Determining and Delivering the Ultimate ROI of Social Media

There is one thing that makes social media special — not to mention social — and, from a business perspective at least, it’s the one reason SM is worth investing in.

It comes in the form of the conversations that used to occur at the water-cooler or over the backyard fence, or in the good-old-fashioned (un-choreographed) town hall meetings. It is about give-and-take, and real-time feedback.

While one of the primary ways we evaluate marketing tools is in terms of how effectively a message is delivered, social calls for a new way of thinking about media. (Or, more accurately, it can actually help refocus our perspective on what constitutes successful communication. But that’s another discussion.) This is a new brand of media, made up of the fabric of relationship. This tool is far from one-way, one-sided or one-dimensional. It is about participation, collaboration and interaction.

Social media embraces the possibilities of shared experience.

(Note to anyone still puzzled by its popularity: this relational foundation is the reason that, while it continues to evolve, the growth of social media shows no signs of waning.)

In other words, if you’re a marketer, social media is for more than simply transmitting highly produced messages. It is tailor made to instigate dialogue, generate feedback and be integral in making an on-going brand experience accessible to customers/clients and prospects.

While this seems like good news on the surface — it is, after all, communication theory 101 — many organizational discussions about SM as part of a marketing strategy are stymied when ROI becomes the question. What is the expected return on investment, and how will it be measured?

The Ultimate ROI

To be sure, some enterprises face unique challenges around the use of social media; however, identifying ROI should not be one of those challenges. Here is the proposition: when properly used, social media delivers the ultimate return on investment. It is a return that transcends sales totals and revenue projections. These inevitably fluctuate dramatically based on multiple market realities. It trumps the fickle “satisfied customer,” vulnerable to a better price or greater convenience.

The ultimate ROI on a marketing investment is Loyalty.

Loyalty is not built over the span of a thirteen-week communication blitz. Or a state-of-the-art web presence. It is not the byproduct of any strategy employed to deliver a single message. Certainly, all of these tools can play a part; but loyalty implies relationship, and it is born of experience. Or, more accurately, loyalty is the product of a series of experiences.

Create the kind of experiences with your brand that engender loyalty, and it will change the way you (and the entire C-Suite) think about and measure ROI. In this context, return becomes exponential. Loyalty not only endures; it instigates whole new conversations in the marketplace — and these new conversations have potential far beyond any marketing message you might create. (Think word-of-mouth on steroids.)

While certainly not a silver bullet for every marketing effort, when it comes to facilitating an on-going experience with an eye on loyalty, social media affords something few other options can: proximity, presence and unfiltered feedback.

(As an aside…is it conceivable that the very thing that makes social media a dynamic force — authentic, unfiltered feedback from the market we target — actually strikes fear into the heart of some companies?)

Certainly, specific executables will vary, but the framework for a social strategy designed to facilitate shared experiences and build loyalty will invest in a three-pronged strategy. Focus on doing these three things well, and you’re on your way to relationships that endure.

  • Intentional Listening
  • Generation of Unfiltered Feedback
  • Instigation of Collaborative Conversations

First Step — Leave Your Ears On

It has been said, but bears repeating — communication at its best is at least as much about listening as message delivery. In fact, without a robust listening component baked into the strategy, even the most articulate message does little to engender loyalty.

So how is this for fodder: successful social media marketing does not focus on message delivery; it focuses and builds on listening to the voice of the marketplace

For many this is not easy. But the truth is that social media is a great gift to every marketer willing to listen. For perhaps the first time in the mass media age, we have a tool that is collaborative and experiential at its core. We have constant and easy access to the voice of our markets.

If we will listen, our clients, customers, prospects and targets will tell us of the experiences they most cherish, and exactly what is required to win their loyalty.

Now that is ROI!

Eric Fletcher

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