ROI in Social Media & Social Networking – Let's Call a Spade a Spade!

I have spent the better part of the last few months doing one thing for clients: conducting Social Media Audits to help sell the need to engage socially to internal decision makers! I think it is a shame that a vast majority of my work revolves around using data, research, analytics and best practices to help companies sell the concept to 3 parties:

1. Venture Capitalists
2. Board Of Directors (many times the same as venture capitalists)
3. C-Level Executives

Essentially taking away the risk factors and nail down everyone's favorite term-ROI! Let's call a spade a spade! ROI is the binky executives use to disguise fear! Fear of the unknown. Traditional marketing is pushing the message you want your constituents to read and know. Social Marketing is opening up the door of multiple channel communications between, in some circumstance, all the constituents involved with a brand. With the brand always being the centerpiece of those interactions. Social Media creates a solar system for a brand with multiple satellites of interaction channels, some large, some small.

I have signed NDA's and am not by law able to show the work I have done for clients. But quite what we are working towards is removing the risk, educating and extremely establishing the ROI. With that, here is the list of ROI avenues the organization can travel to see real ROI. Bear in mind, this is not your grandparents ROI. It is not always all about new revenue. There are thousands of blogs that exist that explain this ad nauseum, but it can not hurt to have another!

ROI IN SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL NETWORKING:

1. Market Research- Listen to your business constituents and competitors to listen, learn, engage and stay relevant. Have the pulse of your industry in your back pocket to reference whenever you need to.
2. Customer / Partner Education- A knowledgeable prospect is more likely to become a customer. A knowledgeable customer is more likely to buy your new product.
3. User Groups 2.0-Traditional user groups are evolving into social communities. Doing this helps fulfill multiple business objectives outlined in this list.
4. Product Innovation- When you listen to your customers and innovate to their voice-you will win their business over and over again. Not to mention create better products in the long run. This is a proved case study of success.
5. Business Intelligence & Competitive Analysis- Social Media allows you to open up channels to understand your business and competitors like never before. This intelligence has a value greater than any one sale or new lead.
6. Peer-Based Support, Education & Innovation-Let your peers and customers sell, educate and innovate for you. Collaboration drives all three and will let you shave your customer service, marketing and new product development costs.
7. Thought leadership / Leads- Be the leader in your industry and you will develop serendipitous lead generation, new sales and new business opportunities that were not available before.
8. Workplace Alignment, Communication & Training – Create a private community for your organization and another for your business partners. This will drive a culture of productivity and transparency. The end result is more bang for your buck from your work force, a birds-eye view of your business, knowledge retention (the baby boomers are retiring and with that their knowledge is disappearing-capture it now!), Employee ideas (it is also advised to listen to your employees and innovate internal process to their voice). Listening and interacting builds employee loyalty.
9. Brand Awareness & Affinity- When you engage, adapt, innovate and are an accessible organization (culture) your customers will come back to you over and over. New folks will take notice over your competitor that has a closed door policy. Same with your employees and business partners.

I have been successful at using data, industry research, competitive analysis, setting real benchmarks and layering in Social Analytics to make recommendations on how an organization should engage. Many times it is in 3 phases. I like to call them the safe phase (only after the education of the 3 groups above), the pilot phase and then finally the full assault phase. It works! But if we lived in a utopian society, the selling internally would end. As for case studies? Most case studies are intellectual property that organizations do not want to share. Thus, I sign NDA's constantly! Not to mention every engagement is vastly different. So piggybacking on someone elses success and hard work will not work. So please stop asking for case studies! I challenge all companies to come up with something unique and new to them and their industry. Push the envelope of creativity to engage social media in a way that has never been done before.

Please use this blog as you see fit. If it helps one company sell internally then I have done my job. Also, if there is a business objective I missed, please feel free to add it in the comments and I will add it to the list and give credit where credit is due. Again, I am simply doing this so that I can help the companies I consult to actually "do" their plans not have to sell it to the higher ups who..lets face it … do not really understand Social and real business objectives! That explains the incessant question "What's the ROI?" There is way too much of a cross section of companies, large and small, that are in the same boat for it to be coincidence. The recession is turning; it is time for more action and less asking what the ROI is? Engaging socially is simply not as simple as asking-what is the ROI?

 
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