There is No ROI in Social Media

Ray van Hilst Avatar

There’s no “R” in the words “Social Media” but there’s definitely an “I” because it requires an investment.  However that’s just a play on words and an attempt to be cute (which it isn’t).

Part of last week’s TMA Resources webinar “This is Now, but What’s Next? A Discussion on Social Media” devolved into the usual ROI banter.

During the webinar, I made the point on Twitter that “Social Media is not a short term campaign. It’s a long term strategy with long term results.” And that’s the point many miss.

Social Media is a channel and should be viewed as an overarching business/operations tool.  As such, Social Media doesn’t have ROI.  It delivers no more ROI than your accounting or email software does sitting unused on your server.  It’s what you DO with it that delivers ROI.

Let’s take e-mail as an example since that can be a direct call to action medium.

Assume you’ve purchased email software – Constant Contact, Silverpop, Lyris or Mailchimp.  You’ve “Invested” time in setting it up and importing lists.

Then you send out your first newsletter because you want to keep members informed.  And since you have a conference coming up, you include an ad for that conference with a registration link.  Then a week later you send a direct response email that early registration is ending with another registration link.  And because you also have great creative and a really clean member and prospect list you sell out! (Don’t we wish it was that easy?)

So e-mail delivers a great ROI, right?  WRONG!!

E-mail was the channel.  The CAMPAIGNS were the ad in the newsletter and the individual email you sent.  You can measure and track response of those individual actions.  Then you roll it up to say “our e-mail CAMPAIGNS generated an ROI of X”.

However, you can’t say “E-mail generates the ROI”.

What about the emails sent announcing the new board president or an operational announcement that the offices are closed for the holiday?  Those have no call to action and therefore don’t have a “Return” to measure.  So are you diluting your “ROI” by including those in with the rest of the e-Mails?

Again, it’s about the Campaign.  Not the Channel.

So why is Social Media treated differently?  We constantly hear “what’s the ROI of social media?”  My response is that by itself, social media has no ROI.  It’s what you do with it.

In Open Leadership, Charline Li comments, “This emphasis on ROI is like asking what the value of a deeper, closer relationship is.”

As association people, we know what that deeper relationship is worth.  An engaged member is more likely to renew.  A recognized and honored member is more likely to step up and become your next generation leader.  An unengaged member who don’t see value moves on and don’t renew their membership.

Yes, there are innovators who have delivered great revenue through social media.  We love stories like Dell Outlet selling millions of dollars of computers through a twitter account and as an organization selling a product or service we want a piece of that.

But associations have a higher calling than shilling products.  They serve a community with common interests and work toward common goals.  ROI is measured in terms of engagement, advocacy, or professional advancement.  (Yes, they sell products, but that’s to advance the overall mission).

So next time you are asked “What’s the ROI of social media at your organization?”, ask “What campaigns for which products/conferences/services are we doing and what results are we expecting from those campaigns?”

If that can’t be articulated, you shouldn’t even be having an “ROI of Social Media” discussion.

One response

  1. Amanda Eyer

    Thank you for sharing! ROI gets thrown around because people want to approach social media with a plan and this line of talk is one way people use to try to get there. We don’t want to put resources toward something without a plan for the payoff. But, would agree that engagement (which is hard to measure in dollars vs. interactions) is the real “payoff” in any relationship. Would I talk about you in my inner circle? Would you like what I say? Am I compelled to visit with you? Would I introduce you to my closest friends? Love the points you’ve made.

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