Know your Role on Social Media... or Shut Your Mouth About ROI.
The term 'social media ROI' has a never-ending debate associated with it, but one of the issues with this debate is that the context in which it is often discussed doesn't really make any sense.
As in, many people ask the question, "what is the ROI of social media?" It's like saying "What's the ROI of a newspaper?" or "What's the ROI of a TV?" Social media is a channel, not an activity. You can't measure a channel, you have to measure the activity which you perform on that channel.
Now, I'm not here to argue the semantics of it, rather I'd like to make the point that social media is a channel of communication. Communication has, and always will, form the foundation of how a business connects with and tells an audience about its services. So let's just forget about whether 'social media has an ROI' and start talking about strategies that you can use to measure the effectiveness of communications (or content) that is passed through the social media channel.
To help shed some light on how to effectively measure the ROI of social media marketing, I am going to redefine ROI for you in this blog. Note, that effective measurement of any marketing channel requires careful planning and thoughtful analysis, so don't expect a quick fix solution in this post. That being said, I have provided a framework for approach that I hope will help you be a better marketer for your client's or own business. I break it down into 3 steps:
Step 1: (R) Role Definition
Step 2: (O) Objective-Based Content
Step 3: (I) Interpret Results
STEP 1: (R) Role Definition
Know Your Role
The biggest reason businesses struggle to measure the effectiveness of social media marketing, is because they rarely define what their goals are and the role it will play in connecting with their audience and ultimately accomplishing business objectives.
Duane "The Rock" Johnson, puts it well in his famous WWF quote, "Know Your Role...or Shut Your Mouth." Each channel of communication plays a different role in your marketing mix and these roles all work together to deliver integrated marketing communications.
The specific role that social media will play can be very different depending on the industry and maturity of your business. For example, if you are a new brand, the first thing you are going to want to do is generate awareness and trust. This must come before trying to sell on social. Thus, indicators of success should focus more on number of people reached and how they engaged versus straight up sales or conversions.
I generally look at 4 different roles that social media marketing can play in accomplishing business/marketing objectives:
1.Drive Trust & Awareness (I want more people to know and trust my brand)
2. Entice & Educate (I want my audience to better understand the benefits of my products/services)
3. Convert & Sell (I want to get more leads and sales)
4. Delight & Care (I want to get more repeat customers & referrals)
Think about your business and prioritize the above roles for social media marketing. While you will likely shift between all 4 roles, normally, numbers 1, 2 and 4 are the best places to focus. If you do those right, then 3 will come.
Not all marketing activities (regardless of the channel) should be done with a direct intent of sales. Your audience will have varying levels of openness to messaging, depending on their familiarity with your category and brand (for more on audience readiness see our Infographic: From Brand Stranger to Brand Lover). That being said, at the end of the day it is all about sales, so conversion and sales MUST be measured as a part of your total marketing efforts. And if sales ain't happening, then there is a problem somewhere.
STEP 2: (O) Objective-Based Content
Shoot With Purpose
If you know what you are trying to accomplish, developing social content to support that objective becomes much easier. It allows you to create content with purpose, instead of aimlessly posting and wasting a lot of valuable time and resources.
In the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence captures the attention of the gamemakers by firing an arrow straight under their noses into an apple, balanced delicately in the mouth of a pig (watch the movie, if you're not sure what I'm talking about). This scene demonstrates two ideas that we can learn from when creating content for social media:
1) Shoot your arrow (content) with a goal in mind, which in this case is to skewer an apple.
2) Get your audience's attention by doing something different than everyone else, otherwise you will just blend in.
When developing social content, I create groups of content that align to the objectives set out in step 1. For help creating social content groups, download our Social Media Strategy Blueprint, which includes several useful templates for planning social media marketing. By grouping content together you can measure broader trends, versus the impact of just a single post. I recommend grouping posts as follows:
1. Social Content that Drives Trust & Awareness
Low Branding. No Sell.
This type of content is all about reaching a higher proportion of your targeted audience. This content often takes the form of what I call "Puppy & Baby" content. This is social content that is very visually engaging, highly shareable with no sell associated with it. Remember, it must tie back to your brand somehow, so you can't just post a video of a cat chasing a ball and be pumped about getting lots of engagement.
Red Bull is one of the best at this type of content with its seemingly unending flow of awesome action sport videos. Red Bull dramatically increases brand reach and engagement through this content.
2. Social Content that Educates & Entices
Medium/High Branding. Medium Sell.
The second type of content is focused on educating your audience about your products/services and their benefits, ultimately enticing them to learn more and consider purchase. If your brand has a highly visual product or service then this is much easier to communicate than if you are some other less-than-exciting visual industries. This doesn't mean you can't do it, if you don't have a product/service that people might really enjoy looking at, it just means you need to get more creative with providing value in other ways, which might include high-level education, tips and lifestyle benefits.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts does a fantastic job of communicating its product to its fans on Facebook by frequently posting social content that allows you to experience a taste of the Marriott experience. This includes everything from photos of sunsets, pools, hotel suites and gourmet dishes from the restaurant.
3. Social Content that Converts & Closes
Medium/High Branding. High Sell.
The third type of content is most easily understood by most as it is when you hit home the 'sell' for your product/service. This includes direct calls to action our announcements about specials and promotions.
Starbucks does a great job sprinkling promotional posts amongst its social media posts.
4. Social Content that Cares & Delights
Varied Branding. Varied Sell.
The final type of social content is the least defined as it is the most conversational. This type of content can include everything from answering questions to reaching out to new prospects or providing special offers and gifts to current customers.
Many big brands have decided to dedicate entire social media channels to this type of content. One of the most popular is Best Buy, with its @Twelpforce Twitter handle that answers customer service questions 24/7.
STEP 3: (I) Interpret Results
Listen in the right language
There is no shortage of data on the internet, which has led to countless lengthy reports from agencies and consultants that are often, well, useless. They are long and might look impressive but they are just numbers that, if not interpreted properly, mean nothing.
In the less-than-blockbuster movie, The Interpreter, Nicole Kidman plays a multi-lingual interpreter who overhears a terrorist plot because of her ability to 'listen in the right language.' To most people, the words she heard would have meant nothing, but in this case it lead to action that eventually foiled the terrorist threat.
A similar principle can be applied to data interpretation, in that you have to understand the context in which the data is being presented and what the ultimate goals are in order to properley interepret it. And most importantly, the data interpretation needs to lead to action instead of simply, 'that's nice.'
Always focus first on what the goal of the activity is instead of the numbers themselves. This will allow you track progress versus these goals. For example, if you have created content with the primary goal of increasing brand reach and awareness, then focus on 'reach and awareness' as the primary metric. This doesn't mean don't look at other metrics, such as conversions and sales, but focus on the intent of the content.
I suggest splitting up your measurement into four buckets. For each of the social content groups from step 2, evaluate using the following core metrics. Depending on the business and social platforms actual metrics will vary.
1. Reach - Potential Eyeballs.
The total number of people who potentially saw your message. Note, that this is a passive metric and doesn't necessarily mean that people took in the message. Depending on your objectives though, brand impressions can be very powerful.
Metrics: Organic reach, paid reach, viral reach, followers, page likes
2. Engagement - People taking a second look
The total active engagements in your content. This metric provides great insight into whether your content invokes endorsement or action to learn more.
Metrics: Engaged users, likes, shares, people talking about, mentions, favourites, repins, comments, retweets, views, clicks, visits, page views
3. Conversion - People exchanging information or $$
This is normally the metric that you want to drive towards as it pays most people's bills. It can also provide the most weight because it shows the highest level of engagement and openess to brand messaging. It should be noted that, depending on the brand, conversion or purchase metrics can have highly variable significance.
Metrics: Purchase, Offers downloaded (eBooks, whitepaper, etc), Coupon downloads, Reservations, Registrations, App Download, Social Connects, Subscribers
4. Caring & Sentiment - What are people saying about you?
This is the loosest of all metrics, but is critical to measure, especially if you have a far reaching brand. This metric can also provide insight into the behaviour and needs of your audience, so don't ignore it!
Metrics: Positive/negative/neutral sentiment, questions answered/resolved, types of questions asked
So, now what?
All of these tips are great, but it all takes time and a fair amount of work. If you don't have the proper resources to analyze social media activity, then it isn't going to be useful. I suggest assigning someone in your organization (likely part of the marketing team) to head up the analytics of your online marketing activity and ensure appropriate accountability. There are also many consultants and agencies that can help alleviate this load for you (we would of course be happy to help, as well).
Apart from people, you will also want to think about software solutions that can help you out. For example, Hootsuite Enterprise provides tagging functionality which allows you to tag and group all outgoing posts so that you can group and analyze them within a custom report.
Social media marketing measurement is a constantly evolving field and that is what makes it so exciting! How do you measure your social media marketing activity? What do you think of my approach? I'd love to carry on the conversation in the comments.