Now that 2012 is just about over, I can officially state, with all appropriate certainty, that the social media question I heard the most often this year was, “How do I determine social media ROI?” The main reason returns on social strategies are so important, of course, is that success (or the lack thereof) almost always determines budgets, and every now and then it even determines jobs. Which makes this a very important question indeed.
Some people will tell you that you can’t calculate social media ROI, but I respectfully disagree. Measuring social media ROI isn’t impossible…it just isn’t straightforward.
When you calculate return on a traditional financial investment, there’s a simple, straightforward calculation that allows you to quickly determine your return: ROI = (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment. The reason this formula is so straightforward is that all the variables are distinct. You know how much money you’ve invested, and you know how much money you’ve gained from that investment. Simple.
The reason social media returns aren’t quite so simple to calculate is because the variables aren’t as clear cut. What, exactly, have you invested? Employee salary? Graphic design costs? Social media software costs? Facebook ad expenditures? Product giveaways? Where do you draw the line between social media resources and everyday business expenses?
And how about that return? Ideally, of course, you’ll see an increase in revenue as a direct result of your social strategies, but that’s not the only type of positive return you can get. What about engagement? Social media is all about building communities of people who, when the time is right, will rally around your product or service…so high levels of engagement are important, aren’t they? And how about brand strength? If you can manage to move your Facebook likers from fans to brand loyalists, what’s the dollar value there? Certainly that’s a positive return. The same goes for customer service. If you use your social media as a customer service tool (and you should), isn’t customer satisfaction a positive return on that investment?
The problem isn’t that social ROI is impossible to calculate; the problem is that there are just too many ways to calculate it. In order to get an accurate return measurement, you’ll need to settle on the type of return you want to measure. Here are four suggestions on getting started, with a little help from Gremln: