Does Social Media Need an ROI?

I read an interesting post on SEOmoz last week about the “elephant in the room” at Pubcon social media sessions, the dreaded ROI word.  You can read it here.  In it Dr. Pete discussed how companies can find their metric for social media marketing and relate it back to money into their business, producing the ROI on the activity.

Whilst I agree, the measurability of online marketing, social media included, means you should be tracking all online revenues back to source, and analysing profitability, I think a large proportion of social media elements fall outside of the ROI driven channels.  Social media by its very nature is about communication, collaboration, and engagement and this should be the starting point of any social media strategy.  Profit and revenues may follow, but too much focus on ROI will make social media look poor in comparison to other true “advertising” media and will have people missing the point.

A lot of social media activity comes under the banner of customer engagement, networking or customer services.  Engaging people on twitter and Facebook, communicating to customers via a corporate blog, creating business connections through social networks.  Most of these things will not have a directly attributable ROI but that doesn’t mean they are not of value.  After all, does you local supermarket place an ROI on the greeter they have instore, or the customer help desk? No, they are there to try and ensure people a pleasant “user” experience and many online social channels should be used in the same way.

Use social media to engage, understand, and build relationships, if you achieve this then the profits come naturally.

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