Social ROI, the good, the bad and the ugly:

Social networks have been the content and marketing bandwagon of the last five years. Almost no organisation can afford to pass up the opportunity social networks provide to communicate directly with its priority audiences. It was once about just doing it but that’s no longer good enough, social has to have ROI.

There are 3 main reasons this proves so challenging:

1. Organisations don’t set clear objectives for their social activity: They see brands, competitors, clients and institutions like the Police and local councils using them, their CEOs or CFOs may have heard that social media is quick, easy and free and the organisation dives right in, without necessarily understanding why.

This is unlikely to succeed. The genuine benefits of social media are not quick or free and in this fiercely competitive world, not easy either.

2. Data silos: While the content and social team probably have access to every social metric going (and boy, they should, social media is flooded with performance data) they may not have access to their website analytics, app analytics or business performance dashboard.

This is crazy. It means only a partial picture is ever visible and conditions the social team to look at social metrics in isolation. If they don’t have access to any other data, why wouldn’t they?

3. Vanity metrics: If you think quantity is more important quality, you are most likely using vanity metrics. Follower numbers on Twitter? Instagram likes? Facebook likes? Mostly worthless on their own. You need to piece together what these interactions could mean using other data. You need to understand outcomes, not just indicators. Good organic growth in any metric could be a good indicator but you are looking for business outcomes like more sales, more tickets sold or more donations.

The reason vanity metrics have such a grip on social activity is that these are the main metrics reported by the platforms themselves and publicly visible to anyone on that platform. Its hard not to feel good about adding 1000 followers to your Twitter or Instagram but, in isolation, its meaningless.

Vanity metrics have also created an entire sub-industry, followers for sale. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Why would you pay for people who have no knowledge of or interest in your organisation to click a button? Use any budget you have to create good content, build follower numbers organically and invest in a better reporting platform.

So how do you properly build your social ROI model?

First, connect your social investment directly to your organisation’s goals. This sounds so obvious but is actually much rarer than you’d think.

You need the same discipline in using social media you would apply to any major resource commitment. What do you want to achieve and how will you know if you’re succeeding?

  • If you need prospects, integrate your social activity into your lead generation programme. Apply the same metrics to it that you do to the other parts of your funnel.
  • If you sell directly online, make social an integral part of the buying process.
  • If you’re a not-for-profit looking for donations or volunteers, set up your social strategy to deliver donations and volunteers.

I’m not going into great detail here but one of the best ways of creating this attribution path is setting up specific landing pages on your site, especially if you have a campaign or product launch running, and adding tracking code to your social posts. This will give you specific results for individual posts.

Second, set up your data gathering and dashboard to collect only what is meaningful to your targets.

Start broad as it may take time to understand exactly what this is, and there may be some confusion between correlation and causality. You will get insight as you analyse your data over time.

You should decide as early as possible which platforms to be on. It takes time and resource to manage content and social and you should drop platforms which are ineffective.

A quick comment here on social management tools such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Social Signin. These can save a ton of time, facilitate automation (where automation is right for you) and aggregate analytics in one place. But they have two principle drawbacks:

a. They do not have the depth of analytics available on the individual platforms. The platforms themselves are competitors, especially for ad budgets, and have no interest in making it easier to aggregate across platforms.

Facebook video, for example, produces a range of data that can only be accessed through the admin functionality on the platform itself. Facebook owns Instagram so the same limitation applies.

b. No social management tool covers all the platforms and Snapchat has been criticised by advertisers for its lack of usable analytics. It appears to have no intention of allowing integration with social management tools any time soon.

An independent platform called Snaplytics can provide some analysis but, as its name suggests, it does not aggregate other channels.

When deciding on the critical data, avoid vanity metrics at all costs.

Third, when you’ve organised your data (many people call this Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs) make it available to everyone in your organisation.

Knowledge is, indeed, power. Too many times, departments or individuals keep hold of data because they fear some kind of blowback. If anyone’s doing this, the organisation will never be able to get a proper sense of what activity is contributing and what needs amendment. Measurement must be comprehensive and avoid political wrangling. A learning organisation has to be an open organisation, after all data does not have an opinion.

Content and social teams should not fear public scrutiny. Done well, social has a strong ROI and will earn its place in the business toolbox. But to do this, it must be strategic, accountable and responsive.

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