time on stage. He’s big time. Career-wise, he is in every way my better. I should listen to him. The thing is, I don’t think that post quantity or post frequency or even an editorial calendar’s consistency really matters. Traffic to this blog remains strong even if I don’t post a single thing for months. I have so many posts here that I could probably never publish anything again and my traffic would stay consistent for the next 3+ years. More importantly, I don’t really care about pulling traffic to my blog anymore. I used to. For ego, mostly. A 12,000 visitor day was like Christmas morning to me once. I felt important and validated. I look back on that now and ask myself what the fuck I was thinking.

Oh yeah… that’s another thing. I probably shouldn’t curse here. This is a business blog. Well, so much for that rule too. I live in the real world, and in that world, people say fuck. In fact, they get pretty creative about it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least it’s honest, and there’s a lot to be said for people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

I have always prided myself on publishing quality content. As much as I hate the term “content,” I will use it here to describe what you are reading right now, if only to make a point: I stopped doing that months ago. I did. I was just going through the motions. Writing a blog post just because I am supposed to fill space robs a blog like this one of its value. Even though I never intended to shift from publishing quality blog posts to publishing “content,” it’s where I was headed. I woke up one morning and sat at my desk and realized that I was turning into just another social media asshole who publishes shit just to have something to publish. Just to get traffic to a stupid website. Just to see his name mentioned a couple hundred times in a Twitter stream and feel important and validated. That’s not who I want to be and it sure as shit isn’t why I got into blogging. I didn’t like where things were going, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I backed off and worked on other things.

Why some of my “peers” might want to back off for a few months as well:

Top 10 Ways to Create Successful Content

Why Net Promoter Score Is The New ROI

5 Strategies to Better Engage With A social Media Audience

8 Ways Klout Is Revolutionizing Business

11 Reasons Why Google Glass is the Most Important Technology in Human History

Stop. Just stop. Shut the fuck up. Really.

You want to feel important, go do something important, something that actually matters:

Help a company solve a real problem. (Selling them a product doesn’t exactly qualify.)

Help curb domestic violence in your state by even 1/10 of a percent.

Help create a digital bipartisan policy innovation exchange. (Holy shit! Using social media to depolarize discussions about real issues and even crowdsource real solutions to real problems? Shut. Up!)

Develop social business systems and protocols aimed at boosting customer retention (loyalty is a process, not just a marketing buzzword).

Do something. But for fuck’s sake, stop filling empty space with “content.”  It’s gotten so bad, even I was getting sucked into it just to keep up with this shit:

The CMO is dead. 

Digital is Dead. 

Marketing is Dead.

Advertising is Dead.

Print is Dead.

Stop. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re all just writing the same shit over and over again, and most of it is utter nonsense. There’s no value to it. Most of it isn’t even accurate, let alone helpful to anyone. Hell, it isn’t even entertaining. If any of you wrote even one of those blog posts as an email and sent it to your boss, you would probably be fired shortly thereafter for being an incompetent dumbass. So what makes a digital editor or a social media “expert” think it belongs on a blog (or worse, on major pubs’ blogs like Forbes.com or HBR.com or Money.com)?

Please, if you’re that kind of blogger/writer, back away from your computer and give some thought to what you’re about to write. Better yet, go find something relevant to write about. You’re making my brain hurt with this shit. Why are you even here? What are you doing? What value are you bringing to your industry? Stop. Go for a walk or a run or whatever, and think about what you should really be doing instead of throwing your very own personal turds at the same giant pile of turds everyone is already busy throwing their turds at. It’s big enough as it is. It’ll do just fine without your latest “contribution.”

An apology:

Even if my blog posts aren’t quite as awful as some, truth is that it’s been a while since I have contributed anything particularly intelligent or new or even special to our overall conversation. I woke up one morning and I realized I was just creating content, and it really turned me off from the whole thing. That break I just suggested, I took one. I’m not sure I’m really back yet, but I’m back today anyway, and I suppose that’s a start.

I don’t think I need to apologize for my physical absence since my last post on February 25. That was actually a good thing. What I do need to apologize for though, is my substantive absence since whenever the hell it was that I started posting “content” on this blog just to keep the wheels spinning. I let you guys down and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I got sidetracked. Burnout maybe? Caught in the momentum of a flawed trajectory… Maybe it was a bunch of little things. I’ll give it some thought and let you know if I ever figure it out.

What comes next for this blog:

Moving forward, The BrandBuilder Blog will have no set editorial calendar. Maybe I publish something every day for a week, and maybe I don’t publish anything at all for a month. It will all depend on whether I have something relevant to share or even the time to share it. If I have nothing intelligent or pertinent to say, I won’t waste your time pretending that I do. Believe it or not, I don’t have awesome advice to give every damn day of the week. Most days, I’m just like everyone else: busy, confused, and filled with far more questions than answers. I don’t need to pretend that I am an expert or a guru… and though I hope to become an expert at something someday, I sure as shit don’t ever want to be a guru. Robes aren’t a good look for me.

So anyway, stay tuned. I’ll be back with more. Thanks for your patience.

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If you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices to help you build, manage and properly measure your social media efforts against business objectives. (You can go to smroi.net and sample a free chapter.)

If English isn’t your first language, you can smROI is also available 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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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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Good news: A sizeable piece of the Social Media ROI question seems to have just been answered by tech company called Ohtootay. Here’s what they offer:

According to this story in TechCrunch, “the solution lets companies track their efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and elsewhere. But one of its more unique features in this crowded space is something which allows businesses to track their posts all the way through to website conversions, even when the original post didn’t point directly to their e-commerce site.”

This is big. And it only gets bigger.

It also goes beyond last click attribution, which has been a sticking points for all of us working to a) attribute transactions back to social activity when that activity is followed by a daisy chain of pre-transaction behaviors, and b) clearly map these paths to purchase. For instance, say that an investment in a social media program results in specific social activity that, in turn, enables discovery of a product for potential net new customers. (Lead generation.) That discovery may not trigger a purchase for days, weeks, even months. It was just the initial hand shake, the first of a succession of triggers that eventually culminated in a first transaction for that new customer. To prove ROI as it relates to social activity, you have to be able to connect all of those dots. Easier said than done, right? Most tools work backwards from the transaction to the point of origin just before the click that led them to an e-commerce site. That’s last-click attribution.

Most of the time, Google is going to get the credit for that last click attribution even though it really was just the last step in a daisy chain of purchase triggers and touch points.

Let’s look at Pinterest, for instance: Ohtootay lets companies “track Pinterest pins all the way through to website conversions and associated sales.” So far so good, right? But then there’s this: “This works even when a client shares a pin that doesn’t point to their own e-commerce site. […] What if a customer clicks on your pin that points to a relevant infographic not on your own site, later Googles you, and then decides to buy? Other analytics software will mistakenly tell social media managers that ‘Google’ caused this sale even though the customer’s first contact was through content you curated on your Pinterest boards.”

How does it do it? Well, it’s kind of simple, actually: “Ohtootay generates custom URLs (a company can use their preferred URL shortener as well), and then uses cookies to track the user. When that user arrives on the company’s e-commerce site, custom code embedded there will tell Ohtootay when a conversion actually happens.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is the exact same principle you have heard me describe for years. These guys actually built an app around it, and for that, I thank them.

A word of caution though: Ohtootay doesn’t do everything you need it to in terms of calculating the ROI of your social activity. It doesn’t necessarily track offline purchases, for instance, which is a pretty big piece of the social media ROI question. (It’s hard to connect offline and online purchases 24/7, though it is pretty easy to run tests at regular intervals.) It also doesn’t get into the cost-savings piece of ROI. But for those types of limitations, Ohtootay is a huge step forward for companies looking to a) justify their social media program spending, b) connect specific social activity to specific financial outcomes (especially digital ones), and c) understand what channels and activities are having positive effects on transactions and which ones are not.

In terms of helping companies determine the ROI of their social programs, this may be the most important tool out there yet. The price tag may be a bit of a hurdle for smaller businesses though, so an SMB version with a more appropriate price-point wouldn’t be a bad idea. (Hint. Hint.) I will definitely be giving them a shot to see what’s what. (I haven’t yet.)

Okay, that’s it for today. Go forth and kick ass. Oh, and feel free to check out some of my other blog posts over on the Tickr blog (different kind of social media solution altogether: that one is all about monitoring).

Cheers,

O.

Disclosure: I have no material connection to Ohtootay whatsoever. They aren’t a client or a partner, they haven’t reached out to me, I haven’t received as much as smile from them let alone a single shiny peso. I wrote this post purely to share with you this little find because it’s a bit of a game-changer in the context of the #smROI discussion.

*          *          *

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

Read Full Post »

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.) But that is a completely different conversation.

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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So my buddy Tyler passed this on to me over the weekend, and it stirred a little brain sauce I felt I should share with you. In the piece, Kivi Leroux shares some of the complaints she’s been receiving from some of her NFP friends about patterns of incompetence that they run into at work. Here are some examples:

[…] what I do find a little surprising is how often I will meet a program or policy director, or even an executive director, for the first time, and upon learning what I do for a living, they will say, “Ugh. Our communications director is a complete idiot.”

[…] When I probe a bit further, here are the more specific complaints I hear.

“She knows zero about what we do. She is always asking really stupid questions.”

“She edits the articles I submit for the newsletter, and she dumbs it down so much or cuts it back so far that what we are left with is factually incorrect, and therefore embarrassing.”

“She wants to know about my day, because she says she needs to tweet it. WTF?”

“It’s her job to update the website and write the newsletter. So why is she constantly bugging me to write stuff for her?”

Okay, look…yes, people can be annoying, and yes, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out how to operate in an organization they just joined, especially if some of the staff has taken a dislike to them out of principle. But in ever one of the instances mentioned in the piece, there is also obviously a leadership problem within the organization. Here’s a quick overview:

Poor hiring practices. (Why did they hire this clown?)

An absence of employee development. (How does he still not know how to do his job?)

Lousy internal communications. (Why does she never seem to know what anyone is doing?)

Zero team work or esprit de corps. (Why do those Marketing people have to be so annoying?)

An absence of clearly defined goals. (Okay, I’ve allocated our budget. Now what?)

Not a whole lot of discernible guidance or supervision. (See everything above.)

Did I miss anything?

By the way, here are some of the comments I picked up from sharing the article on Facebook so far:

6/10 times the problem is poor training, leadership, or general communication. Another 2-3/10 can be poor job fits, in which case you should have open discussions with that employee about finding a different niche in your organization, or another job. That misplaced employee might recruit and train their replacement while looking for a new job. Then there is always the 1-2 rotten egg. […]  One of the strongest determinants of employee engagement is leadership. Are you, as a leader, communicating, rather than coercing, coaching rather than criticising, taking the time to set expectations, rather than assuming they should know? – Cherie Turner

Part of the problem is that when someone does their job very well it looks easy. What’s more a lack of understanding of what any job entails means that people can think something is very simple to do in short order. — On the other hand, I’ve also seen people in various job functions who refuse to keep up with the changes in their field. Or, worse, think they are and are just trying to overlay something new on the old ways of doing things. — That said, communication only works if both sides want it to work. Contempt for the other person’s work has a way of shutting down a person’s hearing and understanding of what is being requested of them. – Brenda Young

Yeah, I was thinking before I read the post … Ummm if you’re captain of that boat and your crew are all incompetent ( or if you think they are) what does that make you? – Joseph Allen Gier

So let’s talk about leadership for a second, because incompetent employees, crap internal communications and an absence of clearly defined organizational goals don’t happen when an organization is being properly led.

A note to managers, officers, business owners and corporate executives:

If all of your employees are competent, great. Keep on focusing on ways to translate that into growing market-share, designing the best products in your industry, making your customers rave about you, or whatever other criteria your business uses to define success.

But if some of your employees no longer are competent, then you have two choices: a) Train them properly, or b) replace them with someone who is. That’s it. Those are your only two choices. There is no c) option: look the other way and hope things work out.

As a business owner or manager, part of your job is to make sure that incompetent employees (and managers) don’t become a drain on your resources and overall morale.  It is your responsibility to make sure that everyone on your staff is the best possible person for the job that you can afford. You’re in charge. So if you have people like this on your payroll, what you need to do is basically this: fix your shit.

How to fix your shit in 5 simple steps:

1. Be competent.

I know this seems really basic, but if everyone observed this rule, our economy wouldn’t be in the crapper, unemployment rates wouldn’t be what they are.  So let’s talk about it.

Competence begins and ends with you. If you’re going to be in charge of something, you need to really know your shit.  And if you don’t, you at least have to be 100% committed to getting there as quickly and thoroughly as possible. That requires a “perpetually in beta” mindset. (Great leaders tend to operate in this mode. It is one of the most conspicuous distinctions between business leaders and mere managers, by the way.) There is no getting around this. The alternative is to be an incompetent boss. How do you think that’ll work out?

Every winning organization in history has had at its head a supremely competent leader. Disney, Jobs, Ford, Chanel, Patton, Cousteau, Ferrari, Candler, Alexander, etc.  You don’t get to safely send astronauts to the moon and back by just being okay at math. You don’t get to turn a company you started in your garage to become a Fortune 500 in under 20 years by being kind of clueless about your market or industry. It just doesn’t happen.

Julius Caesar knew his shit. When he took on the conquest of Gaul (and later fought his rival Pompey for control of Rome), good old Jules wasn’t looking to sort of tell his legions to walk north, hang back and look forward to a fat payday. We’re not talking about a guy who sat around and delegated strategy to agencies, intelligence to research firms, and the fighting to cheap foreign labor. There wasn’t a damn thing he didn’t know about soldiering, about campaign logistics, about siege warfare, about politics and geography and morale. The guy lived for one purpose: to be the most capable and accomplished general on the planet. His legacy of success was so great that today, his name is synonymous with “leader.” Czar and Kaiser are variations of his last name. There’s a reason for that. (He eventually overreached and paid for that, but that’s Caesar the emperor, not Caesar the general.)

Every time I run into a manager, director, vice-president, CMO or even CEO who hasn’t bothered to remain informed about and fluent in the developments that have driven his or her field forward in the last 20, 10, 5, even 2 years, all I see is someone who has given up on being competent. I don’t care if the reason for that decision is laziness, being too busy, being distracted, or whatever the excuse happens to be. The end-result is the same: that person no longer has the appropriate set of competencies required to be effective at their jobs. Period. I’m sorry, but if you’re the least knowledgeable person in the room, you aren’t fit to lead. And if you’ve allowed your competencies to fall ten years behind the times, you need to go fix that shit because otherwise, all you are now is a liability to your organization.

Here’s something I have a difficult time understanding: for some bizarre reason, we don’t accept incompetence from brain surgeons, restaurant chefs, military officers, FEMA administrators, football coaches, and first responders, but we give business managers and corporate executives a pass. Why? Because it’s no big deal if a CEO or a CMO doesn’t know his shit? Well… actually, it matters. It matters to the 10,000 people who just got laid off because their boss just invested $150,000,000 in worthless acquisitions and ineffectual media spends. It matters to every employee of Circuit City and Blockbuster, neither of which should have gone belly-up for something as dumb as not being able to adapt to obvious market changes. It matters to all the folks at Microsoft advertising who lost their jobs this year, folks at RIM, who ten years ago thought they owned enterprise mobility, and everyone at Yahoo who is probably wondering if 3 CEOs in 12 months is a sign that they should update their CVs. It also matters to the folks at GM, the Olympic Games, the NFL and hundreds of other organizations who depend on their bosses to eventually (sometime this decade) figure out how to properly leverage Social Media and finally step into the 21st century. (It isn’t complicated, guys. Really. This is what I am talking about.)

As a leader, the success of your organization, whether it is a multinational corporation, a small team of developers or a small clothing retailer, is your responsibility. It’s a lot of pressure, I know. That’s leadership for you. It isn’t all titles, prestige and fat paychecks. Responsibility is worry that you won’t be as good as you hoped you would be. Responsibility is shame when you let your employees down. Responsibility is making sure that your organization comes before your ego, your swag and your golf swing. It means that you have to devote yourself to being the best possible leader that you can be. It demands it. That begins with being competent. Not only competent but ridiculously competent. So competent that if someone were to put you in a room with the world’s top 100 people with the exact same job as yours, you could kick all of their asses with how awesome you are at your job. You should want to be so competent that they all want to be you. If you aren’t that guy, then fix your shit and become that guy. Don’t start tomorrow or next week. Start right now. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this.

2. Surround yourself with competent people. 

We’ve already touched on this, but here are the basics:

Hire the best people possible. If you can’t convince the best people to come work for you, figure out why and then fix your shit.

If you can’t afford to hire top talent, then recruit young talent before it gets expensive. This isn’t difficult. It just takes work. You know… It really is as simple as building a network that you can leverage to identify and approach young talent for you. Be involved enough in your industry (or other industries that might breed the types of folks you want working for you) and key universities that you are constantly aware of either rising stars or kids still studying to become someone you might want to mold into an executive someday. The three rules here are these: Be there. Do your research. Invest early.

Once you’ve recruited your diamonds in the rough, train them. Develop them. Mold them. If they leave after a few years, it’s okay. People leave. So what? I guarantee that if your company becomes known as the place where top talent goes early in their careers before moving on to Apple, Nike, Disney or Ogilvy, that won’t exactly hurt your brand or your HR department. If you really want to keep those junior champions from leaving, just figure out what it is they’re walking away from, and fix. your. shit.

By the way, that training, developing and molding thing, it only happens if done by competent people. If the managers and execs doing the developing are incompetent dumbasses, all you’ll manage to accomplish is turn perfectly promissing young professionals into messes of confusion and frustration. Competence breed competence. Discipline breeds discipline. Incompetent dumbasses breed incompetent dumbasses. (It’s just science.) Shape your organization accordingly.

3. For the love of puppies, start hiring outside of your industry.

Stop hiring the same 500 fucking people. Seriously. Stop it. I know their CV looks awesome, but look… ten years ago, they were director of whatever for competitor A. Seven years ago, they were VP of Business Development for competitor B. Five years ago, they were SVP of communications for competitor C. They’re just going round and round the same circle of crap, and all you are is the next stop. If they ever had great ideas, they’re gone. They’ve been sucked out of them by your competitors already. Now, these hires are only working for you because their last boss wouldn’t give them a raise. Worse yet, they’re only working in your industry because they’re too chicken-shit to go try something else. They’ve stopped being interested in learning anything new. They’re just looking to move up in the world and use you to give their career a 6.3% annual boost. I know these people. I can smell them down the hall the moment I walk into your offices. Stop hiring your competitor’s hand-me-downs. You’re hiring yourself into a cycle of failure and you need to snap out of it.

You know what works? When a designer who spent ten years working on sailboats goes to work for a race bike manufacturer. Or when a product manager from the pet toy industry goes to work for a faucet manufacturer. That designer from Pixar you met at the Pivot Conference or FusionMEx, she’s the missing ingredient in your medical imaging group’s patient UX team. It’s at the intersection of those worlds that cool stuff happens. Where it doesn’t happen, ever, is in a conference room filled with ten guys who have worked at the same jobs for the same kinds of companies for the last 35 years. Think.

So please, cut out the industry inbreeding, and start fixing your shit once and for all by making it a habit to inject your company with fresh DNA.

4. Communicate better.

Your employees’ job isn’t to “do their job.” It’s to do their job so that the company can become… (enter answer here). You have to figure out what that blank is, and you also have to figure out how to communicate that to your employees (and customers, for that matter). Just so we’re clear, I am not talking about mission statements.

Note: nobody cares about your mission statement. The only asshole who ever did was the consultant you overpaid to help you come up with it in the first place, and he sure as shit doesn’t care about it now.

No, what I mean is your purpose. Your raison d’etre. Your actual mission, without the statement. Even if it’s just for this month or this quarter or this year, figure out what it is.

What your purpose it is not: “To establish a global leadership position in the ball-bearing polishing industry.”

What it could be: Become #1 in customer satisfaction for our industry, starting at 10:04 this morning. Consistently be 18 months ahead of our competitors in terms of product innovation. Become the most highly recommended resort destination on the French Riviera. Earn a third Michelin star this year. Make the coolest looking purses in the world. Make the most comfortable toilet seats known to man. Etc. Get it? Start there. So what’s your company about? What do you want it to be? Clarify that simple vision. Strip it down to the core. Then communicate it to everybody you know, starting with your employees.

Once your organization knows what you want (and they also know the role they are to play in getting there,) good things will start to happen. People in your org will become mission-aligned. Silo walls will start to erode bit by bit. People will start to feel like they are working towards a common goal. If someone isn’t up to speed on something, the team will naturally help them get caught up. Good shit will happen.

But if all you do is give your employees individual or departmental goals month after month after month, or worse, expect them to carry on with little more than their job description and an endless stream of vaguely connected projects, all you’ll end up with is an organization that spends all day spinning its hundreds of stupid little self-serving wheels with nothing to show for it. Your best talent will get frustrated and leave, and before long, all you’ll be left with are people who only stick around for the paycheck and the benefits. Oh what wonders will you accomplish with a building-full of those highly-motivated overachievers!

If that last paragraph sounds like a horrible plan, fix your shit and learn to communicate better.

5. Say no to excuses.

Kill excuses. All of them. Ruthlessly exterminate those little fuckers. Why? because if you don’t, failure will spread like a bad case of herpes across your entire organization and infect everyone. Before you know it, rationalizing failure every time you fall short of reaching your goals will become your corporate culture’s very own little brand of crotch rot.

Just for entertainment purposes, here are a few of the excuses I’ve actually heard in meetings these past few years:

“We already tried that. It doesn’t work.” (No, you didn’t. And it does.)

“We’ve already committed to another solution.” (Yeah. It isn’t working. Change it.)

“It’s what we’re already doing.” (No, it most certainly isn’t.)

“That isn’t my job.” (Yes it is.)

“It isn’t in my budget.” (Yes it is.)

“It’s the economy.” (No, it isn’t.)

“Our competitors can afford to spend a lot more money on that than we do.” (So what?)

“That isn’t one of our core competencies.” (Why not?)

“We’ve just hired someone to do that.” (So why isn’t it being done?)

“Actually, we thought it was a huge success.” (Really? Are you serious?)

“We’re not in the video streaming business.” (No? Are you in the “staying in business” business?)

“I don’t know. Our digital agency handles that for us.” (Are you sure they know that?)

“Our IT manager doesn’t want us to do that.” (Oh? Is he your boss?)

“Legal won’t let us.” (Legal won’t let you? What are you, six years old?)

“We can’t compete against Chinese imports on price.” (So compete on something else.)

“There’s just no demand right now.” (Really? See below.)

No demand? Okay. Tell that to luxury car manufacturers. Lexus saw a 99.7% growth in June 2012 over June 2011. Acura saw a 76.5% increase in sales for the same months. Infinity: 66.1%. BMW sold almost 22,000 cars in June 2012 alone, just shy of the number of cars sold by Mercedes-Benz in May. Tell that to Kate Spade, whose direct-to-consumer sales were up 74% last year. Tell that to Fortune’s Top performing companies for 2011.

Here are some growth stats for you, just in case you haven’t kicked your organization’s dependence on excuses in the nads yet:

Oh, but the odds are stacked against you? Unfair competition and all that? Tell me all about how the world is unfair. Please. I’m all ears. Meanwhile, companies with a fraction of your resources are well on their way to kicking your ass and eventually displacing today’s Fortune 500 companies. It might take them five years, maybe even 10 or 20, but they’re not letting that get in their way. They’re figuring it out and pressing on. What are you doing?

Start to think of excuses as tiny little ball bearings that make it easier for you to fail a little more every day. That’s what they are.Excuses give you permission to fail. You didn’t get it done this month? Let’s walk over here to the wheel of excuses and spin it. Let’s see what the reason was this time… (Does it matter?) You can’t seem to retain your top talent? Spin that wheel. Your tablet can’t compete against Apple’s? Spin it. Your TV show was reviewed poorly? Spin it. Your Facebook ads aren’t converting? Spin that shiny wheel. You aren’t happy with where your company, your marketing, your product penetration or your career is going? That really sucks. So what are you going to do about it? Truth is, you have two choices: a) spin the wheel of lame excuses again, or b) figure out what didn’t work and fix your shit.

In closing… fix your shit. No, I’m kidding. (But not really.)

There’s no cosmic force at work here. Whether your company becomes an incompetent dumbass factory (or not) is up to you. Whether your company is drowning in idiotic silos (or not) is up to you. Whether your company falls out of the Fortune 500 club (or not) is up to you. None of this is rocket science.

All you really need to do is make a decision not to settle for mediocre bullshit, and then follow that impulse all the way through: be competent, surround yourself with competent people, look for ideas outside your professional bubble, communicate better and stop accepting excuses. There’s more, but if you follow these five basic little rules, you’ll be a lot better off this time next year and then we can talk about the next five.

So this week, please, instead of perpetuating the same droning routine of meetings, emails, presentations and more meetings that haven’t really gotten you anywhere these last few years, take a step back from the quick-sand of everyday busy-work, and take concrete action to start fixing your shit.

Cheers,

Olivier

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, 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, what are you waiting for? (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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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.

*          *          *

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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I told you I would bring back this post regularly. Here it is again, until the day when everyone understands how simple this is. Okay, here we go:

If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding 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. So what is 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. doesn’t magically lose its relevance because social media “is about engagement.” 

If your business is for-profit and you are looking to use social media in any way, shape or form to help your business grow, then all of your questions regarding the R.O.I. of investing in social media activity are relevant. Any social media consultant who tells you otherwise is an idiot.

Concepts like Return on Engagement, Return on Influence, Return on Conversation are all bullshit. Nice exercises in light semantic theory, but utterly devoid of substance. First, they can’t be calculated. Second, they bring absolutely zero insight or value to your business. In fact, they pull your attention away from legitimate outcomes. Third, they are not in any way shape or form substitutes for Return on Investment.

Fact: If a social media “expert” tells you that ROI isn’t important, he (or she) is a hack. Remove them from your organization immediately.

Fact: A social media “expert” who doesn’t know how to calculate ROI properly (or teach you how to do it) might just be an expert at blogging, and not social media program management or social business integration.

Note: Integrating social media and business requires more experience than just making it look like 100,000+ “people” follow you on Twitter. Anyone can become a speaker nowadays. Anyone can publish a book and make themselves look like an expert. Unfortunately, at least 9 out of 10 social media speakers/experts/gurus/authors couldn’t effectively manage a Fortune 500 social media/business practice if you infused their brains with an extra 100 points of IQ and enrolled them in an executive MBA course. Be very careful who you hire, whose blogs you read, and whom you elect to influence your business decisions.

“Digital Influence” does not necessarily reflect competence. Always remember that. Some of the dumbest and most dishonest people in this business have enormous followings on Twitter, blogs and G+, and very high Klout scores to boot. (They spend an enormous amount of time making sure they do.) Conversely, some of the most brilliant, competent, ethical people in this business aren’t all that visible. Why? Because they are too busy doing real work to focus all of their efforts building personal brands and better mouse traps.

There are other litmus tests, but the ROI bit is a pretty solid one: A so-called expert who skirts the issue or fails a simple ROI problem/test from your CFO probably isn’t as qualified to advise you as his or her Klout score might have suggested. 😉

7. … But R.O.I. isn’t relevant to every type of activity.

Having said that, not all social media activity needs to drive ROI. As important as it may be to understand how to calculate it and why, it is equally important to know when ROI isn’t really relevant to a particular activity or objective.

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.

Knowing when and how ROI matters (or not) will a) help you avoid costly mistakes and will b) hopefully help you make smart decisions when it comes to assigning precious resources and budgets to specific social media/business programs.

*          *          *

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.

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

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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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As valuable as it may be to peel back the layers of a poorly put-together list of social business ROI examples, let’s now talk about how to do it right. Below is a quick 5-step guide in case you ever want to publish your own report or list of social business ROI examples:

1. Do your research.

This means talking directly with the company or agency involved with the campaign or program, not just bookmarking Mashable  articles and collecting a few white papers. Actually talk with the program or campaign lead. Have a discussion about what worked and what didn’t, what was done and why, etc. Obtain financial data, not just digital and marketing metrics. Without this data, you will not be able to add this campaign or program to your list.

2. Know the difference between writing a list of social business case studies and a list of social business ROI examples.

– Case studies may focus on a breadth of criteria for success or failure. Some may focus on the impact a campaign had on consumer perceptions while others may focus on customer acquisition or nipping a PR crisis or any number of things.

Case studies can focus on ROI but they don’t have to.

Case studies tend to be written in sections: Objective/problem to solve, theory, strategy/plan, tactics/execution, what happened, what we learned. The formula isn’t rigid but for a case study to be written properly, it has to actually study a case, hence the name. It has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It has to show the connection between intent and outcomes.

Case studies can’t only be about what worked. They also have to be about what didn’t work. There’s value to that as well. Report on both.

– A list of social business ROI examples focuses on just one thing: Listing social business programs or activities with quantifiable ROI.

There are three parts to a social business ROI report: An explanation of the activity’s purpose and nature, the cost of that activity, and the ultimate financial benefit to the company.

The focus here is much more specific than that of a case study.

3. Format your reporting properly. 

Here is an example of how not to format an example of social business ROI:

Electronic Arts. EA was 2nd UK brand to use promoted tweets and trends to promote FIFA 12 video game. Trend engagement level was 11%, well above Twitter’s average ‘benchmark’ for trends, of 3% to 6%. Promoted tweet engagement averaged 8.3% over two-week campaign vs. Twitter benchmark of 1.5%. (Marketing Magazine, 2011) Source: Peter Kim.

Note that in spite of the short formatting the above example does not  include any ROI data whatsoever. It focuses instead on trend engagement levels and promoted tweet engagement. This not what you want your ROI reporting to look like.

Here is an example of how to properly format an example of social business ROI:

Joe’s Pie Factory. JPF wanted to increase QoQ sales of carrot cakes by 25% by the end of Q4-2011. Leveraging its Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel and blog, JPF launched an awareness campaign for its carrot cakes at the start of Q4-2011. Total cost of campaign: $27,391 (for video production and content & community management). Outcome: A 23% boost in QoQ sales resulting in $59,782 in net new revenue. (Add link to case study in case readers want to learn more.)

Note that this example focuses on campaign objectives and includes both cost and net revenue data for the activity. These are the three ingredients needed to properly qualify an example for a social business ROI list or report. (See item 4.)

You could stop there or you could do the math for your readers:

Joe’s Pie Factory. JPF wanted to increase QoQ sales of carrot cakes by 25% by the end of Q4-2011. Leveraging its Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel and blog, JPF launched an awareness campaign for its carrot cakes at the start of Q4-2011. Total cost of campaign: $27,391 (for video production and content & community management). Outcome: A 23% boost in QoQ sales resulting in $59,782 in net new revenue. ROI of campaign: 118%. (Add link to case study in case readers want to learn more.)

4. Make sure that all of your social business ROI examples always contain these four pieces of information:

  1. A brief synopsis of the campaign or program.
  2. The cost of that program.
  3. The financial outcome of that program.
  4. A link to the case study / your source for the ROI data.

Anything other than those three pieces of information is unnecessary. Remember that you are writing a list of social business ROI examples and not a list of social business case studies.

Failure to include all four of these pieces of information will result in incomplete reporting.

5. Make sure that your documentation is in order.

Do not rely on anecdotal information to compile your list or report. Ever.

This means: do not assume that because a social business program was in place during a period of lift in sales revenue, the social media program was the cause of that lift. Don’t assume that if a digital marketing manager tells you that he knows customers responded positively to a campaign, they actually did. In fact, don’t assume anything. Back up every hypothesis and assertion with data. Disprove alternative cause-and-effect relationships where they may exist. Make sure you aren’t being sold a big fat lie.

If you cannot prove that a company’s social business program or campaign resulted in positive ROI, do not include that program or campaign in your list or report. Period.

Just to be sure, always document the source of your data so the rest of us can check it for potential errors or foul play.

Three more tips:

Don’t worry about gimmicks. If your list only gets to 23 examples, then that’s fine. Don’t try to stretch it to 25 or 75 or 101 just to have a catchy number that will score good SEO. Just stick to the facts. Everyone would much rather have 23 solid examples of social business ROI than 101 bad ones. Substance before flash. Always.

If you don’t understand how ROI and social business fit, you might not be the best person to compile and publish reports on the subject. If that’s the case, don’t feel bad. Life goes on. Publish stuff you actually understand for now. Someday, when the ROI thing isn’t such a mystery anymore, you can come back to it and give it another shot. Until then, just do yourself (and all of us a favor) and do your homework. Come prepared. Lead with what you know.

If you want to get better at this though, here is a primer on how to calculate ROI in 4 easy steps:

What you’ll need:

  • Campaign cost data and financial outcome data.
  • The ROI equation.

Here is the ROI equation in its most user-friendly format:

ROI = [(Financial outcome of program – Cost of program) ÷ Cost of program] x 100

Step 1: Calculate the financial outcome of the program – the cost of program.

Step 2: Divide that number by the cost of the program/campaign.

Step 3: Multiply that number by 100.

Step 4: Add a % at the end.

That’s it. So simple an 8-year-old at a lemonade stand can do it.

Now go forth and be a force for good and credible business reporting in the world.

Cheers,

Olivier

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In case you haven’t yet, you might want to pick up a copy of #smROI. 300 pages worth of stuff like this in there. A full pound of knowledge.

And 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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How do I write this piece without making Peter Kim hate me? I guess I’m just going to have to give it a shot and hope for the best. It’s important to remember that this post isn’t about him. It’s about a piece of content.

None of this is personal. I even think I like the guy. (We’ve never met in the real world, so I don’t know for sure.) I have a lot of respect for him and for what I think he does. (We’ve never worked together so I don’t know for sure either.) But I have to be honest, the 101 Examples of Social Media ROI list he published this week is crap seriously flawed. Here’s why: Most of these 101 “examples” don’t show ROI at all, “social” or otherwise. Either the title is wrong or the list is wrong for that title. One or the other.

Before I get into specific examples and illustrations of where I think the list fails, let me give you four basic problems I have with it as it stands today:

1. Many of the examples on it could potentially show positive ROI but – as presented – only reference selective gains from social activity and not actual, factual, empirical ROI. If that made no sense, that’s okay. Let me explain:

For something to be ROI, you need two ingredients: The cost of the activity and the gain from that activity. (That cost is the investment. The gain is either revenue or cost savings.) It’s math. Really really really simple math. ROI is an equation and it generally looks like this:

($ Gain – $ Cost) ÷ $ Cost = ROI

or

($ Revenue – $ Investment) ÷ $ Investment = ROI

(You can also multiply the result by 100 to get yourself out of the decimals, but that’s a personal choice. You can do that in your head.)

Anything that isn’t the result of the ROI equation is not ROI.

Note that a gain is just a gain,like cost is just a cost. Neither gain nor cost is ROI on its own. Ever. Not in any known universe.

Put another way, bread and ham  may individually be part of the ham sandwich equation but ham alone is not a ham sandwich. Ham is just ham. The problem we face today: This list pretty much mistakes ham for a ham sandwich. Good thing it was free or we would all be asking for a refund (or a word with the chef).

Take this example:

61. Paramount Pictures. #Super8Secret Promoted Trend created a tremendous spike in conversations: Tweets of the hashtag reached nearly nine million impressions in less than 24 hours and mentions of the movie skyrocketed to more than 150 per minute. Receipts for the sneak preview exceeded $1 million, and Paramount said weekend box office surpassed expectations by 52%. (Twitter, 2011)

Cool story, bro. What was the cost of the campaign?

Yes, this is an example of a successful use of social media (through a “promoted trend” media buy). Awesome. But where’s the bit that compares the $gain and the $cost? That would be an ROI example. This isn’t.

What’s sad is that there is probably an ROI piece hiding in the background but instead of focusing on that, the example dishes out a healthy helping of random gain data: Impressions. Mentions. Tweets. Retweets. Sales too, which is nice but no cost data… so thanks for playing but no. Without the cost piece, you don’t have an ROI example.

Your example needs to include this information or it doesn’t belong on that list:

($ Gain – $ Cost) ÷ $ Cost = ROI

Tip: If you can’t measure ROI or adequately prove it in this instance, that’s okay. Just don’t add it to a list of ROI examples.

(Speaking of proving cause & effect, let’s not forget that Super8 was a well anticipated $50M summer fare from director J.J.Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg. Not exactly a grass-roots indie phenom that would have flopped without a promoted trend on Twitter. Let’s not go crazy over the role that social media really played in opening weekend ticket sales. A little perspective goes a long way.)

More examples of this disappointing absence of actual ROI metrics later. In fact… almost the entire list suffers from this single basic flaw. But hey, at least this type of example makes the effort of including at least a portion of the data that goes into an ROI discussion. Not all examples on the list do.

2. Many of the examples on the list don’t even reference financial gain at all, let alone ROI. I list more later in the post but these will get things started:

“68% of respondents said they were “much” or “somewhat” more likely to purchase post-project.” (Subaru. 80.)

“32,000 video views, 25% regular return visits to the site, and average of almost seven minutes spent on the site per visit.” (UPS. 96.)

Community drove a +20 NPS increase.” (Sage Software. 69.)

“58% higher engagement rate than people coming in from other channels.” (TurboTax. 91.)

These are very cool little successes, great things to celebrate and be happy about, but as valuable as they may be they are not ROI. Not one part of any of those numbers even fit in the ROI discussion. At least other examples on the list make an effort to list one element of ROI: Money saved or money earned. These don’t. Sorry but that’s a little perplexing.

Here’s an example of my own to illustrate how far these examples are from ROI: I love carrot cake and when people compliment me on my impeccable taste in carrot cake, that isn’t ROI either, no matter how much of those interactions happen online.  I could call it ROI and score the number 102 spot on the list, thus:

102. Olivier Blanchard. Increased engagement with carrot cake enthusiast community by 37%. (The BrandBuilder Blog, 2012)

Except… no. It doesn’t work that way. Just because something is a success doesn’t mean it qualifies as ROI. Did my example mention that I even sold carrot cakes? Did I factor in the cost of making them or selling them online? Did I save money in any way by talking about carrot cakes with my twitter friends? Nope, I didn’t think so either.

Again, your example needs to include this information or it doesn’t belong on a list of ROI examples:

($ Gain – $ Cost) ÷ $ Cost = ROI

3. Some of the examples could have been bunched into one but legitimate examples were somehow omitted. Case in point: Cerner’s three examples (15, 16 and 17) are really one program / one example, but IKEA somehow didn’t make the list. (For more details on that particular program, click here.)  Maybe scratching Giffgaff (32.) and replacing it with IKEA would have made sense?  But okay, I’ll back off from this particular point. Lists tend to be incomplete. Someone always gets left out and sometimes you have to stretch yourself a little thin to get to the magic number. It’s no big deal.

4. Because of the source (Peter is well respected in this industry as far as I can tell), a lot of people will naturally accept this list as fact. It will become a template to be shared and passed around and referenced for the next couple of years. When marketing execs and digital agencies look for examples of ROI in social business, they will pull this thing from the Googlenets and use it as a resource for all sorts of things: Training of new social business recruits, client pitches, presentations at conferences, etc. They will do so without questioning the validity of the information they are not only ingesting but also sharing because they trust that Peter vetted the list before publishing it. That’s the unspoken contract of being a respected leader in the social business world.

Except… what if this one time, the information wasn’t properly vetted? What if much of it wasn’t even properly presented (using the right metrics, for instance)? Or what if the title is so wrong for the actual list that you end up confusing “value” with ROI for another 3 years as a result? Then what? No thanks. We can do better.

If you have 10 minutes to really get into it, read on. If not, you get the idea. (By the way, the list isn’t all bad.) Feel free to skip ahead to the end all the same. 😉

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Let’s look at a few of these examples a little more closely.

We’ll get to more obvious cases of “no, this isn’t ROI at all” a bit later. I want to start with some of the more subtle “maybe this could be ROI” examples first because a) they’re tricky and b) they illustrate pretty well some of the common traps people fall into when trying to establish ROI too quickly:

1. Aflac. Community drove online payments increase of 3% led to $95,000 in savings. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

Q: What’s the problem with this one, Olivier? It looks legit to me. What’s your deal?

A: Yes it does look legit. And it might be. But do we know anything about other activity from Aflac that might have contributed to that 3% increase in online payments?

Could a concurrent email or advertising campaign have triggered a significant portion of that shift? Could the addition of a flyer in the mail to existing customers prompting them to make online payments have been the real cause of the shift? We can’t attribute the success of “the community” until we have ruled those out. If we know for a fact that this was 100% the result of community engagement, great. Roll on. If not, we need to find out before we high-five the community management team.

Lesson #1: Assumptions are dangerous and attribution is tricky. If you are going to present an ROI example, make sure it is rock solid. Don’t assume that social business was the biggest (or sole) cause of your success.

A better way of presenting this one would have been to maybe connect the 3% lift in online payments to the $95,000 in processing costs (context here would be nice so we know how the two might be connected). Tying these metrics to a specific campaign or activity on social channels wouldn’t be a bad thing too. Connect the dots a little bit: +3% in online payments isn’t ROI unless it results in $x savings. None of it is an outcome of social business unless you also show how “the community” helped you get there.

Not saying this isn’t a potential ROI win, but as presented, we can’t know for sure. Not yet. We’ll give that a cautious MAYBE. Just watch those assumptions though.

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2. Alberta Common Wealth Credit Union. Blog, YouTube, Facebook – 2 million impressions, 2,300 new accounts, and $4 million Canadian in new deposits. (Forrester, 2008)

First, scratch the 2 million impressions bit. It’s a distracting metric and not super reliable (or even relevant to this discussion).

$4 million in new deposits sounds like a great outcome for the program though. Here are the three problems with that:

Assumptions again: How do we know that these 2,300 new accounts and resulting $4 million in new deposits were tied to the social media program (Blog, Youtube, Facebook) and not a combination of social and other factors (traditional marketing, advertising, PR, etc.). Can ACWCU realistically assign the 2,300 new accounts and $4M in net new deposits to the social media program?

If the answer is yes, great. They’re on the right track. Time to back that up. Show me how that happened.

If the answer is no, then we have a problem right off the bat. Remember that thing about assumptions.

– What about costs? What was the cost of the program? This example (and many others) don’t mention cost at all. They only mention gains. The ROI equation also factors in costs.

Here’s why this is kind of important in an “ROI examples” discussion: if the program or campaign cost $4,000,001 and the net new deposits amounted to $4,000,000, then your ROI was actually negative. Just sharing the gain from the campaign or program doesn’t give us any idea of what the ROI actually was.

Lesson #2: Don’t confuse ROI with gain. ROI is the ham sandwich, not just the ham. (Google the ROI equation, print it and tape it to your office wall. Before you tag something as ROI, make sure it fits the definition of ROI.)

– No benchmarking: What the example doesn’t tell us is what the time period for this gain was, and how the credit union normally trends for similar time periods. What if ACWCU usually sees the same amount of new accounts and deposits for the same time period even without social media? Say that ACWCU saw 2,300 new accounts for the exact same period preceding the start of their social media program? Wouldn’t that mean that the social media program might have had no impact at all? You have to factor in time frames and set up benchmarks before you can weigh gains before and after the launch of a program.

Result: As presented, we have no way of knowing if the program perpetuated a trend or brought in new business above and beyond normal performance trending.

Lesson #3: Without adequate benchmarking, your ROI “reporting” is incomplete and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

File that one under MAYBE. (As presented: An incomplete report of gain but not an example of ROI.)

Way too many of this kind of anecdotal “example” on this list to make me comfortable with it. Sorry.

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8. Blendtec. Viral videos increased company sales +700%. (Barnraisers, 2010)

That one actually does stand up to scrutiny. BlendTec’s hilarious videos (and live demos at trade shows) a) became such a hit and b) demonstrated the effectiveness of the blenders so well that orders for the blender increased almost overnight.

The reporting here is still pretty incomplete though: 700% over what time period? What else could have caused the increase? That’s a gain but not an ROI figure: What was the cost of the program vs. that 700% net gain in sales?

File that one under YES: ROI but with reservations. (As presented: another report of a successful gain but not an example of ROI.)

I really wish the legitimate ROI examples on this list actually focused on ROI instead of using disjointed metrics.

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10. Bonobos. Exclusive sale on Twitter generated 1,200% ROI in 24 hours on promoted tweet. (Twitter, 2011)

First, proceed with caution if the list is about Social Business and you are just talking about a one-time media buy on a social channel. Social business is a little more elaborate than buying the odd promoted tweet for a one-day promotion.

Second, we have absolutely no idea how that 1,200% ROI figure comes from. What is it based on? Could the figure erroneously reference a 1,200% increase in sales rather than ROI? As presented, we don’t really know. Red flag.

Third (and perhaps most important) we have no idea what the cost of that promoted tweet was in relation to the gain in net sales.

Knowing nothing about this one, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Filing it under MAYBE. (I can’t believe I am being so nice. This would never pass muster during a legitimate business audit.)

*         *         *

13. Burger King. Subservient Chicken video increased chicken sandwich sales 9% per week a month after launch. (Adweek, 2005)

Again: At a cost of…?

If the 9% increase in chicken sandwich sales amounted to less revenue than the cost of the campaign or program, then the ROI was negative. This example (like most on the list) mentions gain without factoring in cost. This is the list’s biggest problem.

Footnote: Subservient chicken wasn’t just a social media campaign. Subservient chicken was an advertising campaign with interactive digital components. This is very different from a business like Best Buy or Ford engaging with people via social channels to grow mindshare, improve the brand’s image and ultimately increase preference in the minds of x% of car buyers. When looking at this type of hybrid model of social and traditional media, you cannot legitimately talk about the ROI of “social”.

Lesson #4: When a campaign (note my choice of the term campaign and not program) is as much social marketing as it is traditional marketing, you cannot attribute its success to “social media” or even “social business.” An advertising campaign, even with social channel components is still an advertising campaign.

Effective, sure, but still just advertising.

File that one under a cautious and suspicious MAYBE. (As presented though: No ROI was actually demonstrated here. Value: yes. ROI: nope. Again.)

Let’s move further down the list.

*         *        *

Let’s leave the gray area of “maybe” for a minute and look at a few examples that don’t fall anywhere near ROI (as presented):

15. Cerner. Community resulted in 13% fewer customer support issues logged. (Jive Software, 2011)

16. Cerner. Community resulted in 70% decrease in internal HR issues logged. (Jive Software, 2011)

17. Cerner. Community resulted in shorter approval cycles for writing technical documentation, from 2-6 weeks to hours or days. (Jive Software, 2011)

19. Charles Schwab. Online community drives 56% increase in Gen X customer base versus year ago. (Communispace, 2007)

20. Cisco. Community deflects 120,000 support cases each month. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

24. Electronic Arts. EA was 2nd UK brand to use promoted tweets and trends to promote FIFA 12 video game. Trend engagement level was 11%, well above Twitter’s average ‘benchmark’ for trends, of 3% to 6%. Promoted tweet engagement averaged 8.3% over two-week campaign vs. Twitter benchmark of 1.5%. (Marketing Magazine, 2011)

25. Elsevier. Wiki drives 80% reduction in interdepartmental e-mail volume. (Socialtext, unkn)

28. FICO. Community: 850k customers served, resulting in 10% improvement in call deflections annually. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

30. FONA International. Wiki eliminated almost 50,000 e-mails a year from one specific process. (Socialtext, unkn)

32. giffgaff. 100% of questions answered by community members in average time of 93 seconds. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

34. Hershey’s. House party: 10,000 parties, reached 129,000 people, and say their campaign was seen by 7 million people. (Forrester, 2008)

35. Honda. Friending Honda campaign increased Facebook fans from 15k to 422k, generated over 3,500 dealer quote requests. (RPA, 2010)

36. HP. More than 4.6 people have told HP that the forum solved their support issues which HP says makes customer happier and saves the company millions in support costs. (Forrester, 2010)

42. Intuit Quickbooks. Business owners engaged with rated ProAdvisors 555% more often than unrated counterparts. (ratings and reviews). (Bazaarvoice, 2011)

No ROI in any of those examples whatsoever. There are more but I will let you find them all on your own.

Lesson #5: If it isn’t a $cost vs. $gain equation (or whatever currency you need it to be), it isn’t ROI. Customer base, leads, referrals, links, clicks, retweets, HR issues logged, email volume, estimates of future sales, deltas in NPS, quote requests, parties reached, impressions, engagement, etc. = not ROI.

Note: Too bad HP (36.) didn’t lead with the “saves company millions in support costs.” That looked like a legitimate ROI example. (Right company, wrong metrics to illustrate the ROI piece.) It matters that 4.6… wait. 4.6 people?

Maybe it was 4.6 million? Or 4 out of 6?

Anyway, whatever the number is, it matters but it is irrelevant to the ROI discussion. What would have been relevant would be how many millions in savings HP enjoyed as a result: The cost of implementing and managing the program vs. the $x million savings would have been a perfect way to illustrate ROI here. Missed opportunity #36 on the list so far.

Speaking of how to properly present ROI “examples,” here are a few quick tips on how to turn these examples into legitimate ROI stories:

It would have been great for the three Cerner examples to talk about actual cost reductions from the drop in customer service and HR issues, for instance, but they didn’t The metrics used had nothing to do with ROI. Financial gains (either via revenue or cost savings) were never mentioned. The cost of implementing and managing the program(s) was also never mentioned. Why? Those are far more relevant metrics than the ones presented.

Same with Elsevier: An 80% reduction in email is great but what is the impact on operational costs? That would be a potential ROI story.

Honda (35.) would have a great ROI story to tell if it could show the net number of sales from those 3,500 dealer quote requests and then scrubbed from that list every buyer who was going to buy a Honda anyway, regardless of the company’s social media activity. Presenting the example with “likes” and “dealer quotes” as the two principal KPIs (key performance indicators) instead of net sales (for example) puts the example squarely outside of a legitimate ROI discussion.

Intuit is another example of a company listed here with a legitimate ROI story to tell, but the description references a KPI that has nothing to do with ROI whatsoever. “555% more engagement resulting in net new $… versus a cost of $…” would have scored a bullseye. “555% more engagement” alone doesn’t.

Is it too much to ask for a list of ROI examples to actually use cost vs. gain numbers? As in… the actual ROI equation? Because that would be simple, clear and nice… and relevant. Instead of…

19. Charles Schwab. Online community drives 56% increase in Gen X customer base versus year ago.

… try this:

19. Charles Schwab. Online community cost: $X. 56% YoY increase in Gen X customer base attributable to online community resulted in net new revenue of $Y FY2011. ROI: $Z.

Simple. That’s how it’s done.

Perhaps there is an ROI story hiding somewhere in the background of every single example here. In fact, there probably is. But these examples, as presented, don’t talk about ROI at all. They reference non-financial gains without establishing any link whatsoever to ROI. So… Sorry, that’s a big zero on all of those.

Filing these under: NO ROI ANYWHERE (except for the vague afterthought in number 36).

My thinking: Far too many of these on this list as well.

*          *          *

Okay… I’m starting to feel bad about this so let’s look at a legitimate example on the list. #22: Dell.

22. Dell. @DellOutlet on Twitter generated $2 million direct sales, influenced $1 million addt’l (2007 – 2009). (Direct2Dell Blog, 2009)

Yes. Tweets linked to offers were tracked and a direct path of tweet-to-purchase was clearly established. Empirically.

File that one under YES: ROI. (But it would have been nice to see it as an ROI example and not as just another example of gain.)

Cost of program vs. $ in net sales from the program. Simple. Another missed opportunity to demonstrate ROI properly.

Moving on…

*         *        *

27. Epson. Reviews drove 98% higher revenue per visitor for Epson. (Bazaarvoice, 2011)

First, I have absolutely no idea how one leads to the other. How do we know that “reviews” drove higher revenue per visitor? Show me how you came up with that figure.

Second, what does that have to do with ROI? (Gain from reviews – Cost of reviews) ÷ Gain from reviews = … oh wait. What was the cost of those reviews again? #Fail. Value: Yes. Correlation between A and B: Maybe. ROI: Nope.

Sorry but I have to file this one under NO. Interesting but not ROI.

*          *          *

Dancing back into ROI territory now. (I still feel guilty about pointing out the problems with this list.)

See? It isn’t all bad.

37. IBM. developerWorks community saves $100 million annually from people who use this resource instead of contacting IBM support. (Forrester, 2010)

38. IBM. Crowd-sourcing identified 10 best incubator businesses, funded for $100 million, generatiung $100 billion in total revenue for a 10-to-1 ROI with a 44.1% gross profit margin. (Barnraisers, 2010)

Now we’re talking. ROI can come from cost savings, not just net new revenue. Well done, IBM.

Filed under YES: ROI.

*          *          *

45. Jewelry TV. Customer reviews boost mobile sales by 30% (ratings and reviews). (Bazaarvoice, 2011)

Aside from the obvious problems already encountered with previous examples, this one introduces us to a new one: The 30% boost in mobile sales. Is this 30% net new sales or simply a shift from non-mobile sales to mobile sales? Whether someone buys from a mobile device or their land line, is there really a difference? Does it have anything to do with ROI?

53. Mattel. Despite product recalls, online community helped support Q4 2007 sales increase of 6%. (Forrester, 2008)

How do we know that the online community helped support a Q4 2007  sales increase of 6%? isn’t it more likely that back in 2007, advertising, product placement and good PR might have been more responsible for that 6% increase than an online community?

Also, 6% versus what? Is this YoY or QoQ? Was it normal for Mattel to expect 6% growth in Q4 of 2007 with or without an online community?

Too many unanswered questions = too many assumptions.

Filing these and others like them under NOT SURE WHAT THAT WAS. MAYBE.

Another reason why benchmarking matters. Just throwing numbers around without establishing a context for them doesn’t really tell you anything. Data can be manipulated to tell wonderful stories when no one is there to ask hard questions like “prove it.”

*         *        *

I want to end on a positive note, so here are several examples that either have potential or are clear examples of ROI (in no particular order):

11. Bupa. Community drove £190,000 savings through collaboration, online events. (Jive Software, 2011)

100. Vistaprint. Community tracked $30,000 in social revenue in 2009. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

23. Domino’s Pizza. Foursquare drove 29% pre-tax profit through promotions. (Barnraisers, 2010)

71. SAP. Community drive 5% increase in partner sales. (Jive Software, 2011)

57. National Instruments. Community resulted in 46% of all support questions answered by peers instead of support. (Jive Software, 2011)

84. TomTom. In one month, community handled 20,000 cases resulting in $150k of savings. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

65. Precyse Technologies. $250,000 savings in crowdsourcing new product design. (InnoCentive, 2010)

92. TVG. Community members spend 36% more than average. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)

67. Rhapsody. 50% decrease in support costs and 53% decrease in weekly support contacts via sCRM solution. (GetSatisfaction, unkn)

60. Orange. Listening: saved a few million euros in support costs and helped avoid several potential PR problems. (Forrester, 2010)

75. Secret. Among women viewing the video, 57% said their impression of the Secret brand improved and purchase intent among women who participated on Facebook went up by 11% (33% for teens). Clinical sales increased 8% despite a 70% decrease in TV support. (Forrester, 2010)

85. Toshiba. Saved $213,000 by adding online component to 5 events, doubling attendance. (Jive Software, 2011)

95. University of London. Internal social network allows students to collaborate remotely, expected to deliver future savings in the region of £300,000 per year in print, courier and administration costs alone. (IBM, 2008)

While examples like Secret (75.) and SAS (71.) require you to make leaps of faith (as presented) and don’t actually give us ROI data (not just gain but relative cost of the new activity vs. traditional spend), you can see an ROI story forming in the background. It’s still vague but you can tell it’s there.

Let’s file those in the “PROBABLY ROI (if we dig a little more)” folder.

Examples like Orange (60.), Precyse Technologies (65.) and TomTom (84.), on the other hand, are cut and dry: The cost savings are empirical. You can tie the cost of the activity to the financial gain to the company.

We’ll file those in the “YES: ROI” folder.

Special mention for actually listing both gain and cost:

88. TransUnion. Estimated $2.5 million in savings in less than five months while spending about $50,000 on a social networking platform. (Socialtext, 2009)

If only all 101 had done that.

*        *       *

(If you skipped ahead, pick up the post here. You’re almost done.)

Conclusion:

If you look at the list from the perspective of “these are 101 examples of where social business has benefited or added value to a company” then it is solid. Kudos to Peter and his team. Great title, lots of value there, please share with the world. Just make sure you scratch out the title or petition Peter to change it.

If you look at the list as a collection of “101 examples of social business ROI,” then the list is almost entirely wrong. Back to the drawing board. Sorry. It doesn’t work.

I don’t want to just point out the flaws without offering Peter a way to fix it, so here are the only two options:

1. Change the title to something along the lines of “101 examples of successful Social Business campaigns”. (Remove the ROI bit from it if you aren’t actually going to focus on ROI.)

2. Include actual ROI numbers for each of the 101 examples. (Those can just be the cost and the gain from activity figures. Real simple.) Even if some of those ROI numbers turn out to be less than impressive, the list will still be factual and valuable.

Oh, and 3. Include IKEA. It deserves a nod.

*         *        *

I almost forgot…

Lesson #6: Ask the hard questions. Don’t assume that information (or insight) from anyone in any industry that touches marketing in any way is accurate. Not even mine. Put everything through your own stink test. Use your noggin’. Challenge everything that raises a red flag. Learn the definition of business terms too. They matter. Worth keeping in mind next time a list like this pops up (and there will be more like it).

Or your could just Google “R.O.I. calculation” for crying outloud. Every kid with a lemonade stand grasps that math. Why can’t social media gurus? It boggles the mind.

Cheers,

Olivier

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

PS: Everything in this book could also be dead wrong. It could all be pure BS. Scrutinize it as well. I’m not immune to the occasional wrong conclusion either. You never know. 😉

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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.

*          *          *

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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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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Some things actually are black and white.

A conversation with a good friend in the agency world the other day (and particularly her horrified reaction to what I shared with her) prompted me to finally write this post. If your company is working with an agency on building or managing a social media program, you probably need to read this. And if you work for an agency that works with social media, you definitely need to read this.

Here’s the skinny: I work with agencies around the world, and more importantly, I have friends in a lot of places, both on the brand side and the agency side. Every chance we get, we talk shop. When someone does something cool, we talk about it. When someone does something not so cool, we talk about it too. And when we start noticing things that bother us, especially when those things touch on ethics, we most certainly talk about it. Over the last few months, one conversation has dominated all others, and it is this: The existence of two prevailing agency models when it comes to building and managing social media programs for clients. One is primarily client-focused and good, and the other… well, not so much. And yet, the latter seems to be gaining traction in the agency world, and that isn’t good.

Here is what these two models look like:

Model #1: The proper, working model.

In this model, the agency identifies the client’s business objectives and uses its capabilities to support them. Note that in this model, the agency doesn’t simply pitch a campaign or provide a cookie-cutter service. It identifies the client’s goals. It clarifies them, even, if not for themselves, for the client (as this is sometimes needed).

For example, if the client comes into a meeting and says “we need a social media program” or “we want 100,000 new Twitter followers by Christmas,” the agency doesn’t simply nod and set to work building a social media program or acquiring 100,000 new followers. What it does first is dig a little deeper: It finds out why the client wants a social media program or why 100,000 new twitter followers is a significant number for them. It finds out what the social media program is there to accomplish. Is it to attract new customers? Is it to capture more relevant data from existing customers? Is it to improve conversion rates or facilitate positive word-of-mouth? Is it to build the foundations of a consumer insights program? Is it merely to monitor brand mentions for a while, until the executive team has a better idea what they want to do?

Whatever the client’s ultimate goal (or series of goals) is, that becomes the basis for the program or campaign. That complex of end goals becomes the driving force behind the ideas, the mechanisms and the activities that will become the core of the pitch.

Why? Because a social media program that blends customer acquisition and increased buy-rate with facilitating WOM and activating hobbyist communities looks VERY different from a social media program whose objective is merely to “build and fill.” (The self-serving process by which an empty space is built only to be filled by a budget.)

What comes out of this type of model is a social media program that blends into a client’s overall business ecosystem. It deliberately supports its marketing efforts, its PR efforts, its customer service efforts, its sales efforts, and so on. Success is measured not only in social media metrics (net new likes/fans/subscribers/followers, net mentions, sentiment deltas and estimated advertising value) but in business-relevant metrics as well: Net new customers, Net growth in sales, increased buy-rates, net positive customer recommendations, improvements in loyalty metrics, increased market share, faster customer service ticket resolutions, improvements in PR crisis resolution, greater operational efficiency in x, etc.

In this model, the agency works with the client as an integrated partner, not just an outsourced service provider, and the results are concrete. In fact, the question of R.O.I. pretty much answers itself. It is never in question. Whether in a support role or a leadership role, the agency and the client act in tandem from start to finish.

This is the proper model for agency involvement in Social Media with a client. The ideal model, if you will.

Model #2 : The improper, unethical model.

In spite of the amazing breadth of potential for agencies in the social media space in terms of impact, revenues and success, many unfortunately choose to just cut corners and go for the fast, easy money. In this model, an agency knowingly sells what essentially amounts to bullshit to unsuspecting clients.

Let me give you two examples:

1. “We need to be in social media.”

Client comes to agency thinking they need a social media program. Their competitors all have one now, and after years of resisting, it looks like they are just going to have to get into that social media “business.” They don’t know much and they don’t know what they want, so they are relying on the agency to provide them with whatever help they need.

What the agency comes up with is a package that includes the development of an official Facebook page, several customized Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, some internal training, and a content package to go along with it all. If the client has the funds, some campaigns will be thrown into the fray, maybe a contest or two.

Enter the “win an iPad 2 for liking our new Facebook page or following us on Twitter” discussions.

Enter the 5 tweets per day and 3 Facebook updates per day content packages.

In this model, nothing actually happens that directly impacts the business. Nothing is done to support a particular business objective or outcome. The model is simply this: To create billable social media “activity,” bill the client, and generate metrics that seem to indicate that the social media activity is a success. (We will come back to that in a minute.)

What the client ends up with is noise. Ask the client about his social media program, and he will proudly tell you how wonderful it is. Ask him what it is doing for his company, however, and the answers begin to sound less concrete. “Well, we’re attracting a lot of comments and likes. Like, 30 or 40 per week now.”

Yeah? That’s wonderful. But what is it doing for your business?

2. “We need 100,000 followers asap.”

Client comes to agency with an urgent need to grow its social media reach from 7,359 likes/fans or followers to 100,000 by Christmas. Why? Could be anything: Because the CEO said so. Because their closest competitor is there already and it’s embarrassing to be that far behind. Because the digital manager just came back from a conference during which a social media guru told them that 100,000 followers was a minimum benchmark for a brand.

What the agency comes up with is a simple package based on “the value of a fan” or “the value of a follower.” From this subjective metric, the agency quotes the client on a price: “We can get you your 100,000 followers before Christmas, but it will cost $x.” Negotiations ensue. A price is agreed upon.  The agency throws in a little hat trick: “If we get you to 120,000 followers by Christmas, how about a 5% bonus?”  The answer: No, but if you get us to 100,000 by December 1st, you’ll have your extra 5%.

This is a real situation, by the way. A real conversation.

From the client’s perspective, this is an awesome deal:

1. Internally, nothing is required except signing checks, signing off on activity, and keeping track of the agency’s progress. If the agency fails, no one is really to blame internally. The agency can be fired and replaced. But if they succeed, there will be enough glory to go around.

2. It would cost 5x more to reach potential customers in more traditional ways, even email. Social media really is cheaper!

3. We have a social media program! How cool is that?!

4. The client thinks it could have never gotten 100,000 followers on his own by Christmas. God bless that agency and its amazing social media savoir-faire!

From the agency’s perspective, this is an even better deal:

1. The client hasn’t figured out that social media activity is there to support business objectives. He is so focused on hitting that follower goal that nothing else really matters. All the agency will be goaled on is its ability to reach that number by Christmas December 1st. Nothing else matters. Not conversions, not positive WOM, not FRY, nothing. Just get those 100,000 followers.

2. The client is clueless about social media, and there is no reason to change that. The less they know, the more they rely on the agency to deal with their needs. This is very good for the agency, as we will see in a moment.

3. The agency, like an increasing number of its “competitors” around the world, has been recently and repeatedly pitched by companies out of China, India, South America and Eastern Europe that offer followers, fans, likes, clicks and other digital traffic à la carte. It can, like any other agency with the funding to do it, pay for all the new followers and fans it wants. You can buy all the positive mentions you want too.

Let me explain how this works: Money changes hands. Somewhere in a country where the client has no business presence, 25,000 people either create accounts or use existing ones via proxies and simply click “like” or “subscribe” or “follow.” These people will NEVER become customers, but to the client who doesn’t know, they have just become his 25,000 new followers on Twitter.

The only two details for the agency to worry about at that point are a) making sure to cover their tracks, and b) figure out the optimal markup.

This, boys and girls, is how it’s done, and we aren’t just talking about small fly-by-night outfits. Think bigger. Much bigger. And it doesn’t stop there.

4. The agency doesn’t need to have experienced professionals on their social media integration/management team anymore. Why waste money on that when you can just buy fans and followers?

Agencies opting for this model have two options:

A) Hire someone with an influential blog on Social media and put them on staff as a sort of social media mantle piece. These folks will be there to woo the client and help pitch them. They’ll charm them and do some internal trainings for them. They’ll create content for the agency blog, put a face to the agency’s social media capabilities, speak at events (always pitching the agency’s “case studies,” of course), and serve as a “thought leader” but will never actually work on building anything for clients.

B) Hire or promote someone with zero experience in social media integration and build them up as “experts” anyway. Any intern will do, but someone with a few years of experience in any “digital” field will look better. If you’ve ever wondered how some of these people you have never heard of become “experts” almost overnight, wonder no more.

Think about it: Why bother staffing up with expensive talent when you can just buy your followers and fans? The page builds can be outsourced to developers. The content can be outsourced to any number of content farms. The structure is already in place. If the agency is already working on a campaign, its content can be easily adapted to social media channels. (Add revenue line items here, here, and here.)

5. Once the followers have been purchased and the campaign or program seems to be gaining traction, start beating your own drum. Convince the client that their success could make a great case study, then build it up. In a few months, wouldn’t it be great to present at conferences around the world how “engagement” and “content” took Brand A from 7,000 followers to 100,000 in just a few months? Oh, the white papers. Oh the slide decks. Oh the positive press in Mashable and ZDnet. Oh the blog posts. Oh the awards.

Get on the phone with the PR team pronto.

Meanwhile, those 100,000 followers provide nothing for the business. Sure, it looks good when people check out the account’s profile page. It looks like the company and its agency are doing something right. The stats are easy to graph too. Empirical data, right? Is anyone ever going to go back and check where all of those “fans” came from?

Unfortunately, that number is a smoke screen. The vast majority of those followers will never become customers. They will never recommend the company (unless paid to do so). They’re paid extras, pretending to like your company, nothing more. Chances are, they had never heard of it before an email notification with a Paypal link told them to.

Meanwhile, the agency looks like a superstar. In the next few months, other brands will visit them and these words will fill their conference room time and time again:

“Can you do for us what you did for [Brand A]?”

The answer will always be yes.

6. Do not pass Go. Collect that 5% bonus for spending the client’s money faster than the original timetable called for.

In this type of model, KPIs (key performance indicators) will tend to focus on digital measurement only:

Net new follows.

Net new likes.

Net new subscribers.

Net new & volume of mentions.

Click-throughs.

EAV/EMV (Estimated Advertising/Media Value)

Reports will include fascinating graphs measuring “engagement” and “social equity.” Middle-managers will have exciting (albeit somewhat complicated) reports to present to their bosses that clearly indicate that the agency is kicking ass, doing its job, earning its pay. And yet, nothing concrete will come out of it. No actual new customers. No increases in loyalty. No preparedness for the next PR crisis. No improvements anywhere, except for all that “activity” in social media, except for all that noise.

I’ve been in the room when deals like this were discussed. I’ve had drinks with agency professionals who confirmed, disgusted, that it was becoming standard operating procedures at their firms. I’ve worked with clients who had no idea the extent to which they had been screwed by their own agencies in precisely this manner until they started digging under the surface of easy “social” metrics and “R.O.I. is not really applicable to social business” discussions.

This is happening in your market right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or Paris, Atlanta or Brussels, San Francisco or Hong Kong. This model is gaining traction because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it generates revenue and accolades for agencies, and the clients don’t know enough to make a stink. (Not that making their disappointment public would be to their advantage anyway.)

Where your choices lead:

Fortunately, because the second model is now so widespread, it won’t remain a dirty little secret much longer. Before long, clients will start figuring it out, other witnesses to it will start talking about it, and the agencies they work(ed) for will be exposed. Careers will be tossed down the proverbial drain, and the higher the pay grade, the harder the fall. Don’t kid yourselves: It is as inevitable as the fall of Enron.

Take a step back and ask yourself: What will clients do when they find out? How many new clients will these agencies attract once the curtain falls away? Who will want to go work for that kind of organization? What kind of professional will they attract (and more importantly, retain)? What future can this sort of organization really hope for?

To use a cycling analogy, do you really want to be remembered as the guy who won the Tour de France only to be stripped of the honor for blood doping a year later?

Cheating to win sucks. Cheating to get paid or to get ahead sucks. And no one gets away with it. No one. Not anymore. What side of the ax do you want to be on when it finally falls? That’s your call.

The agencies who opt for real results, on the other hand, who truly want to be the best in the business, whose relationship with clients is not predatory or parasitic, will stand out and attract solid talent, the people with insights and ideas and the ability to win and help them grow. Their success in recruiting the best talent in the world and use it properly will get around. This will gradually score them bigger clients. Meanwhile, the idiots who ripped off their clients with purchased “success” will just vanish from the scene altogether.

I know this because Tyler knows this. And also because I also know that reputation is everything. People talk. People always talk. And they always remember too.

As I begin to transition from being just an independent consultant (where my impact is often far too limited for my taste) to joining a larger organization (where I will be able to do a lot more), I realize how difficult the next few months will be. Sorting through potential new ‘homes’ for me won’t be as easy as just agreeing on a figure anymore. Now I have this stuff to deal with too, and the big famous name on the door doesn’t mean what it used to back in the day. As sad as that is, it’s the sad reality of where the marketing world stands in 2011. The vetting process on my end will have to be more thorough than it ever has been, adding a whole new layer of scrutiny in my search for #thenextgig.

This should be interesting.

PS: If you are an agency that falls into the first category (the proper model), let’s talk. If you fall into the second, let’s not.

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If you haven’t already, learn how to properly build, manage and measure social media programs at your own pace. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization will help you avoid common pitfalls of  most bogus social media program pitches and help you develop your own business-focused framework instead. Think of it as a 300-page blueprint for anyone looking to build a proper social media program. Download a free chapter here and find out for yourself if it is worth the paper it is printed on. You can also check it out on amazon.com or pick it up at just about any bookstore.

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I didn’t realize it until this week, but there still seems to be some confusion about Social CRM in certain business circles. Let’s fix that right now.

(Before you get too excited, Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization won’t be followed by Social CRM: The Complete Guide to the Obvious. We can take care of this right here and without the need for another 299 pages of examples and how-tos.)

This is how the discussion started: Neville Hobson (@jangles on Twitter) asked Edelman Digital’s Chuck Hemann (@chuckhemann) and I what we thought of Esteban Kolsky’s (@ekolsky) definition of Social CRM yesterday. The definition, as it appears below, comes from this piece on Neville’s blog, dated 9 May 2011, following Luke Brynley-Jones‘ Social CRM 2011 event in London:

[…] The closest best definition on the day came from  Esteban Kolsky in his presentation on “Three Reasons You Will Do Social CRM”:

[Social] CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.

It’s a start. A good start, even, but while I don’t disagree with the definition completely (and here I must apologize to Esteban for what follows), it misses the mark twice:

First, CRM is neither a philosophy nor a business strategy, but a business function. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. (Emphasis on management: A function.) So before we do anything else, the definition should be changed to this:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.

Second, the definition is far too vague about what the system and technology actually do. And because it is vague and doesn’t actually provide a clear explanation of what the technology does, it fails as a definition. We have to go a little further if we want to make it work.

Let’s begin with the last part and maybe we can find a way to whip it into something more helpful: “Designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.” What does that mean? The telephone is designed to improve human interactions in a business environment. So are email and memos. Faxes, IMs, SMS, blogs, video-conferencing and high tech conference rooms and work spaces all perform the same function. What differentiates SCRM from any other collaboration tool? is it even a collaboration tool?

You see how already, something crucial is missing.

If we want to look at the definition of SCRM in the context of company-customer relations, then we must include that element in the definition. Let’s see what that looks like:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers in a business environment.

Okay, that’s a little better. But we still aren’t there. We’ve established that CRM is a business function. We don’t need the final four words of the definition. In fact, they are incorrect as the expansion of CRM into the social space blurs the line between business environments and non-business environments. Our definition now becomes:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers.

Now we are getting somewhere. The definition is far less vague than it was before. We are starting to see what the aim of CRM is… but it still isn’t entirely clear, is it. What kinds of human interactions are we talking about? Is SCRM a customer service tool? A technical support tool? A marketing tool? What sets it apart from communications tools, which also improve human interactions between companies and customers?

We need to dig deeper.

Let’s start with the obvious: What is the difference between CRM and SCRM?

CRM collects data on consumers so that customer service reps and salespeople can look up their purchase history, billing history, complaint history, and any other information pertaining to their interactions with your company. It allows you to serve them better when they call with a question or problem, and it also allows you to better target them when the marketing department cranks up the budget furnaces. That’s what CRM does. It focuses on what consumers do with your company and allows you to use that information.

Social CRM (SCRM) aims to bring a whole new data set to traditional CRM by linking customers’ social data to their transaction data. What does that mean? Well, it means is that in addition to what traditional CRM tells you about these customers, SCRM also adds what they do outside of their relationship with your company: Where they go, what they like, what they share, what they search for, what they talk about, etc. by collecting that data from social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, Foursquare and many more.

Fig.1: CRM view

Fig.2: SCRM view

Social CRM takes traditionalCRM and injects it with what can be best described as lifestyle data, human data, broader cultural and behavioral data. You are no longer limited to observing your customers in a controlled environment. You can now observe them in their natural habitat and understand him better.

It also gives you insights into whether or not specific customers talk positively or negatively about you, or not at all. It allows you to map their connections and affiliations. It allows you to understand their beliefs and behaviors better. It gives context to what they do in the tiny narrow bandwidth in which you interact with them as a business. It pulls back the curtain on what makes customers tick.

What SCRM promises to do is combine customers’ transaction data (what you already had access to through your traditional CRM system) with their social/lifestyle data (which they publish to the social web). Imagine the depth of insights this will yield.

So let’s come back to our definition problem. We left things at:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers.

We need to add what we just talked about:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers by connecting customers transaction data with the lifestyle data they share online.

The “improve human interactions” piece seems redundant now. The “technology” piece might also be too complex now to rely on just one. Let’s try that again:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and technologies whose aims are to improve a company’s ability to derive insights into customer needs and behaviors by connecting their transaction data with the lifestyle data they share online.

Note that the term “transaction” here meaning more than purchases. It encompasses all interactions with the company. An email is a transaction. An order is a transaction. A customer service call is a transaction.

Depending on how well you understand the world of CRM, here is a variation of the definition:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and technologies whose aims are to improve a company’s ability to derive insights into customer needs and behaviors by adding to their transaction data the lifestyle data they share online.

Are these last two ideal definitions of SCRM? I don’t know. You tell me. All I can hope is that these two versions of the definition – still works in progress – move the ball forward a little bit, at least for now.

My other hope is that by 2013, the term SCRM becomes obsolete, and CRM has simply evolved into the richer ecosystem of data, insights and consumer interactions provided by the social web. In my mind, the sooner we stop qualifying everything in terms of “social” or not social (as if the two were still somehow separate from one another), the better things will work. For now though, the painful transition continues. Viva la revolución!

A huge thanks to Esteban Kolsky for getting things started, and for letting me rudely snatch the baton from his hand (you’re a good sport, Esteban) and to Neville Hobson and Chuck Hemann for getting the conversation started earlier this week on the Twitternets. Their wonderful blogs, respectively, are here, here, and here.

Additional reading – This short and brilliant bit from Eric Swain: http://www.social-collective.com/2010/08/10/guest-post-social-media-is-dead-long-live-social-crm/

The comment section is now yours.

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 If you haven’t already, pick up your copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson) at quality bookstores worldwide, or download the e-version to your favorite device. Don’t let the title fool you, it is a lot more about building social media programs for companies than it is about measuring ROI. Check out the reviews on 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…

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, however, is that the question cannot be answered as asked. Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. It 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?

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?

In fact, to ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. For example: What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011? That’s a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media.

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 “formulae” 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)

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.

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

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.

If you want to measure this 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 activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes incidental.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model to determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, put together an amalgam of ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving it, and each particular type of activity within its scope. Can measuring all of that be complex? Yes. Can 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 in this domain. 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.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Not all social media activity needs 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.

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” 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: the manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective, and the degree to which specific social media activity helped drive it. 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 handy framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs. Check it out at www.smroi.net.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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Between the video and this link, you will have all the information you need. (Oh, and please excuse the outtakes. After 120+ takes, I decided to leave a few of the “distracting” moments in there. It was either that or losing my sanity. Cheers.)

The skinny:

June 30 is Social Media Day. Events celebrating this most auspicious date are taking place around the world. One of the biggest (I am told it is the second biggest, after NYC) takes place in Antwerp, Belgium. This year’s edition is a two-part event:

1. A half day social media management workshop.

2. A very large party following the workshop.

You can register for the workshop, the party, or both.

To make things interesting, the workshop is broken down into 5x 45-minute sessions, each separated by a 15 minute break. Session 1 is an executive briefing on strategy and integration. Session 2 will focus on Social Media and the new Marketing mix. We will talk about amplifying reach and stickiness, and blending social media with other marketing activities. Session 3 will focus on digital reputation management, real-time crisis management, and monitoring with purpose. Session 4 will focus on measurement. In this session, we will cover financial aspects of performance measurement for social media (ROI) as well as non-financial metrics, and then bring the two together. Session 5 will be an open forum. That’s right, a whole hour of live Q&A. So bring your questions, because I don’t do this very often.

For the full program, click here.

To skip the info and register right away, click here.

Man, these prices are RIDICULOUSY low.  I have no idea how they managed that.

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