5 Ways For PR Pros to Gauge Social Media ROI

David Patton

David Patton

When we talk about the return on investment for social media, PR executives and their marketing counterparts are grappling with the same question: “Is the time I spend listening, responding and posting worth the time I put into it? And how do I prove that to my boss or my client?”
Social media channels have some clear advantages in reaching the audiences that brands and organizations care about, including:
  • Direct communication with audiences
  • Instant feedback from customers or consumers
  • Information and data on what people are talking about

Because social media is an emerging technology many marketing and PR pros aren’t immersed in the outcomes and metrics of the channels. That means education is needed to overcome suspicion about using social media instead of—or in addition to—traditional channels. PR folks can take five steps to help articulate the value of social media to C-level managers.

Get steeped in metrics:

Social media channels throw off tremendous amounts of data such as retweets, likes, referrals, shares, pins, follows, favorites and comments. The first time someone looks at this information, it is overwhelming. The key is to look again tomorrow. And the day after that, and then several times a day, until it is possible to see the correlations, patterns and the trends that emerge.

Similar to driving, a dashboard can pull together the data from social media properties to make it easier to see everything happening. Some correlations will be obvious. For example, posting more content typically leads to more engagement or increases the number of followers.

Go beyond the raw numbers:

After getting comfortable with the data the next step is to dig deeper into social media audiences. The “information to intelligence” phase is critical. Do some detective work to understand the people who are following or engaging with your social channels. What other topics or brands are they posting about or following? What are they doing with social and digital content?

How many are influential about the organization’s fundamental topics? Many free and paid tools allow organizations to analyze their social-media audiences and to understand share of voice or sentiment. These insights go beyond the activity metrics and can set benchmarks to help drive more effective social strategies.

Be transparent:

Anyone claiming to be social-media expert likely has five (or fewer) years of experience in the medium. Compare that with traditional communications disciplines, such as media relations or print advertising, with decades of best practices to lean on and thousands of experts.

It’s key to remind skeptical executives or managers that few brands or organizations have “figured out” social and that it will take time, ingenuity and flexibility to find success.

Question past assumptions:

The rise of social media has thrown many traditional business models into turmoil, particularly in the media world. It has also sparked questions about the efficacy of traditional forms of communication.

Did a press release or article that took weeks to develop reach the right audience members, and did they pay attention and eventually take the desired action?

Focus on potential:

For an executive, the idea that social media channels can drive sales or business leads in a more efficient and measurable fashion than traditional marketing and communications methods is an appealing promise. That is why brands such as Procter & Gamble and Salesforce.com are pushing deeper into social media. For them, social media is replacing their traditional efforts instead of supplementing them.

PR professionals must get comfortable with the fact that social media will be something they are spending more time on while spending less time on traditional strategies and tactics. And using these steps, they can explain the value of that time on social media to skeptical executives and managers.

Ultimately, it’s not that everyone needs to strive to be a digital communications professional; instead, it’s that everyone needs to be a communications professional in the digital age. PRN


David Patton is editor-in-chief at Waggener Edstrom. Follow him on Twitter: @davidapatton or email him at dpatton@waggeneredstrom.com.

1 Comment


About David Patton

PR News - Access Intelligence, LLC; 88 Pine Street - 5th Floor; New York, NY 10005; 212-621-4613

Deals of the Week

Get $150 Off PR News' Measurement Conference 

Media Relations ConferenceJoin PR News at the National Press Club on Dec. 11 for the Media Relations Conference, where you'll learn how to tie your media relations initiatives to business goals, use the right metrics to prove the success of your efforts, incorporate social media in a brand crisis and more.

Use code “150” at checkout to save $150 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Crisis Management Guidebook


Crisis management is an art, not a science. In this edition of PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics, you will discover many different views on this art, and you are certain to find takeaways that will transform the way your organization handles crises. 

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription



Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.