The Reality of Social Media ROI

Here’s the truth people seem to be dancing around: Measuring Social Media ROI is f-ing hard.

Unless you transact all of your business online, or track every sale at the register, you’re not going to get accurate ROI numbers for social media. You can ask for magic software all you want, but unless you’re ready to devote serious time and resources, no brilliant programmers are giving to give you the report you want to show your boss/investors/marketing heads.

I’m not suggesting that ROI metrics don’t exist. Of course you can measure audience engagement, fan-base growth, conversions on your website, clicks, etc. My argument is that these are just the tip of the iceberg. The real, astounding impact is the low hum that is emanating around the new breed of socially aware businesses, just under the surface of metrics.

The real return on Social Media is so much simpler. You either do it and reap the benefits of community, or you don’t and you watch your competition steal your customers.

Here are a few personal examples of social media returns from my own experiences, and I am confident these aren’t unique to me; I have seen a tweet from Zappos and visited their site to buy a few pairs of shoes. I have gone to eat at places I saw my friends frequenting via Foursquare. I have attended functions that people talked about on Facebook. I have hired people through recommendations on LinkedIn.

There’s a 99% chance none of these businesses know that my money originated through social media channels. Does that make it any less real? Shit no.

Eventually their bottom line will expose the benefits, but there are too many outside factors (the economy, the season, our fickle society) to paint an accurate picture.

There are people who bought a house through a realtor because of a blog post they read, who don’t even recall that’s how they first heard of the agent.

People have had good experiences at restaurants and shared it with thousands of their Twitter followers. They’ve never written a Yelp review in their life.

There’s a customer right now who’s thinking about changing providers, but will get exceptional customer service through social media and become a life-long customer.

This is the reality of social media ROI. We’ll get better at measuring it over time, but until then, stop waiting for the ‘hard numbers’ to get involved. Your competition is basking in the love.

Fun Fact: In February of this year, I uncovered a tweet about a new Venture fund in Chicago (where I live) while using the software that my team built. That same Venture Fund invested in my business in April. That’s millions of dollars in ROI on both sides in less than 140 characters. That’s the world we live in now.