Social Media ROI

Not a day--or, if you are on Twitter, not an hour--goes by without discussion about how social media is changing our business. Depending on whom you listen to, its impact on communications is either revolutionary or evolutionary. I happen to think about it in both ways, depending on the perspective.

From the perspective of our "buying communities"--those we are trying to influence to buy our products/services, donate to our causes, or join our communities--it is revolutionary. Individuals never have had such powerful, cheap and easy-to-use tools and services to be their own publisher, convey their experiences and get the information they need from each other.

From a communications perspective, reaching "buyers" directly for a long time has been an important communications objective. For us, it's evolutionary because we can use these same social channels and services to meet this long-standing objective.

Despite the clear benefits, many organizations still are skeptical. The prevailing perception is that social media is too new and unproven, and in the current economy, there is little appetite for anything new. The inevitable question is, "what is ROI?" In every conversation with our clients on social media, articulating how you integrate social media into your program needs to be coupled with how it will be measured.

To be equipped to do so, we need to think about measurement differently. In effect, there should be a new measurement standard, one that blends traditional PR metrics such as article counts, share of voice and message pull-through, with important new elements:

  • Traditional marketing and sales metrics like lead generation and customer satisfaction/retention;

  • Traditional interactive marketing metrics like Web traffic and share of search; and,

  • New metrics like sentiment, viral value (e.g. how coverage creates word-of-mouth on Twitter, blogs, etc.) and engagement.

This is necessary because social media is blurring the lines between PR and interactive marketing, customer service and sales. More important, it's necessary because ROI is paramount, and these blended measurements help demonstrate that to marketers and CEOs.

For more on Social Media, see the January 26, 2009 issue of PR News.

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